College life in Manipal is a whirlwind. From the first sleepy day of each semester to the last wild celebration post the last exam, the town sucks you into its vibrance and spits your dazed self out at the end with a lost sense of time, but a bunch of memories and grades added to your luggage. The insufferable weather manages to unite so many through four years of their lives, yet this is not a feat peculiar to Manipal. Students all over the world trudge through their days of sleepless nights and too many tasks to even count, yet their lives are so phenomenally different.
When attitudes and experiences are worlds apart even from person to person, what universes do people in other countries live through?
Culture – A Jigsaw of Jubilees
While festivals the world over have a very niche student community that they pander to, Indian colleges cater to a wider variety of students, being a lot more inclusive in nature. For instance, in Ohio State, The Festival of Cartoon Art is a yearly tradition celebrated since 1983. It is a gathering of caricature lovers who make spoofs and parodies on famous characters in the discourse of the world. The Festival of Books at the University of Southern California is a celebration that beckons bookworms to unleash their literary talent among other book aficionados, bounce ideas off each other and meet new authors. Mardi Gras is a carnival of merry celebrated in New Orleans in Tulane University on Shrove Tuesday, marking the last day of feasting before fasting during Lent. The New Orleans Jazz Festival is a multi-day festival that has been attracting many jazz lovers since 1970. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an occasion enjoyed by the residents of Georgetown university every year to nurture the relationship between Japan and the United States.
Greek culture, i.e. sororities and fraternities is an integral concept, especially in the US. Much like our own student-run clubs, they are exclusive communities for people with common interests.
In India, our college festivals constitute of myriad events ranging from Human Libraries, Quizzes, Debate Tournaments, Exhibitions of models developed by our student projects, Battle of Bands, Rap Battles and Jury Room to name few, all thrown in together for our thrill.
Culture – The Eyeglass of Experience
A country’s culture influences the experiences of a majority of its residents. Nowhere does this statement ring truer than college life. Students from every corner of the country make it their home for a few years, thereby making it a melting pot of people from different walks of life. People who have attended colleges in multiple countries have often been shocked by the stark contrasts in life in them.
For example, classroom culture in France is extremely different from that of the United States. Asking questions during class is generally frowned upon in the former, whilst encouraged in the latter. Student-teacher relationships are extremely formal in France. Students even dress formally in France, whereas you can often find people in their pyjamas in colleges in the US. All of these differences can be attributed to the fact that French culture is a lot more orthodox and traditional than in the US.
Academics in Chinese colleges are extremely rigorous and designed to push students to their limits. They often have mandatory and supervised study sessions for hours on end. While the benefits of this system are evident, it still serves as a mirror reflecting the exam-oriented student culture in the country.
Culture – The Artisan of Attitudes
“Just x more years, and I’m done”. This is a statement that almost every Indian student has told themselves before embarking on another step of what has now become the natural progression of education in this country. We dispassionately choose the best area of study we can find, the word ‘best’ defined by societal trends. It’s easy to get lost in crowds, yet difficult to demarcate the place where you actually belong.
Half a world away, a lot of your classmates probably wouldn’t even be your own age. In countries such as the USA, UK and European countries, the first step after school is to find your own path, instead of going to university for the sake of the degree. Education is a means, not a necessity, and people even begin university after the age of 30. No degree is looked down upon, however unconventional, and courses can be changed at will. The dynamic towards one’s subjects itself is vibrant and energetic. We work day and night for the clubs and fests which we choose and volunteer for at will, with our course requirements popping up as necessary nuisances every now and then.
We beg our parents for more pocket money, and while student loans exist, people who avail them are the minority. We look down on the people who hand us our fast food or park our cars. Elsewhere, this would be unthinkable for many – it is shameful to expect your way through college paid for you by your parents, and self-sufficiency is what’s most important.
However, nobody is done wrong on either side, despite the disparities. We have stronger connections and safety mechanisms, but our perception of these four years is almost unimaginably different.
Cultures permeate through one another, yet they always retain their own nuances. College is a universal concept, yet there are countless differences in college life in countries around the globe. Just thinking of people of the same age in situations seemingly impossible is reminiscent of Qainaat. A world apart, different tongues and mannerisms tint the college halls. A world apart, people pore through their handpicked fields of interest, as we count the years away.
College students, however, are united in their differences. Regardless of dissimilarities, a person’s college life serves as a coming of age experience- where they enter their first year as confused and intimidated kids, and leave as confident and well-equipped adults, ready to take on the world.
Written by Ankitha Giridhar, Shuba Murthy and Rushil Dalal for MTTN
Edited by Shuba Murthy for MTTN
Featured image by Arvin Das for MTTN