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The International Students' Story

October 6, 2017
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Introduction :

While the cultural diversity and cross-cultural learning of IIT Roorkee are significantly supplemented by their presence, the International students often go unnoticed. Their opinion does not have a platform from which to be expressed. Their involvement in campus activities is at a minimum, resulting in - and from - a nominal interaction with Indian students, a wide cultural divide. This gap is often the reason that they to resort to interacting (almost exclusively) with other international students. The realization of the existence of - let alone to understand - the difficulties of International students in the premises is almost absent. Watch Out, to this effect, talked to a few International students and tried to better understand the status quo.

The Issues Faced:

Their inconvenience starts well before they set foot into the campus. The reporting date being less than a week from the time they are notified of admission, they have to fret about in haste to make the necessary arrangements, visas, scholarship and admission documents, their pocket money, besides bidding goodbyes.

Once they arrive in Roorkee, they are subjected to worse; they are clueless regarding the authorities to contact or the procedure to follow regarding their admission formalities, which are extremely drawn out in themselves. Expecting to get their scholarships as soon as they get enrolled, their angst is further perpetuated when they are told to wait for a minimum of two months to obtain the aid. Being previously unaware of the waiting time, they realize that they have fallen short of the necessary amount of money required to enjoy even the basic necessities to live in and around the campus. “When I arrived here, I had to sleep hungry because I did not have money to buy food. It felt like an insult.” lamented an international student in agony when asked about his initial days in Roorkee.

Adding to their misery is the relatively obscure Indian accent. Understanding the whereabouts of Convocation Hall and their hostels, told to them in an Indian accent, is a gruelling task. Although everyone adapts in due time, their struggle to understand basic English words during the initial months is nothing short of drudgery; the only silver lining was that the professors were patient enough to explain stuff again if they failed to decipher the contents of the conversation.

Another major issue that came to light was that of food; residents of Rajiv and Azad Bhawans are accustomed to the sight of these students having the bare minimum, usually just bread and milk for breakfast, and egg for lunch, since they find everything else too spicy. When asked if they would prefer that there be special provisions for international students, we received a mixed response - the rationale for separate cuisine was the spiciness of food, while that against it was that they get acclimatize to the food over time and that they had come here not just to study, but to imbibe our culture. They lament the non-availability of non-vegetarian food, as it was a part of their staple diet at home.

Moreover, accommodation for majority of the new international entrants are given in Azad or Ganga Bhawan and later in KIH. When asked which bhawan they preferred, almost everyone approved KIH as more comforting. They could invite their families to stay in KIH, which they can’t in Azad Bhawan; living around other international students alleviated their loneliness, and made them feel more comfortable.

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In conversation with one of the senators representing Cautley Bhawan, we were informed that although each Bhawan level event (aimed at all students, Native and International) is well publicized, the international students rarely participate, and the reason for this remains unknown. This was further confirmed when the “Burpp and Slurpp Competition”, organized by the Culinary Club in association with the SAC, was met with only one participant from the international students community.

These developments are worrying, and raise the question as to why the administration has such an apathy towards international students, and on why a blind eye has been turned to them till now.

Elections, and the Buddy System

Ever since IIT Roorkee has “welcomed” international students into its hallowed halls, there has never been any way for the students to have any representation at the students senate. Since the communication gap between them and the rest of the campus has been vast, their problems seldom reach the ears of the people in power to implement the changes. With this in mind, the SAC this time has plans to elect a student representative into the senate, via elections at KIH. They hope that this will provide a channel towards identifying and resolving issues faced by the students much more efficiently, and provide a voice to this otherwise unnoticed community. The elections are tentatively set to be held in the upcoming week.

The SAC also has plans to introduce a “buddy system”, where each incoming international student will be assigned a buddy, who will help them adjust to the cultural shift that they face, and will ensure they have someone they can contact in case they need help. This is a practice followed in many international institutes, and we would do well to inculcate the same. While the idea looks promising on paper, there have been no steps taken as of now towards defining the constitution of this system, its functioning and structure.

Our two cents

The international students community is plagued with a plethora of issues, which need immediate redressal. As an institution that is touted as one of the top technical universities of the country, we cannot afford to treat our foreign students they way they are being treated now. The administration needs to look into some major loopholes in the current admissions procedure, i.e. giving the students a notice well in advance regarding their admission (2-3 months being the internationally accepted standard, as opposed to the 2 weeks) and providing a stipend to the students sooner (by using the monetary reserves of the institute to pay their stipend till it is released from the government). The buddy system and the elections need to be given a high priority, as they will be instrumental in helping the students better adjust to the campus and have their voice heard.