Getting ready: The Pre-departure Briefing in India

For the new student, July is a busy month. As Delhi-ites prepare to start their academic stints at universities across the world, I attended a pre-departure briefing hosted by my old university, reminded at the excitement of this new passage ahead and hoping I might be of help as a UK national, to assuage any worries.

Last week’s pre-departure took place in a suite at a conference centre (with an excellent high-tea chai break) at around the time that many Indian students are also attending other PDB’s and getting ready to leave for the UK in September.

A hundred questions are on student’s minds right now, beside the usual, what to pack and the flexibility of the luggage allowance. They want to know about the food in their new city, the weather, how they will cope with snow, what shoes to wear. Many coming from hot Indian cities have never seen snow in their lifetime, and will have to get used to regularly carrying an umbrella if the UK is their next stop.

During the Q and A session, students asked the usual questions: Will I have a Wireless connection? Will I have to get codes for the Internet? How long can books be rented for at a stretch? What about plagiarism in essay submissions? Will I have seminars and lectures every day? How long do you have to prepare for each seminar’s work? How late is the library open? What is there to do in the city? Are there places to buy food? Which societies can I join? What about finding accommodation? Mobile phone providers, software packages? Who can I go to if I have a problem?

It’s not so long ago that I was a student myself, asking similar questions, foraging for information from other new student ‘freshers’, and gradually learning from my own experiences the best way to get things done. Being given the name of a personal tutor, and scribbling their room number on the campus map is what these students have still to come. Suddenly this map, that once looked so disorientating and unknowable, becomes known, as they traverse the corridors of the university painting knowledge on new canvases, making friends and dusting biscuit crumbs from library book spines, assimilating new thoughts and theories.

One question to ask, just how valuable are these PDB’s? 

They help on a pastoral care level, which, having observed many working in this field comprises a huge chunk of time spent in the education sector. Students will need a home away from home, insider information, and tips to make their university days smoother. The academic faculty, admissions, and country officers can provide this support, which often goes far beyond knowledge acquisition. Sometimes, like at this briefing, parents or siblings accompany the new student, to act as extra sponges and absorb information that the student in their excitement may forget.

The pre-departure briefing is also there to remind the student that the experience is multi faceted, and in paying attention to the details, and keeping organized in the new environment, they can be more in tune with their goals. It’s brave, being a student this way around, waiting on the sidelines of a leap overseas. The Indian students I met all hailing from chemical engineering backgrounds to computer science to astrophysicists, with fresh open faces, leafed through Lonely Planet travel guides to their new city, thoughtfully supplied at the briefing by the country office. They stared at the pages of a place they’d never been, but had carefully selected for subject prestige, institution knowledge or on recommendation. What a step, to board a plane to a place you’ve never been and call it yours for one to three years, for the undergraduate degree, the masters or the PhD.

The PDB is more an example; an initiation of what life might be like, sometime soon. Preparing the student for life at university is akin to preparing your business plan for transition into reality. It takes opinions, feedback and research to succeed at university, and in business terms this pre departure preparation is similarly important. No student can reach the 2:1 or first without adequate groundwork.

Broaching the trends between the UK and India can be thought about in terms of the education space, with tomorrow’s graduates preparing their suitcases and in tower block terminology of the entrepreneurs and businessmen, armed keenly with their proposals ready to invest.  

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