When I decided to attend college in America, I thought I knew what I was in for. After both my sisters had studied at American universities, I expected that I knew exactly how different an American education would be from an Indian education. Looking back on that now, I think I was wrong.
I was ecstatic when I got into UCLA and I couldn’t wait to be on campus. I landed in Los Angeles after a tiring 21-hour journey and was ready to see my first glimpse of LA on the ride from the airport to my Airbnb. I’d been to cities like New York and San Francisco and when I saw first looked out to catch glimpses of the cities I was thrilled and excited to explore them. However, I felt none of this for LA. I felt uninspired and, frankly, unimpressed. I was terrified that I was going to hate the city that I had to spend the next four years of my life in.
I’d heard how gorgeous the UCLA campus was, but it definitely exceeded my expectations. On my very first day on campus, I saw (what I now know is) a very small area of the entire campus but I’d already fallen in love. The buildings were made of old red brick and there was an abundance of greenery in every direction. When I saw the brick road leading up to Kerckhoff Hall, I knew this was the right place for me. I barely explored campus with my parents (we were more focused on moving me into my tiny dorm room). I started seeing more of campus when I ventured out alone to look for the buildings in which I had classes and map out what my mornings would look like (I know, I’m a nerd). Every building was impressive in its own right and it seemed as though every area of study had a building dedicated to it. Having gone to a school that would fit in just the Court of Sciences at UCLA, I was overwhelmed in the best way possible.
As the Fall Quarter started, I slowly started understanding that the way I got to experience education here was leaps and bounds from what I had experienced before. I had been fed up of the Indian school system and it was the rigidity of college curriculums in India that pushed me to study in the US. Here, I get to pursue a particular subject while also being able to explore other subjects that interest me and may have nothing to do with my major. I’m majoring in Economics and two of the first (and favourite) classes I took at UCLA were on space and astronomy – that would be impossible in India.
At UCLA not only was I encouraged to take classes in different areas of study, but I was also taught in a manner that was completely different from what I was used to. Here instead of just learning Math formulae, I learnt how these formulae were derived. Professors explained every topic in a manner that showcased their passion for the subject matter. No professor just read a textbook aloud and expected students to understand the material themselves. Even the seemingly obvious topics were explained meticulously so as to make sure that everyone understood the concept.
What particularly surprised me was the professors’ behaviour toward questions. In school I had multiple classes in which I would never ask questions just because the teacher would either belittle me or scold me. I’d become used to learning things I didn’t understand by rote. Once in my Math class at UCLA a student asked a question about a very simple concept. My immediate thought was “Oh no he’s going to get it from the professor”. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when instead of embarrassing the student, my professor simply went over the topic again and calmly explained it. This would never have happened at my school – I would’ve been asked if I was in class two and told to sit down (yes that’s happened to me before).
I knew that my professors had a great wealth of knowledge, but I was extremely taken aback by how they bestowed their knowledge.Classes no longer felt monotonous and boring – professors worked to engage their students. I felt confident in my professors’ willingness to teach those willing to learn. I was no longer afraid of asking a question if I was confused. UCLA was worlds apart from the institution I was earlier a part of.
I was aware that any institution in the US would be different from what I was used to, but I don’t think I was fully aware of how refreshing it would be to experience these differences. When put in a position that is in such contrast with and so much better than what I had experienced, I thrived. Having to move far away from family and everything I know, I had not expected to be as happy as I am at UCLA. This is because of the environment around me. Everything is new and exciting, and I’m finally immersed in what I’m studying. I knew I would enjoy college, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I do.