Sushma R., 19, is a college student in Chicago now, but she recalls being scatterbrained and squirmy as a little girl. That is when she moved in 1996 from Bangalore (also known as Bengalaru), India, the third most populous city in India, to Illinois with her parents and her sister. The primary reason was for the two daughtersâ€™ education, and the family was already thinking ahead to college.
If had she stayed in India, Sushma said, attending an American college, and being afforded all the opportunities associated with it, would not have been likely.
â€œThe culture is very family-oriented,â€ she said. â€œThere is a stigma with sending your kids really far away to be on their own in college, so it is easier to make the transition earlier.â€ Financially, moving oneâ€™s whole family is also easier than sending each child away to school in America, she said.
She remembers her grandparentsâ€™ house in India most vividly, where her sister and she would play with their dogs, while her parents, both doctors, studied for hours in the library. Her parents had to take the MCATsÂ and the board exams in order to be recertified in the United States, even though they had both been practicing for years. Her mother was a professor at the university and her father ran his own practice.
â€œThey basically had to start over,â€ Sushma recalled. â€œYouâ€™re forty years old and having to study for hours and hours in the library.â€
Her parents now work in Springfield, Ill., her mother in a private practice, while her father conducts clinical trials for cancer research.
Upon entering her first American school in the first grade, Sushma noticed something markedly different from her Indian school: it was easier. Much easier.
It didnâ€™t hurt that Raju had been raised bilingually and already spoke English, which she said was simpler to learn than her native Kannada. The most shocking change for Raju, after moving to the U.S. to better her education, was how much less work there was and the nurturing demeanor of her teachers.
In India, she remembers crying constantly over missed assignments in kindergarten and the first grade (which she repeated in America). She describes their homework as â€œlegitimate assignmentsâ€ that took a decent amount of time to complete. Unable to ever sneak by, given the level of the assignments, she would cry upon realizing sheâ€™d forgotten to do one. She was never consoled or helped and would often call for her sister to comfort her. She never felt like a good student in India.
But in America, she thrived, Sushma said. She found the homework simple in the first grade, saying it barely seemed like homework at all.
â€œThe school environment is much more serious in India. Itâ€™s a very business-like atmosphere,â€ she said. â€œHere itâ€™s more what you and I think of kindergarten teachers: you start crying and they tell you â€˜itâ€™s OK.â€™ Itâ€™s like your mom. There [in India], not so much.â€
As she continued her education, Raju felt more challenged and less nurtured. It was more like India. â€œPeople take it seriously here too,â€ she realized. â€œBut not until much later.â€
The main difference she would have faced had she gone to high school in India is that in lieu of 11th and 12th grade, some schools offer intense two-year college preparatory program.
â€œIndian schools are more strict and rigorous, and the education is more difficult in some ways,â€ Sushma said. “But here itâ€™s about the opportunities afterwards.â€
She said that once she completes her education here, her parents plan on moving back to India. Her family visits there often, as her parents are still citizens and her grandparents and cousins still live there.
When she visits, she often wonders how her life and education may have been different: â€œI did really well in high school here and felt really good about myself as a student here, and I always wonder if it would have been the same way in India.â€