This appeared in The South Asian Times on Saturday.
I was just watching a promo song, Mudi Mudi, from Amitabh Bachchan's latest Hindi movie, Paa, and instantly recognized the location. It's shot in Cambridge, UK where I was, just two days back. The song shows Vidya Balan and Abhishek Bachchan, looking sharp and very much in love, chasing each other on the streets of this adorable little town. Some scenes showed them in classes at various colleges that belong to Cambridge University. I recognized St. John's College, Kings College and Trinity College from some skillfully taken shots. Google them and you'll be confused whether you're looking at palaces or universities. They are in fact all palaces, most built in 1500s, some exclusively for the royalty to study and learn various crafts and centuries later, opened up for the plebeians as the queen would call them for education.
If you've lived the phrase 'losing oneself into the moment' ever, that's exactly what happened to me when I was in front of these magnificent universities. Mind boggling architecture with fine details, their vastness and their grandeur, opulent gardens complete with rivers and bridges for as far as your eyes can see, colorful trees, profs who looked like the rare cerebral types and students discussing pure science concepts made up for an overwhelmingly wonderful picture. It came to mind that noted poet Harivanshrai Bachchan was the 2nd Indian to earn a PhD from Cambridge in 1950s and hundreds have earned it since. For a second I felt like if I didn't study here, I missed out on a whole lot in my life.
Needless to say, India has a wide array of great universities to choose from but an vast amount of student population still prefers abroad education for a variety of reasons. Let me talk about Europe since I started off on that. What it is about studying there that sounds so appealing? Whether it's Istituto Marangoni in Milan for fashion design, INSEAD in Fontainebleau for MBA, London School of Economics for social sciences, Trinity College at Cambridge with its impressive list of Nobel prize winners or the oldest surviving Oxford University, each university has something phenomenal to offer. Throw in a few factors like history, culture, technological advancement, international influences, fashion and food and you've defined perfection.
Unless one has inherited wealth or works in private equity or in legal or medical fields, Europe is a tuff place to conquer. For international students, it must be fairly challenging I presume. Odd jobs is not an odd concept on most campuses but having seen everything from Indian boys wearing Sherwanis instead of warm coats and selling restaurant discount coupons on super chilly windy nights in crowded areas, Indian girls assisting underground train passengers with ticket gates and a couple of young boys even going as far as selling drugs as I saw first handed, it must be harder than it seems.
Isolated cases? I bet. But I have no doubt there are more of the same struggling away. I'm sure Europe is worth the experience as a student but at what cost I wonder.