Skip to content ↓

International students advise fellow travelers

Reykjavík, Iceland.
Reykjavík, Iceland.
Man floating in the Dead Sea, Israel.
Man floating in the Dead Sea, Israel.
Photo courtesy / Wikimedia Commons
Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai, India.
Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai, India.

MIT Sloan students from around the world offer the Institute community their thoughts on what a visitor may find in their country of origin, and in return, what they learned about living, working and studying in the United States.


Lydur Thor Thorgeirsson, M.B.A. '07, a native of Iceland, has been in the United States for just over a year.

Thorgeirsson's advice to someone who is going to work or live in Iceland:
Don't expect much formality in meetings, adherence to hierarchy or emphasis on processes. Everyone is focusing on the end results and is willing to try new methods and listen to your ideas. You'll work hard, but on the flip side, you'll have several weeks of vacation.

Advice to someone who is going to school or to study for a period of time in Iceland:
It will be fairly inexpensive because of government subsidies. Expect standard lectures across the board. Presentations and case classes are few and far between. The bulk of Icelandic students like to emphasize extracurricular activities and then cram before finals.

Three necessary visits or experiences in Iceland:

  • The Blue Lagoon. A geothermal power plant uses ultra-hot seawater from the bowels of earth for production of hot water and electricity. The pool of excess water is so rich in minerals it has become one of Iceland's biggest tourist attractions.
  • Downtown Reykjavik on a weekend night. The nightlife in Reykjavik is ranked among the best in the world and celebrities frequently visit the island because of it.
  • Hvannadalshnjukur is Iceland's highest peak, located on the largest glacier in Europe (2,111 meters/6,900 feet above sea level). Walking the glacier takes about six hours. Get a good guide and arrive in spring before the snow melts to avoid big crevasses.

Thorgeirsson wished someone had given this advice about living in the United States:
Expect to write and mail lots and lots of checks (everything is done online in Iceland). The only eatable cheese in the continental United States is called Monterrey Jack Mild from Farm Valley and can only be found in one store in the Cambridge area. Get a car quickly or sign a Zipcar agreement so that you can go to Costco. Also beware that childcare in the United States is prohibitively expensive.

Wished-for advice about studying/attending school in the United States:
Jump right in and participate in class. That's the best way you'll build up confidence in speaking the language. Try to meet as many people as possible and start building friendships right away.

Wished-for advice about working in the United States:
You'll quickly realize that this is the country where Dilbert is drawn. That being said, you'll also quickly realize why U.S. corporations are so successful globally. Finally, take John Akula's law class to prepare you for work in the United States. Wherever you're from you'll be amazed to learn about the U.S. legal system and how that will dramatically affect some of the decisions you might face.


Tsahala David, Sloan Fellow '07, of Israel, has lived in the United States for six months.

Advice to a visitor to Israel:
Get used to a very high tempo in a very spontaneous environment. Subtleties don't work--be direct about what you want or object to. Expect people to be very emotional about things, and that covers the entire array, from anger to happiness.

Advice to a student planning to spend a period of time in Israel:
Expect little to no privacy. Israelis are very warm people and specifically love Americans. You will find your schoolmates will go out of their way to help you and be shameless about asking you questions. If someone invites you to dinner at his house after knowing you for two hours don't be surprised. It is genuine friendship. People bond very fast very tightly.

Three necessary sights or experiences in Israel:

  • Jerusalem--the capital city of Israel. A place with a history of thousands of years. The center for three religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. A fascinating walk back in time to another era.
  • Dead Sea natural phenomena considered one of the eight wonders of the world. The minerals of the sea have therapeutic powers due to unique and high concentration of minerals in the water. The sensation of bathing in the salty water is unequaled.
  • Tel Aviv--the city of beaches, bikinis, culture, night life and fun!

Wished-for advice about living in the United States:
That life here is far easier and more comfortable than in Israel. That service people here are far less efficient than in Israel, so be patient and plan a backup because whatever they promised is not going to happen.

Wished-for advice about studying or attending school in the United States:
That when students go out for beers you don't actually have to drink beer. As a person who dislikes alcohol, I kind of avoided the beer-meetings, assuming everyone gets a bit drunk and makes jokes I probably can't understand. Apparently that is not the case. And going out for beers here is the equivalent to going out for a coffee in Israel.

Wished-for advice about working in the US:
How do you land the job of your dreams?


Aparna Chennapragada, system design and management fellow '06, is a native of Hyderabad, South India, who has lived in the United States for the past nine years.

Advice on going to work or to live in India:
India is a wonderful country, caught between its promising potential and staggering poverty. Even its chaos is colorful (to my biased eyes, admittedly). Make a conscious effort to remove the western lens and absorb the uniqueness of the place instead of attempting to map it to familiar categories. The size of the population can be shocking to people who have lived in far less populous countries, but it can be quite an interesting experience to find yourself in a sea of humanity. On a practical note, if you have low immunity, watch what you eat and drink!

Advice on studying in India:
Work with people across departments and fields. Step outside the bubble of the school or university. Learn a new language (or two).

Three necessary visits or experiences in India:

  • Ancient temples in South India (architectural marvels with rich history).
  • Tour around Hyderabad (my hometown with its friendly people and laid-back environment).
  • The Taj Mahal (although I myself haven't seen it yet).

Wished-for advice about living in the United States:
I wish I were told to travel more and explore America beyond its touristy cities and iconic landmarks.

Wished-for advice about studying/attending school in the United States:
Get involved with the community, not only within the school but the extended community in the town/city.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 10, 2007 (download PDF).

Related Topics

More MIT News