Why Do Americans Study in India?

Did you know that India ranks higher than countries like Brazil, Denmark, Israel, New Zealand, Austria and the Netherlands when Americans choose where to study abroad? And, with almost 200 study abroad options to choose from on popular study abroad program search websites like studyabroad.com, this should come as no surprise.

According to the Open Door Survey for the academic year 2011/12 - 2012/13, India ranks #13 among countries that Americans choose to go to for studying abroad. The Open Door Survey ranks American student's participation and interest
in educational exchange. 

There may be many reasons depending on individual choices. Here are some reasons I have collected from coachees, my personal experience and current trends:
  • Americans prefer India for culture, gender, language, religious or spiritual studies.
  • Madras Christian College - Main Gate - 1999Americans are more exposed to Indian culture and business via the outsourcing/offshoring trends.
  • Americans are more exposed to Indians and Indian culture through the increasing number of Indians in the USA and intercultural intermixing.
  • Americans are ready to experience something less traditional, ‘more challenging’ and different than the more ‘safer’ destinations.
  • More Indian universities have ‘twinning programs’ with the US colleges promoting dual degree programs or short-term Indian exposure.
  • Some NRI children born in America (American citizens of Indian origin) study in India.
  • There are many more ‘short term’ programs to India; exposing students to India for a few weeks to a few months rather than year-long or degree programs. This is a safer option for college kids who want to experience India but don’t want to be in an unfamiliar culture ‘too long’.
  • Students may choose India because living expenses are often cheaper than other countries. 
  • The medium of instruction in many colleges is English, and many Indians speak English which can make interactions easier.
  • Certain subsets of Americans purely come out of fascination and curiosity for India. 
Indians may be shocked that so many Americans chose India to study. Many Indians want to leave India to study. An American’s experience of study abroad is often very different than a typical Indian’s experience of studying abroad.

A Few Salient Characteristics of American Study Abroad Programs to India:

  • Most are short-term study abroad programs (few weeks to few months)
  • Many are non-degree or certificate earning programs
  • Some programs may be eligible for degree credit in the US (some are extra-curricular)
  • Study Abroad programs are sponsored by the US institutes (Americans pay for the US college credit while studying in India on these programs.).
  • Most Americans studying in India do not actually take classes with Indian students or professors (do not learn about true Indian academic culture through daily classroom interaction and Indian grading standards).
  • Very few Americans enroll, matriculate and graduate from Indian institutes.
Americans coming to India on the whole take a different approach to cultural adjustment than many of the Indians coming to the USA. Many more Americans coming to India attend some pre-departure cross-cultural training organized by their college to be sensitized to the culture before coming. While a typical American may be less exposed to India than a typical Indian to American culture, but these pre-departure trainings help dispel myths, stereotypes and offer opportunities to learn about the day-to-day life situations happening in India. These sessions also do help with things like travel planning (travel within India is difficult, time consuming and confusing), daily interactions, introductions to Indian cuisine, dressing tips (especially for women), safety measures, housing, and other salient topics.

Though a typical American would spend less time in India studying and living than a typical Indian in the USA, it is good to see the number of Americans interested in learning about India in India is rising. This will increase cross-cultural understanding between Indians and Americans. Indians in America can find more Americans having some tie to India and find common ground for conversation or even deep, meaningful friendships.

Feel free to share your experiences of studying in India below. If you’re an Indian, have you learned something interesting about your country you did not know from an American who has studied in India?


Thank you for reading.
Photo in this post: Author while studying a master's degree at Madras Christian College India (matriculated).


Related Posts:
Previous Pre-departure Training Programs Conducted by Author of this post
Choose your study abroad program to India (from USA)
Fewer Indian students in US, but more Americans here (in India)


Jennifer Kumar, author of this post, has organized and coordinated cross-cultural pre-departure preparatory seminars and classes for American students coming to India. Jennifer, who currently lives in South India, is available for consultation and pre-departure cross-cultural planning with you and your students via Skype, e-mail or phone. Contact her today.


Originally posted on Nov. 16, 2011. Updated Oct. 2015

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