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Studying Abroad in The United States—In Conversation with the U.S. Vice-Consul

On 20th August 2019, a Vice-Consul to India, Ms Michele Giovia, delivered a talk on Higher Education in the United States, followed by an interactive Q&A session with a large crowd of eager and ambitious students. A plethora of students from departments across MAHE rushed to the KMC Interact Halls for the highly anticipated talk. The event proved to be a full-house, as many of those unfortunate enough to arrive late had to stand throughout the session.

The session started with a brief introduction to the speaker, a consular officer at the U.S. Consulate Office, Chennai, who is currently working in their Outreach Office. A well-educated individual with a vast background in international affairs, she started by speaking about the advantages of studying in the United States, some of which included access to state-of-the-art research facilities, and experiencing unparalleled diversity by meeting people from all around the world. She further educated the audience on the differences between the education system in the United States and India, and the importance of making an informed decision while deciding which program to enrol yourself into.

She later went into specific details of getting a visa, which included completing formalities, filling out applications, and giving the interview, before providing links to resources that would help aspiring students in the visa process.

She also gave tips for the interview at the Consulate in Chennai, which acts as a test for determining the credibility of the student applicant. She stressed the importance of arriving at the office on time, convincing the officials that the student is entering the country with the primary purpose of education, as well as proving that they have the necessary financial means of doing so. After the presentation, there was a Q&A session where everyone from post-graduate students to high schoolers from the nearby Madhava Kripa School quizzed the vice-counsel on a variety of topics related to studying in the United States. Even after the session was over, Ms Giovia personally answered questions from a bunch of students who approached her after the talk one-by-one.

“The talk definitely increased my understanding of the visa process, but I felt that it could have run a bit longer to cover all the aspects, even for beginners. It appears a lot of students who attended this talk were already familiar with the process, so people who had no idea about it felt a bit lost during the talk. Nevertheless, the talk was very informative and has definitely changed my perception of education in the United States” remarked Ankit, a student from the Department of Commerce, when asked his thoughts about the event.

After the conclusion of the event, and once Ms Giovia had patiently clarified all the students’ doubts, The MIT Post had the opportunity to speak with the vice-consul. In the following interview, she shared some advice for students planning to study in the U.S., as well as her experience as a consular officer in India.

What are some misconceptions that students usually have about studying in the United States?

I would say one major misconception is that Indian students aren’t getting visas anymore—that’s something that we hear a lot these days. A high percentage of students still get approved for visas, and there are thousands of Indian students studying in the U.S. It’s a great relationship between the two countries.

Another misconception is that students’ visas won’t get approved if they don’t have the right documents. At the end of the day, it’s an interview-based process where the student needs to be able to explain in their own words why and where they are going, and if they can pay for their education. The documents are actually secondary to the interview.

When it comes to working in the U.S. after a degree, would you say it is difficult to find a job in the United States?

There are options for OPT(Optional Practical Training), which allows you to work while you’re still on your F1 visa. There are a lot of opportunities to work on OPT, but there are still just a limited number of H1-B visas. It is harder to get H1-B visas because companies have to apply for them. There’s no cap on the number of students that can do the OPT, and it can be done from one to three years, depending on your degree type. As compared to the H1-B, there are a lot more spaces available for the OPT.

What advice do you have for students that intend to work part-time in the U.S.?

If students are planning to work part-time during their stay in the U.S., they can do something called Work-Study, which is a job on-campus, or a campus-affiliated job. I’d say, they can work with the University to find available on-campus jobs that legally allow them to Work-Study. If they want to do the CPT(Curricular Practical Training) during their course, they can do part-time work at some institution. They just need to make sure they find a credible place to work that meets the requirements of their CPT. Whatever they pursue for work, should be done within the confines of the law. Any place that will benefit them, relate to their degree, and will also help them get better work in the future would be a good choice.

What has been the most rewarding part of your job as a vice-consul in India?

I’m in the outreach section of the consulate right now, and I love getting to meet a lot of students, a lot of folks who are interested in working and studying in the U.S. I love being able to meet brilliant Indian students who are going to go on to do great things. And the second part is Indian food!

What, in your opinion, sets the U.S. apart from other countries in terms of education?

The huge diversity in the student body! There’s a huge percentage of international students as well as students from diverse backgrounds in the U.S. As you know, when you go to the United States, you can’t tell who’s American because an American can be anyone. You get to see different opinions and different backgrounds. Apart from this, there’s also world-class research in any subject imaginable at the various universities in the country.