Day 1: The Big Apple

7 minutes


Updated June 8, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Admitted by Soundarya Balasubramani. Written by an Ivy League graduate from India, this is the proven guide for students worldwide looking to pursue undergraduate or graduate study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Purchase for instant access to the guide and other exclusive resources—including sample SOPs, sample resumes, scholarship lists, and a private community with other readers.

storyThe first day I landed in New York was probably one of my saddest days at Columbia University. I landed at 9 a.m. in the John F. Kennedy airport, after a 25-hour-long flight with a moderate fever. I was traveling internationally for the second time in my life. The first time was when I came to the U.S. through a summer scholarship. I had spoken to a lot of people that I was about to meet during the day over WhatsApp, in the two months leading up to this day. We had, as I’m sure you will soon, a lively group where questions were asked and answered every few hours. We also had a separate group just to engage in innocent chitchat. As soon as I entered my apartment, which in itself was difficult to find at first, I was greeted by my two roommates who had arrived earlier. We met through WhatsApp. Within the next hour, I was whisked off after a quick bite to spend the entire day outdoors with a dozen others, traveling to Staten Island, Times Square, and more places that I don’t remember now.

It was a strange feeling. Being an introvert, speaking to someone over text messages was something I had mastered. However, meeting them in person and spending an entire day with a group of people who I had known for two months, yet did not really know at all, was really hard. I felt completely out of place and wanted to get home quickly. After roaming for ten hours, I decided to give in to my intense fatigue and return home sooner, and left the group to travel by myself through the subway at 11 p.m.. Even on a good day, I wasn’t good with directions. So you can imagine it was only likely that I ended up at the wrong destination, many blocks away from my home, in a location called Harlem. A location popular for its crime rate.

Add to this a dead phone and chilly night. With only a vague knowledge of my address, I began running in a direction that seemed right, constantly keeping an eye out for muggers and rogues. There seemed to be many that night, thanks to my vivid imagination. Fortunately, I finally reached home a little past midnight and spent the next two hours sobbing uncontrollably, wishing I had never come to this strange new country.

Of course, if that was the end of the story, I wouldn’t be writing this book right now, enthusiastically helping you to study abroad. I only say this so you can be prepared for such experiences; experiences that push you so far out of your comfort zone that your comfort zone’s radius increases. If I move forward sixteen months to the last day I spent at Columbia, I was still sobbing uncontrollably, but for all the right reasons. Many of those that I met on the first day went on to become my friends, along with others I met in the period in between. I had a lot of firsts at Columbia, and in New York. Apart from finding my passion in becoming a product manager and writer, I also learned to be more fearless and outgoing from my time as a graduate student.

Graduate school in a new country will not be merciful. You will feel homesick. You will carry an imposter syndrome on your shoulders a lot of the time. Your perseverance will be tested to its limits. You might feel out of place a lot. However, you will also form lasting bonds in a short period of time. You will meet people who will take your breath away with their intelligence. You might experience 2 a.m. karaoke sessions for the first time. Embarrass yourself in public but not really care because really, no one else does. Sit in classes taught by professors who are among the most distinguished in their field. And professors who breathe life into the topics they teach.

You will experience freedom in a way you haven’t before.

In my case, for the first time, I learned what it felt like to walk home at 4 a.m. every night from the library, after studying and working for hours on end. That was a privilege I did not have during my bachelor’s due to the gross gender discriminatory policies followed in many universities in India and elsewhere. People misconstrue freedom with irresponsibility. I know from my experience that it’s the other way round. You will learn to be much more responsible, since there is no one to take care of your daily needs anymore. And finally, when you get your job or internship offer, you will experience a deep sense of relief that is reserved only for those who have worked really hard.

So the question you need to ask yourself is: does the good outweigh the bad? Studying abroad is neither rosy nor dreadful. It has its fair share of ups and downs from which you will learn, regardless of the expectations you set for yourself. However, it is a big decision that needs to be taken after careful consideration for all the reasons stated above: it costs a lot of money, puts you under immense pressure, and has no guaranteed return on investment.

If after reading all this you feel like this isn’t aligned with your goal, or now is not the best time to study further in a new country, let us assure you that you saved yourself a fortune in both money and time.

One of the hardest feats to achieve as you grow up and surround yourself with many opportunities is the ability to say no. Something even harder is standing up to the voices around you and shutting them out when needed.

Although we’re sorry you spent the money to buy this book, you can always give it to someone else who needs it. On the other hand, if this is aligned well with your goal, then by all means, keep reading!

The Ballad of Old Man Peters

Since this book is aimed at educating you on how you can become more educated, it felt fitting that we share a story on the quest for education before we dive into the crux of it. I read this short story in the summer of 2019, when I was devouring many books on creative non-fiction. In a true story titled The Ballad of Old Man Peters,* Jon Franklin, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author, recounts the life of an old man named Wilk Peters, who spent his life chasing knowledge and fleeing ignorance.

Wilk was born in 1900 in Trinity County, Texas, to John and Martha Peters. The 1900s were a period when racism plagued America. At the age of eight, he had six other siblings to take care of, and was an agricultural laborer walking a plow mule. Yet, he knew he wanted more.

His parents, though not educated beyond grammar school, knew the path to emancipation was through education.

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