This podcast helps international students feel a little less alien
Studying abroad can be messy, complicated and even a little bit lonely – not that many international students would admit it. Sandhya Ramachandran, on the other hand, admits that studying abroad isn’t always as perfect as it may seem.
Born in Dubai, Sandhya moved to Boston to pursue her masters in Film Production and discovered that life for an Indian student in the US wasn’t as glamorous as it appeared on social media and in brochures. And that is why she started her multi-media platform, Aliens with Visas.
Each of the Aliens with Visas podcast episodes features a conversation between Sandhya and a guest who is connected to studying abroad in some way. Conversations range from cultural differences to legal struggles to the heavy task of trying to find a job as an immigrant. With a healthy dose of humor, Sandhya helps students through the internal struggles that come with studying abroad and gives them a platform for their voices to be heard.
The now-completed first season has six episodes that are all available on her website, which also has blog posts and videos on topics not discussed on the show, such as this hilarious video on the difficulties of dating as an international student.
Now back living in Dubai, Sandhya answers some questions about the show via email.
What is the most unexpected problem you came across while studying abroad?
I didn’t expect to feel so… betrayed. Thousands of students have come to the USA for higher study before me. Yet I had never heard a negative account of the experience. I came with the mindset that this was going to be an amazing journey but nobody warned me that it takes a while to kick in. They seem to forget that the first 6 months is often the hardest. It gets better with time, but there is a problem in the way we treat anything American as infallible, including the education system.
What was the biggest challenge that came with putting the AwV experience together?
To believe in my idea 100% every day. A lot of times I was afraid that maybe this was just my issue. Maybe it wouldn’t resonate with others. If you were to search online for accounts about studying abroad in the USA, they are largely positive and focused on the academics. I felt like I was taking on a big towering bully in some ways.
What are your hopes for future international students?
What we currently have in universities doesn’t work. International student associations are well intentioned but you have to understand that these gatherings will be avoided like the plague. They tend to be quite cheesy with topics like how to understand American lingo. Had I experienced some form of reassurance, an inkling that I’m not the first to feel this way, I know it would have made a world of difference. And that’s what I want this show to be - a companion on the internal journey that’s both necessary and challenging for the international student.
Is there going to be a season two? What can listeners expect?
Yes! My favourite thing about America is the sheer diversity. I met some of the most interesting people, had such memorable conversations and was exposed to so many schools of thought. I love the people of America and they rightly occupy centerstage in Season Two by talking about what it means to be American. We hear from someone on the verge of being legally ‘Americanized’ - a green card holder, to first generation kids, to American citizens from different communities that have migrated years and years ago. I think it’s important to showcase honest accounts on both sides. In my experience, most American people have no idea or intention to make immigrants feel like outsiders. I’ve had friends, acquaintances and total strangers be collectively apologetic for the visa process in their country. Right now, American people probably feel terribly misunderstood. This show is a platform for their voices too so that popular media is not the only basis on which foreigners form opinions on the American life.