17/06/2016 8:26 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST

From Making Rotis To Finding Roomies: Essential Life Skills For Every US-Bound Student

Students climbing steps together
Paul Bradbury via Getty Images
Students climbing steps together

Planning to attend school in the US this fall season? You might have already cracked your GRE (Graduate Record Examination), secured admission and even bagged financial assistance of some sort. But life as a student in the US is more than just studies, grades and winning scholarships. Most of the students coming here, both for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, have not had the experience of independent living before. This not only poses a lot of challenges initially but also offers a number of learning opportunities. How you prepare yourself for this new homecoming can make all the difference to your experience - right until the day you graduate.


Don't take the task of finding the right roomie lightly. Treat it as secondary only to finding a life partner. No jokes. In all probability you will be signing a lease with the person you share your housing with and if this person is someone you cannot stand, then you are stuck for the rest of your lease time. This, in addition to your school work, campus job, home sickness, girl/boy troubles, demanding advisor etc. can be taxing enough to cause you some serious anxiety. You can avoid this by being a little proactive.

Don't narrow your parameters to things like "I speak Marathi, you speak Marathi."

If you connect well with your roommates you might actually find lifelong friendships within the four walls of your graduate housing accommodation. Trust me, living together under one roof offers immense opportunities to bond with people. It offers opportunities to seek and give help. It brings out the ability to connect and adjust with strangers and adjust with new people. It enhances your adaptive and partnership skills. So the bottom line is: take matters of accommodation during graduate school a little seriously.

These days, almost everyone connects through social media after deciding on their school of choice. Join the student group and see who you can get along with. Don't narrow your parameters to things like "I speak Marathi, you speak Marathi." Avoid making general assumptions like all people from Mumbai are broadminded. That's just not true. Don't seek out a clone of yourself in terms of culture, habits etc. If you still cannot find a fit wait till you get to the US. Your Indian Student Association generally will arrange temporary accommodation for you and you will have time to find roomies after arriving on campus.

Having diversity in your housing accommodation is going to give you exposure to things you have never learned before and things that you might cherish for rest of your life. However, do try to find roomies that share your food habits. For example: if you eat meat and chicken biryani every day and your roomie is someone who does not even eat onion and garlic then not only will you miss out on leveraging the whole time-tested six sigma-certified process of taking cooking turns but there will likely be tensions in the kitchen around what is taboo and what is not.

I would suggest discussing your expectations regarding organization, cleanliness and accommodation hygiene beforehand.

The other thing is hygiene and cleanliness. If you are someone who does not mind shoes being dropped off halfway into the living room, don't really care about roaches roaming around and want to live like that for rest of your time in school then please make sure you find a roomie who is OK with that. If not, you are going to cause some poor, neat and picky guy hunting for a rice grain fallen on the kitchen floor sufficient mental torture to last for his lifetime. You don't want your face to be synonymous with "that dirty guy I lived with" in your roommate's mind. And of course, the vice versa holds true without saying. I would suggest discussing your expectations regarding organization, cleanliness and accommodation hygiene beforehand. For example, you can take turns to clean restrooms and the kitchen over the weekend, have house rules about washing utensils etc.

For the rest, as long as there is peace in the house (see it has already become your house from graduate accommodation) you will find enough opportunities on campus with people who share your other interests, speak your language etc.



Remember, your mamma won't be there with you. Unless you want to add to your student loan with eat-out expenses or your parents are on the Forbes richest list, I would you learn how to cook. It is not that hard. A daily meal takes about one-two hours to cook, including cleaning. Eating at home is not just healthy it also saves money.

You might even discover a new stress-busting hobby in exploring your culinary skills. If you really become good at it, you might earn some fame among your friends and roomies. People cooking and sharing good food on campus have a huge fan following. Trust me, you will never be alone in trouble if you have fed those hungry souls in their times of homesickness. Also, learning to cook good meals and taking cooking turns with roommates gives you an opportunity to explore various home-style cuisines. This is especially important if your roommate is a sincere cook and serves you the likes of biryani and pav-bhaji. If you do not go beyond your watery dal and rice, it can get frustrating for the other person.

