Neha Rampuria, a Master of Architecture student, arrived in College Station in fall 2019 and found that the U.S. is different than what she was expecting.

Though it’s only been a year since I left my home in Gujarat, India to attend Texas A&M, it feels like yesterday when I was wondering what college would be like for me as an international student studying in the U.S. Is this the right school for me? Would I get along with the professors and my classmates? Would I make new friends? Those days leading up to my move to College Station were filled with a thousand questions and stress.

Culture shock

Once I arrived, everything about life seemed different from what I had experienced in India – the city, the climate, food, people, and especially the festivals. I was expecting it to be like San Francisco and New York, which are most often portrayed by the media and in movies but found out the U.S. was so much more.

College Station has a very subtle architecture and pedestrian-friendly streets. This environment made me much more comfortable than living in the hustle and bustle of big cities. It remains lively throughout the week with all the students and young professionals. Numerous events happen regularly in downtown Bryan that I look forward to. One of my favorite memories there was during the holidays – gazing at the musicians and artists performing in the lit streets around Christmas, with people swaying to the live music, was wonderful.

Not having experienced fall and cold winters before, I was thrilled for the cooler days, but the extreme heat of summer dried the excitement out of me. The unpredictable weather in Texas really threw me. It was difficult to choose clothes for the day when hot mornings would turn into rainy cold evenings. Sometimes, I would regret even the simplest decision of wearing flip-flops.

A friendly face

Beginning to live in a new place also made me feel ambivalent. The welcome parties, grad student socials, and orientation programs seemed overwhelming.

But these mixed feelings changed when on the first day of class, I met Professor Elton Abbott, who I would work for as a graduate assistant. I remember him introducing me not only to everyone in the Dean’s Office but also to people throughout the college, and everyone else he met on the way.

Such a warm welcome made me comfortable and at home, and since then, I have looked at these people as family.

A new crew

Like many other international students, I expected to find someone from my home country to make friends with and explore things together in my first days of classes. I realized soon that no matter which country people were from, they were all fun in their own ways.

I feel blessed to be a part of such a diverse environment. Since then, my friends and I have done many activities together: visiting project sites, working late nights for final reviews, going for football matches, shopping, and dining. For me, exploring various kinds of food has been the most interesting experience of them all. Chuy’s, the Tex-mex restaurant’s queso and enchiladas are few of the cuisines I crave now.

Passion fueled

Because of my profound interest in research, conceptualization, and sustainability, I had always wanted to pursue a master's in sustainable architecture. I believe architecture plays an important role in positively affecting the health of its users as well as its surroundings. As architects, we are responsible for making this possible.

The new ‘Design for Health - Track’ program at the College of Architecture is a platform to think one step ahead in terms of how architecture affects people's health. I was convinced that the program will elevate my understanding and help me in developing independent, thoughtful, and hands-on approach to my projects. Therefore, I decided to come here and study it with a hope that someday I will be able to contribute to designing environments that serve a greater purpose than just the aesthetics of a surrounding.

Challenges

Teaching methodologies and systems were very different for me here versus how I was taught at home. Orienting myself within this system was difficult in the beginning, but there were always people around willing to help.

Studying abroad has taught me new design and teaching methods which pushed my boundaries and helped me to become a more well-informed designer. But I also think that my experience of living in India: visiting historical architectural monuments, studying, observing and dealing with everyday urban challenges, have also helped me in sensitive designing and decision making.

It has been challenging for me when there is a difference in opinions and beliefs between professors and myself. But such discussions mostly come to a beneficial conclusion.

Various opportunities like design conferences, career fairs, and workshops help introduce students to professionals in their field. On the other hand, some professors have truly embraced us and are dedicated to helping and guiding us in our careers. I cannot credit George Mann, architecture professor, enough for guiding me in making industry connections stronger, eventually helping in getting good job opportunities. During the HealthCare Design Conference, I remember him introducing us to every professional from big architecture firms and giving the window to have a dialogue.

These formal experiences and conversations, though terrifying in the beginning, helped me get out of my comfort zone and develop enthusiasm for improving myself personally and professionally.

My experiences here have not only broadened my perspective but have also helped me become a better individual and progress in achieving my goals. As with any other international student, I arrived in the U.S with loads of expectations and hopes. During this one year, I learned that even though all of these expectations do not turn into reality, some of them do and you just need to be consistent and patient enough to make it happen.