What is the price you pay to discover yourself? Well, for most of us, quite a bit actually. For many individuals, college is that transition phase from boyhood to manhood and we invest a lot of money and resources to make sure this process is as good as it can be. In this column, I am going to break the college career into 3 phases: Pre-College, College and Post-College so that it is easier for readers to follow.

During the Pre-College phase, the first and the most important question you should ask yourself is: “Why do I want to study abroad?” If the first answer on your mind is anything other than around the lines of “studying” or “discovering myself”, then maybe you are going abroad for the wrong reasons and will not completely get the value for money spent.
Applying to colleges for most international students is like shooting an arrow in the dark. It’s a hit or a miss, because no matter how much information we gather about colleges, we do not know where we are going to spend the next four years of our life. As a standard college searching procedure for an American student, college visits and tours are a must on the checklist, something that not all international students can afford to begin with. Trust me, all the digging up and background research will help you find and narrow down your options.

Personally, I recommend the Liberal Arts education system that focuses on taking courses that covers a wider range of academic majors and gives you a general understanding on what you actually love to study. Once you hear back from colleges, make sure the financials are clear and that you can afford every single dollar the acceptance letter states, or else getting the Student Visa will be a problem and even if you get the Visa, your college experience will be barred by working all the time instead of living the college life. Your SAT score is directly related to the amount of Financial Aid you will be receiving, so prepare well for it.

Once you get that acceptance letter, and the Student Visa, you are off to the four best years of your life – the college phase This is the phase where your learning curve will be very steep and will discover a lot about yourself. Once you land in your destination, no matter how many American movies you have watched, culture shock is guaranteed. I went to Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for my Undergraduate Degree in Business Administration.

The first culture shock I experienced was at the Minneapolis Airport, where you couldn’t walk home from the airport, you had to drive, there were only driveways leading out of the airport. I made new friends immediately during the orientation week and got to learn more about my college. I discovered that soccer is a great tool to make new friends and American students are very excited to meet and know more about international students as much as we are excited to study abroad.

As the days changed into months and months into years, the class of 2011 matured and took full responsibility for our actions. We realized that our actions defined us and would have a direct impact on where we would be in the next 10 years. As I mentioned earlier, college life is a time to discover more about oneself. My I-20 had Computer Science as my major, however, through the liberal arts system, I had the opportunity to take a couple of business classes and luckily found out early that I wanted to major in Business Administration rather than Computer Science. I know couple of friends who planned to be Biology majors initially, but changed to Economics because that’s what they discovered that they enjoyed more.

The whole idea of transitioning to a mature version of yourself is to get involved in a lot of activities and test out things you like and things you don’t like and learn about life from these experiences. The American education system is full of opportunities to get involved in. I spent around three hours a day going to classes and the rest of my days getting involved in many other extra-curricular activities. I initially started off as a student worker at the IT department where I repaired college computers and updated computer systems. I got to meet more people there and as a result got exposed to opportunities that I did not even know existed.

With time, I joined the Department of Residence Life where I found out that I loved talking to people, helping people out and sharing my experiences with my peers. With the amount of acitivities I was involved in and all the effort I put in to things I loved doing, after around two years, almost everyone on campus knew me, and I had achieved a lot more than an average American student could achieve in four years. The goal is to keep busy and make good memories only after fulfilling your primary goal of doing good at academics. There is so much to do, much to learn and endless opportunities; the only thing stopping you from achieving what you want is you. The entire idea behind the American education system is to discover yourself and be the best at what you love doing. This is where the finance part becomes important. If you do not have enough resources as mentioned in the acceptance letter, you are actually missing out on your personal development and growth and many other opportunities because you will be spending time working and saving up for school instead. Education is not only learning from attending lectures, but, from my experience, it is progressing into a responsible human being, learning and exploring more about yourself and finally battling it out with yourself to bring out the best version of yourself. Your four years will go by very fast, and before you know it, you will have graduated and stepped out into the real world.

The post-college phase consists of starting all over again. A lot of us decide to work or go to graduate school. If you had a successful college phase, you will know that parting from your friends and loved ones is the most difficult thing to do, especially when you realize that chances are high that you will probably not see many of them again. Graduating from college was a very difficult time for me because I was leaving one of the best things that has helped me become who I am today. I consider myself very lucky to have my parents support me financially to finish my undergraduate program within 4 years and return home. I know a lot of students who want to return home but have not been able to because of their financial situation.

This phase is also about making some personal choices, some students come back, some do not, and each of us has our own personal reasons for what we choose to do. By this time, many of us will have forgotten the primary reason we went abroad; to study and discover ourselves. The goal of life changes to earning money and become a green card holder; I was heading in the same direction too. However, I wanted to be different, I wanted to help make Nepal better than it is right now, to be involved in the inevitable economic growth of Nepal, so here I am, back after four years.

To students living abroad who think Nepal will someday become a better place and are thinking of coming back, the day will arrive earlier if you lend a helping hand and become be a part of that change. To all the students who want to go abroad, do your homework, study hard and discover yourself. Finally, to those who are back here in Nepal, do your own thing, help create opportunities for others too and become a part of history in the making.