Learn some basic stuff like making rotis from scratch, cooking rice and three or four other staple preparations that incorporate different vegetables and lentils.

So, learn some basic stuff like making rotis from scratch, cooking rice and three or four other staple preparations that incorporate different vegetables and lentils. Learning this repertoire should not take more than six to eight hours. Partner with your mommy, pa or aunt and they will get you through this within a week. Carry a good culinary book that fits your taste (a book that specializes in south Indian cuisine is no good if you normally crave butter chicken and kadhai paneer). If you get homefood-sick then making an authentic meal for yourself will be cheaper than a return flight ticket to India.

What you eat during your two or more years at school is going to have a lot of bearing on your long-term health. Most of us tend to ignore that while living a frugal student life. I would suggest reading at least one nutrition book so that you can make necessary amendments to your grocery and eating habits to maintain your health during your time away from home. Books such as Rujuta Diwekar's Don't Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight and Women and The Weight Loss Tamasha will help you get the gist. Or have a browse at the bookstore and pick a book that you feel addresses your needs better.


Being organized and clean not only enhances your image among peers, it also enhances your self-image. It also helps in remaining efficient. If you fall in the "I am already organized" category then you don't need advice but if you don't then I would suggest reading the bestselling The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Some suggestions in this book can be put into practice very easily. It will also help you stay leaner with your belongings, especially if you are sharing your room and wardrobe with one or more of your roommates.


Money management

This is a very personal issue and I wasn't too sure if I wanted to touch it but then I thought, if I am already giving you "gyan" on your wardrobe, roomies and have already entered your kitchen then why not talk about the big fat wallet too.

Try and get a credit card in the US as soon as possible. Some banks offer a starter credit card to students with a minimal deposit.

Students generally study on loans, sponsorships or scholarships. Whatever be the case, your monetary resources are scarce. Even if you have your parents sponsoring you, it is always good to be thoughtful with the expenditure and savings. After all, money is a resource and should not be wasted.

I would suggest getting into the habit of tracking your expenses. You will need to account for your housing expenses like grocery, cleaning supplies etc. with your roommates. Other than that I would also suggest making an income and expense tracking sheet for your personal expenses. You can search online and you will find templates for both. Pick one that you find simple to use and maintain. You can also add a budget to each category of expense. That way you can keep a tab on what you spend in each category. Any excess and unnecessary expenses can thus be identified and curtailed.

Try and get a credit card in the US as soon as possible. Some banks offer a starter credit card to students with a minimal deposit. Use the card to pay for your expenses and make sure you make the credit card payments on time. I would suggest reading On My Own Two Feet by Manisha Thakore. The book is written with women in mind but the general financial management principles apply to all. The money that you save or rather do not waste can be used to travel, take additional courses of your liking etc. Don't really worry if you do not save anything. The budgeting that I speak of is more to get you into the habit of tracking your expenses and curtailing what is unnecessary. The moment you start making those real big bucks out of school, you will realize the importance of this saving and investing discipline.

Learning and Diversity

We all come from a shell. However big or small, we come from a shell. Do not limit yourself to the ideas, thought processes, perceptions, and outlooks you already have. Be open to learning and diversifying. The USA offers some of the most diverse campuses in the world. There are people from different cultures, ethnicities, countries and values. Explore, learn and contribute as much as you can. This will enrich your experience on campus to a great extent. For example, you can audit a class in linguistics if you have a liking for it but have never explored it in your home country, join a club or a group that interests you, start something new, volunteer when you can. The opportunities are limitless but sometimes time is not, so do what you can. Try not to do things that you wouldn't want to mention to yourself ever in the future. Over and above all, whatever you do, make sure you stay safe while enjoying your much-awaited campus life -- a home away from home.

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