While I was studying in the USA and after graduating when I came back to India, I was posed with several questions by friends, family and well-wishers; such as “Why did you go to the US for studies, will the US degree be valid in India?” “Why didn’t you stay back in the US?” “Why didn’t you look for work there?” “Why didn’t you go to the UK instead?” “How was the experience?” “How much did it cost?” “How did you apply?” “Isn’t the Indian Law different from the US law? Yes. So what is the benefit of studying there?” And the list of “Whys” and “Hows” goes on.
This might sound a bit cliché, but I went there as it was my dream to experience and explore the life there, of-course I wanted to purse the post graduate studies but my primary motive was the wholesome experience of living, working and studying in a US university. I had read lot of American literature, watched a lot of American movies and TV shows (F.R.I.E.N.D.S. would be a good point of reference for our current millennial generation), but you can’t ever really understand anything unless you experience it firsthand. What I gained from the whole experience can’t really be quantified or expressed in words, its a lot of abstract and intangible things- I made friends from many different countries, learnt to cook Indian food, learnt right hand driving, learnt managing my budget, attended the daily classes, got the flavour of the Indian immigrant’s life there, got used to a different metric scale units- miles, fahrenheit, gallon, pounds etc. (I had to convert it into kilometers, celsius, liters, kilograms etc.), interacted with students from many different cultures & backgrounds, experienced the clubs, pubs and the friday night life, visited and wandered around alone, with friends and family- in Urbana, Champaign, Chicago, Naperville, Springfield, Nashville, New York, New Jersey, Harrisburg, Boston, Orlando, Miami, Key West, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Washington DC and some other places. And a lot more. I came back to India carrying the experience and a lot of memories to cherish. Immediately after coming back, I found an opportunity to work at the Mumbai office of a New York based law firm.
Ever since I entered law school in 2010, I had a sort of a vaguely formed dream to go abroad to live and study. I didn’t know how, when or if at all it was going to happen or not but I had targeted one country that I dreamt of going to and that was- The United States of America. The talks about future plans surfaced only around 3rd year of law school when as 20-21 year olds, a lot of us didn’t exactly know as to what next after college? We just tried to do what we thought was right or the best for us. I shared this dream of mine when some of my confidants in college asked me about what I was gonna be doing after graduating. When I said that I wanted to go to USA for Master of Laws, I mostly got a discouraging response as if it was an impossible task, mostly because of the skyrocketing tuition fees and expenses. I then kept this idea of dream to myself and shared it only with a select few close friends and family members. By the time I reached the 4th year of study I had done three online courses by US Universities through their online portals on edX.org and Coursera.com websites. After completing these courses, my desire to go to the USA became even stronger.
I started researching about LL.M. course offered by various universities and one thing was clear in my mind that I would do the application process from the start to end, all by myself. For future applicants, I just want to convey one advice and urge that please don’t fall prey to any oversees education consultants (I say this from my experience, only with respect to US universities). Research about the course you want to do, the university you desire to go, learn the application procedure, if you have any doubts or face any difficulty during the application- e-mail the concerned persons in the respective university (they are very prompt, professional and polite in helping you out) and now since we are in the Facebook-social media era, you can directly communicate with the students already studying there. Most of the well know universities have a Indian Students Association, contact them, students from all countries have their respective county’s association and they will surely co-operate with you. So from filling out the forms, writing your Statement of Purpose (it has to be genuine), collecting & sending the documents, admission process and visa process- DIY (Do It Yourself). Lastly if its final that you are taking off, then surely learn to cook Indian food (or the cuisine of your country of origin) 😉
This would be a little out of scope of this write-up, but to go a bit further to make the future applicants understand, just remember- don’t let any third person handle your destiny. Make sure that you are not living the decisions made or influenced by some one else’s opinions. Having said that, take care and keep in mind as to how your decisions will affect your near and dear ones in the long run. Apart from that, think independently about the crucial aspects of life- pursuing education abroad being one of it.
