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Talking about transition…

As promised, I’ll share my transitional experience in this blog. Before coming here, I was afraid of encountering the change that I knew I would experience here. I was extremely anxious about my life here. I thought, “Going for a summer program is different from going for a full-time undergraduation program.” And I wasn’t wholly wrong; the difference is as much the same is as between tasting a dish and eating it every day! But coming here for summer school definitely worked in my favor in a lot of ways. Like, I was much familiar and well informed about this place as compared to the other international students who were totally new to the surroundings.
The first few days after I arrived in August, I stayed with my relatives who live in Joliet, a suburb in Chicago. They helped me with things I’d need during my stay on-campus. Even before I arrived at the University, I’d received  copy of my orientation schedule. This is the week where all the students, especially the international students, are oriented to the University’s various programs and services through seminars, meetings, and other activities. But in my case, though the orientation was helpful in getting a hang of “what works for what,” no seminar or no activity helped me learn as much as I did after experiencing things personally. I didn’t know how the campus transit buses (known as the Cambus) worked till I got on to buses that took me around the whole campus except the building where I wanted to go, until I realized it was the wrong bus I’d hopped on to!  I didn’t know how to use the student health services till I got sick! That happened while trying to find my class buildings too; with so many buildings on campus and with different buildings holding different classes, it took me a while to figure out which class of mine was in which building. But that actually helped me use the campus maps more efficiently.
Let me talk about an interesting aspect of my first-year in college: my accommodation. In case the residence halls are not able to accommodate all the students, there’s something called an expanded housing where students live with 5-8 other students till they find a permanent room to live in. I live in one of these temporary housings which is originally a study lounge converted into a dormitory by replacing the couches with bunk-beds and drawers. Initially, I was horrified at the idea of having to live with 7 other people, all in one dorm! But today, when it’s almost time to move-out of this lounge, I feel bad.  Expanded housing is in fact, a very good experience of living with people from various backgrounds, sharing our culture with them, and making friends especially if you’re new to the place. Fortunately,  I get along well with all the other room-mates which makes this experience even more cherishing for me.  No doubt temporary housing has its downsides when it comes to convenience and space but that shouldn’t even be a hassle when you know it’s temporary!
I’ll talk about academics now. Every student is assigned an academic advisor who helps him/her with all the academic-related issues ranging from choosing classes to tracking academic progress and taking career decisions. One week before my classes commenced, while the orientation week was still in progress, I met with my academic advisor who helped me choose my classes for the semester. Since I was an open major, I took up classes that fulfilled all the general education requirements while I took time off to decide on a major. Ok, so for students who don’t know about how this system works, here’s an explanation: the under-graduation program is divided into three parts: general education, electives and major classes. General education classes are mandatory for all students that can be completed any time throughout the 4 years of undergraduation; electives are the classes that you can take to pursue your interest in a particular subject, and majors are the classes you take in your area of major.  So back to my classes, I took up a class on rhetoric, an introductory class on International Studies (a major I intended to explore), a class on living religions of the east, and a class on literary classics and film adaptations.
My class on rhetoric focuses on developing our writing and speaking skills. It’s a small class of 20 students; this way we get a lot of opportunity to interact with every other student in class during our discussion sessions, workshops and panel presentations. This class is real fun; we research various topics, write articles, maintain reading journals, and discuss various aspects of the issues addressed in the books we read. In fact, just last week we played a game called “Apples –to-Apples” in class at the end of which, our instructor revealed that the purpose of making us play this game was that our writing can be as playful as we want it to be! That was such a good way of putting it!
My class on Religion is relatively bigger. We are around 70 students in a lecture hall. That class is divided into two sessions: lecture and discussion. In a lecture class, it is mostly the professor who does the talking, but for the purpose of discussion, the class is divided into three groups so it becomes easier to hold discussions on the topics taught in class. We’ve studied Hinduism and Buddhism as a part of that class so far. And I must admit, even though I was raised a Hindu, I’ve never known so much about my religion as I have in the past few months. What I like about this class is that it is extremely thought-provoking and compels me to think about the ‘hows and whys’ of the various concepts and practices of a religion. My literature class is also very interesting. So far, we’ve read a number of literary classics like the Odyssey and the Bhagavad Gita. After reading every classic, we watch film adaptations based on them and note the differences in the story-line.
The introductory class on International Studies is so enjoyable that I’m actually considering majoring in that subject. It studies the global issues from an interdisciplinary approach. So I get to study history, geography, political science, anthropology, and economics, all under one roof! Again, this is also a very thought-provoking class since most of our assignments include reflecting on these global issues instead of simply stating facts.
Initially I had trouble understanding how the system works: what our professors were looking for in our papers and how we’re expected to approach these subject since different professors have different expectations from the way we represent our content. So here I was, struggling to understand every professor’s mindset and trying to meet their expectations. And I won’t say I’ve overcome that completely by now, but with every passing paper I must say I’m doing better. Over the time I’ve got to know of what I need to improve upon. After talking to my professors and TAs, I’ve realized that factual information is my strong area but when it comes to critical thinking, that’s where my weakness lies. So currently that is my primary concern while working on my papers. At the beginning of the semester, I’d get really worked up with the smallest mistake I’d make. But over the time I realized that I needed to be more patient, I had to stop being hard on myself and had to give this some time. I realized that when abroad, you don’t settle in overnight; it takes a couple of weeks, sometimes months, to eventually settle in.
And so, on a concluding note, here’s a little advice to every student planning on studying here: You will make mistakes, things will go wrong; you just need to give yourself some time in order for things to settle in.
Coming up next blog: extra-curricular activities and events on campus.. keep reading!

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