I never got the chance to study abroad, but I was friends with people who had, or who were currently foreign students. The amount of courage that takes is incredible, and I’m even more in awe of the people who make the decision to study abroad in today’s political climate. I also have a friend who works with foreign students, and her job always sounds so interesting, so when I heard about America Calling: A Foreign Student in a Country of Possibility by Rajika Bhandari (She Writes Press, 2021), I knew I had to read it.
Rajika Bhandari grew up in a middle-class Indian family. Her parents weren’t rich, but they managed to give her an excellent education at various schools, including boarding school, around the country. When it came time to get her graduate degree, she decided to follow her fiancé to the United States, studying psychology at North Carolina State University. While she’d grown up speaking English, the language was still a barrier. Money was a constant struggle. The locals struggled to understand her foreign-ness, and the culture shock was massive. Studying abroad is a massive change of pace, and Ms. Bhandari illuminates every last difficulty in this eye-opening memoir.
The difficulties don’t end after graduation. Making the decision to return home or stay in the US is a challenge; finding an opportunity to stay is even tougher, with mounds of paperwork and years of waiting (and sometimes employers back out after realizing just how much work it is for them). This all takes a toll on Rajika’s relationship, but it helps her understand the students she later goes on to study and serve.
This is a really great memoir. I had no idea of the sacrifices most foreign students undergo, the difficulties placed in their paths, in order to receive an education in America. And staying in the US after graduation? The entire process sounds like a nightmare; I’m kind of in awe of anyone who makes it work. The US makes this process way more difficult than it needs to be.
This is one of those books that’s going to stick with me, especially the images of Ms. Bhandari’s first small shared apartment, learning to drive, learning to cook and struggling to afford the basics. We ask a lot of our foreign students, making it way harder than it should be merely to survive (my God, the US really seems to delight in that for just about everyone, doesn’t it?). It doesn’t have to be that way.