This student organization makes studying in the U.S. a whole lot easier for UM-Dearborn’s Indian students

2/1/2019

Studying internationally can be a logistical mess — unless you have the Indian Graduate Student Association on your side.

Indian Graduate Student Association
Indian Graduate Student Association
Cultural events, like mixer parties and the Indian New Year celebration, have been part of the Indian Graduate Student Association mix of activities since the beginning.

Back in the fall of 2015, incoming UM-Dearborn master’s student Aniket Jadhav took a minute to call a few friends who were, like him, just arriving at their various American universities from India. He found many of them drowning in the typical stressors. Some were staying in hotels, burning through savings and struggling to find apartments. Others were surviving on snacks they brought from home (and quickly eating through the supply). And they were all hoping to find somebody — anybody —  at the university who could help show them the ropes.

Jadhav, on the other hand, was completely relaxed, kicking back in an apartment of a prearranged host who was putting him up for free. In just his first few days, he’d already scored a phone, a bank account, met a bunch of people in his academic department, and signed a lease for a permanent apartment, which he could move into in a week or so. The following week, he and the other newly arrived Indian graduate students even had plans to head to IKEA — on a bus that had already been arranged for them.

So what explains Jadhav’s soft landing in the U.S.? Well, shortly after he applied to UM-Dearborn, he discovered the university also had a student organization that would have his back even before he got here. Part welcome party, part informal social service agency, the Indian Graduate Student Association was there to help him out with everything from answering questions about visas, to a ride from the airport once he got here, to tips for navigating the American university system (which is a lot different than India’s).

“They were helping me answer questions I didn't even know I had,” Jadhav explained. Roommates, for example: He hadn’t even thought about those. IGSA quickly hooked him up with two who had compatible hobbies and food preferences.

Jadhav said the group’s list of “services” has gotten so big, in part, because it’s an IGSA tradition for each class of students to add something new to the mix. Some things, like mixer parties and cultural celebrations, have always been key activities. But shortly after the group formed in 2003, some early members noticed that transportation to and from campus was difficult for newcomers. So the more senior students who had cars started arranging pick ups for the “freshers.” A few years later, as the Indian student population grew, they started helping students find roommates and housing, primarily in a couple private apartment complexes close to campus that had shuttle service. Then they added a couple Zipcars for easy off-campus trips. Eventually, almost anything you could think of was covered.

Jadhav said one of his 2015 class’ contribution was organizing all the expertise the IGSA has developed over the years into a sort of handbook for incoming students.

“We have all kinds of things in there,” Jadhav explained. “Like what spices you’ll need to bring from India because they’re either hard to find here or a lot more expensive. Or people are usually really curious about the winter. We tell them it’s better to just get winter clothes here. It will save you a lot of room in your suitcase, and the winter clothes you can buy in India are definitely not adequate for a Michigan winter.”

With many of the life basics now covered, subsequent classes have started to tackle new terrority. For example, Sanket Joshi, who is currently taking his turn as IGSA president, said his 2017 group is building a network that connects incoming students not only with current UM-Dearborn students, but alumni.

“We get a lot of questions about jobs, or what fields or industries might be growing,” Joshi said. “We can help a little with that. But we have so many IGSA alumni out there working now, and they know the most about whether a field is really surging or about to disappear. So that can really help inform people’s choices about what to study.”

One other cool thing about this whole operation: The IGSA is powered completely on a pay-it-forward ethos. Everything is completely free for the incoming students, with existing students personally donating their time, gas money, couches or whatever it takes to get people settled.

“One of the first questions I had when I got here was, ‘Why are you helping us?’” Jadhav said, smiling. “I mean, nobody has to do this, right? People are busy. You could just let everybody figure all this out on their own. Why does anyone care?”

He said the answer he got back was always the same: “We are just giving back what we got.”

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