A Look At The NRI Student Experience

A Look At The NRI Student Experience

Amrita Thakkar Career ,,,,,,

The author of this piece, Amrita Thakkar,  did her schooling in the Middle East and is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree at Symbiosis University, Pune)

To say that most Non Resident Indians (NRIs) are brought up in a typical ‘desi’ atmosphere might be a stretch. However, what may not be such a stretch is to say that NRIs coming to India for an education (and thus a stay of at least a couple of years or more) can present quite an array of enigmas.

The reality is that simply having ‘culture and values’ inculcated hardly prepares you for the actual experience of living in India. Being born and bred in the Gulf, my parents were sure that it wouldn’t be easy for me to call India home for the three years that would constitue my university life. The day I reached Pune, I was inclined to agree with them.

Adjusting to an environment where at most, drivers seem to follow guidelines rather than rules, on roads which meander and spring potholes at will, all while keeping up with the varying states of the weather and the unpredictable power cuts, can take some time. Many also have issues with the food, especially from the street side stalls – tasty as it is, the conditions wreak havoc on our overly sterilized stomachs. Indian universities also usually have a strict dress code that must be followed by students, which can cause some irritation for those of us who have friends studying abroad who need not follow such rules.

The Bane Of The NRI Quota

The NRI quota is another source of consternation for NRI students. This quota sets aside a number of guaranteed seats for NRI students and exempts them from the rigorous testing process, with a single caveat – they must pay double the fees.

A young woman who was born and brought up in Dubai, but applied to a private university in Pune through general quota, gave her experience shared her experience, “I never felt any discrimination being an NRI because I applied through the general quota. But there was an unsaid resentment towards the kids who’d pay double and get through taking up the seat of a more motivated student on part of the faculty and maybe even the authorities. But this is because it’s a private university.”
She further elaborated, “Government institutions especially in politically-charged places  like Delhi University, there’s a stronger resentment because competition is high it is deemed unfair when their seat is taken by somebody who can afford it as opposed to deserve it.”

However, it must also be deemed unfair that college administrators assume NRIs can afford exorbitant fees, especially since certain colleges decree that NRI students cannot apply through the general quota at all, depriving them of the opportunity to gain admission on their own merit.

Endeavor & Ambition

Studying in India exposes us to a mélange of cultures and sights, compressed into a relatively small geographical area.
The opportunities to travel and learn about our origins and country are endless, and not an experience you can have elsewhere. Moreover, India is known for molding its students into incredibly self-reliant and responsible adults – while it’s tough going for a while, ultimately, the end result is usually worth it. Even after graduation, the job market, especially in sectors like Media and IT, offers lucrative opportunities to recent graduates, to the point where even NRIs abroad are moving back to India.
A 25-year-old entrepreneur we spoke to, who is originally from Kuwait but settled in Pune after university, gave us his point of view, “Some of my friends tell me that in Kuwait you earn more for doing less. That’s true. India really tests your patience out and you have to struggle for things, but my goal isn’t to ‘work less for more money’. For people who just want any kind of job that will sustain them and their families, that’s fine, but for people who have ambition, India is the place to do that.”

The Flip Side

However, everyone’s experience isn’t always wholly easy. Another graduate from Symbiosis University in Pune, said, “Getting through NRI quota was quite frankly easy but the judgement you get from your batch mates later on is the part which you don’t want to look forward to. There was quite a lot of resentment during my 3 years in college but it’s not something that can affect you if you don’t pay much attention to it. Honestly, it’s all about blending in with the crowd and bringing your ideas and your presence into it. Many of my batch mates haven’t stepped out of the country and that’s when your knowledge of the world comes in for people who want to take up a course or work abroad.” He did admit, of course, to the benefits NRIs receive through this: “I applied through NRI quota because it was easier to get through that quota since there were better students locally itself who had higher grades. Hence, my chances of getting through into college were higher.”


At the end of the day, this divide between the NRIs and the local students seems to exist due to a perception of NRI students as rich, spoiled children with silver spoons. The reality couldn’t be more different: most of the NRI students I know (including myself) come from wholly middle class families. In fact, in my experience, more often than not, there are local students on campus who spend much more thoughtlessly than I do! Yet, despite this disparity, is it worth your while to study here?

Admittedly, India has taught me much more about independence, self-reliance, culture, and street smarts (the first step to every electrical problem is to flip the switch), along with giving me many amazing memories. Yet, it is not a path cut out for everyone, and if you want to study here, make sure you’re prepared for all the inevitable changes.

Featured image courtesy