Anyways coming back, I shortlisted the Universities that I was going to apply to- University of Florida Levin College of Law (UF) and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Law (UIUC). UF- because I had completed one of its online course and UIUC- because I have family residing in Chicago. While searching for opportunities abroad, consider all the important factors which might include- family proximity to the place, costs involved, scholarships offered etc. I then wrote my Statement of Purpose, got Recommendation letters, transcripts, filled out the application forms and sent the applications to the respective universities. I got acceptance from both the universities, first from UF on 10/09/2014 and then from UIUC on 23/01/2015 that also awarded me a scholarship of $20,000 (based on my application, the scholarship award was later increased, it was very gracious of them and a big achievement for me). It was clear that I was going to the University of Illinois now and the admission documents were on the way to India. Now, only one last step was left and that was to get the US student visa.
Final Stage- the F-1 Student Visa interview
The visa application process is very detailed and intricate. I started it as soon as I received the admission letter. This is how the visa interview day’s turn of events took place.
I woke up at 6:20 am and got ready, in another 3-4 hours my fate was to be decided by a visa officer who would be conducting my interview through a glass window. The land-lady, out of her concern and care for me, had made tea and kept it on the gas stove before she left for her early morning temple service. I boiled it up, poured and had it before getting ready. At 07:30 am I took a taxi to reach the United States Consulate in Bandra-Kurla Complex. There we no phones or any kind of electronics allowed inside the Consulate so I had left it back in my room and was just carrying the documents in hand. I reached there at 07:50 am, well in time and saw a swarm of applicants gathered and waiting to go inside. I paid the taxi driver and went ahead to join the crowd, one could feel the tension in the air there.
Everyone standing there had the same uncertainty in their minds i.e. will they be granted the US visa? I tried to remain calm, cool & confident not that I wasn’t nervous but I thought to my self that reaching till this stage was an achievement in itself. I just had to cross this last and final stage of visa approval. A consulate official announced to form a queue, most of the people ran to be as near as possible to the entry point. As the line was getting in order, I joined the long queue which was getting longer behind me. Another student visa applicant stood just behind me with whom I initiated a conversation just to relieve our tension, we had a brief conversation until we entered inside. After the security check and other formalities, I entered the Embassy and took seat in the waiting area. While waiting there, I saw the Exit door from where people were coming out after their interview, it was quiet apparent as to who got it and who didn’t- some came out elated, congratulating each other and others came out with a disappointed expression. I was imagining myself as to how will I be feeling when I walk out through that door within next one hour.
I finally went inside and the officials were directing all the applicants. My turn for the interview came and I was asked to standby at one of the interview window. I waited there until the visa officer (VO) called for me then walked up to the window. I just smiled, wished him ‘good morning’ and gave him my documents and passport. Below is the transcript of my interview-
VO: *glancing through the documents* You are going to study for Masters degree in law so you will get a LL.M.?
Me: Yes sir.
VO: Which other Universities did you apply?
Me: I had applied to the University of Florida and University of Illinois.
VO: Why did you apply to only two universities?
Me: Sir, because the application process is very lengthy and I didn’t want to apply simultaneously to many universities all at once.
VO: Is your father a lawyer? Is he still practicing?
Me: Yes sir, he is a lawyer and is practicing at the Bombay High Court.
VO: Do you have anyone living in the US?
Me: Yes, my maternal aunt, my mother’s cousin lives there.
VO: So how will the LL.M. degree from US benefit you?
Me: Sir, the LL.M. degree is specially offered for International students. I would get an opportunity to study the US Law and it will enhance my current research skills. The knowledge would give me an edge along with my knowledge of the Indian law.
VO: Okay, your visa is approved, study hard.
Me: *smiled* Thank you! (inside I was erupting with joy)
I left and got out of that Exit door feeling- elated, vindicated, happy, relieved and a lot of mixed positive emotions all at once. The interview lasted for only a few minutes. I got out of the Embassy hopped in to a auto rickshaw and headed to the station. I rushed to my room, switched on the phone and called first called home to give the good news.
I was finally going. Yay!!! 🙂