It is becoming more and more pronounced nowadays. The slight uncomfortableness when booking a flight, the gradual build up as the day approaches, and then that queasy, gnawing non-calm as this technological marvel flies through the skies. Holding one decidedly uneasy passenger with a very dated sense of fashion and zero understanding of Whatsapp stickers. (No really, what are they? What purpose do they serve?)

Flying has become my nemesis. Well, not so much a nemesis, as that annoying sibling who you are slightly afraid of. Alright, nemesis then. One whom I have to battle fairly often, with little success.

Yet, it was during just such a battle that I fell into an incredibly interesting conversation.

To give you some context, a mild (very mild) bout of turbulence had brought the worst to my mind. I was well on my way to forming completely illogical connections between the plane and Iran’s defence systems, when my co-passenger handed me a glass of water.

She must have noticed how uncomfortable I was becoming and sought out the one true magic liquid: water. Which is how our conversation began. Turns out that she had studied at Yale University, completing a master’s in public health before doing a bunch of exciting things.

Just the kind of person I want, no need to, speak with.

And so our conversation flowed on, me asking her about an Ivy League education, studying in the States, and whether she thought it was worth the sixty-odd lakhs spent. Her answering my questions with candour, delving back in time and churning out the memories. Making a correction here and there, dropping anecdotes and these one-line zingers now and then.

I made a fair few learnings through our chat. But if I had to choose the most relevant ones for this blog’s readers these are the ones I would pick:

One, the real “value” of an Ivy League education lies outside the classroom. In her two years at Yale, she sat through an intimate talk by Desmond Tutu, watched Natalie Portman perform on campus, attended an Anoushka Shankar performance and more. These were opportunities that her peers at other schools simply did not have. And these were experiences that changed her in a deep, yet often intangible, manner.

Two, studying abroad can get lonely. She told me about a Thanksgiving spent on campus, all alone, with no one to talk to for two days straight. And how the US is not like India where you can self-invite yourself into that Aunty’s house; life is hard and managing guests can be a burden. You have to be ready to deal with this aspect.

Three, desis need to learn to network. “We (Indians) believe that our grades are enough to get us employed. Do well in school, and you will get a job.” But the world does not work like that. You must network. And from day one if you can. In fact, a platform to network is one of the most valuable aspects of a foreign education.  You better make the most of it.

Four, closed borders. Alright, so 9/11 took place a few weeks after her course began; a lot of what she shared has to be viewed in this context. Nonetheless, I do think that it is important to talk about tightening borders and xenophobia – brushing it under the carpet helps no one. Anyway, one of the fall outs of 9/11 was a virtual drying up of work visas in her particular field of expertise. She had to watch as jobs that she was perfectly qualified for slip out of her hands the minute her nationality came into the picture.

This is one aspect of the foreign education experience which really deserves far more attention than it currently gets. And I hope that we can have some more discussions about this.

Of course, our conversation was about so much more including drunk passengers, the need for infant-only flights, and how to survive long haul journeys. Best of all, the conversation continued even as the plane shuddered onto the runway, my least favourite section of a flight. This time around though, that familiar feeling of dread was absent. Completely absent.

And as the seat belt sign was switched off, and everyone made that mad rush to stand up in the aisle, I thanked her for sharing her words and wisdom. And for helping me fight the nemesis.

This time, this one time, victory would be mine.


(Lead image taken from here)