Iowa State University

Tanya Elizabeth Ken: Iowa State University offers opportunities & support system along with academics

Written by: Charu Thakur

Name: Tanya Elizabeth Ken
University: Iowa State University
Course: Computer Engineering
Location: The United States

Key Highlights
  • Start applying early as it makes your chances better
    The university focuses on overall development and not just academics
    Take up a few additional subjects each semester which push you out of our comfort zone
    A good support system in a foreign country can go a long way

(May 23, 2024) At 14, Tanya Elizabeth Ken got an opportunity to go to San Francisco to pitch Lakshyashala – her edtech firm that helps underserved kids to have a fair chance at studying. Exploring the Stanford University campus and her interaction with other kids at the Technovation Challenge about college life in the US made her realise about the support system in place for the students there. “The kind of support that you get for initiatives outside of your academics is valuable. There are support systems in place to encourage students and support their initiatives – be it nonprofits or entrepreneurial initiatives,” Tanya, who is studying at the Iowa State University, tells Global Indian.

Tanya Elizabeth Ken

Tanya Elizabeth Ken

Even at her university, there are multiple entrepreneurial initiatives that students can opt for irrespective of their major. “I thought joining a college in the US would help me find the right support for developing Lakshyashala as people saw a lot of value in it. That was the first time I thought about studying abroad,” adds the 18-year-old.

Apply early for better results

In 2020, she began preparing for her application process as she believes in an early start since Common Application of Submission involves a lot of essay writing. “When you are applying to Ivy leagues or top 10 universities, they value the essays,” she reveals, adding that applying to the list of colleges of your choice is important as “early applications make your chances better.” Moreover, one can seek guidance from professional advisors at online career fairs.

Seeking admission in the middle of the pandemic was a different ballgame. “SATs were made optional which were earlier mandatory. Because of Covid, the tests were getting cancelled and I had to travel to Chennai for my SAT. Plus, I had to take TOFEL exam for English.” Tanya ended up enrolling for Computer Engineering at the Iowa State University, which is one of the high-ranking research universities in the US. Explaining the reason behind her choice, she says, “There are many research opportunities at the university. Moreover, they have an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Academy that anyone, irrespective of their major, can join. They help you get funding, pitch your product, participate in other competitions and give you mentors. It was an opportunity for me to have a professional mentor at the university.”

Adjusting to cultural shifts

Travelling alone to the US at a young age was a unique experience for Tanya, who took her time to adjust to the cultural changes, especially certain mannerisms and etiquettes like tipping or opening the doors or greeting people on the way. “It’s not something that you get to see much in India,” she says, adding, “It’s surreal to ground yourself initially knowing you are going to be spending a few years here and need to start planning and figuring out things.” The initial phase went into figuring out a couple of things like opening a bank account, filing for Social Security Number, finding an on-campus job and learning to do taxes. “It can be overwhelming at times but then you need to sit down and chalk things out.”

Stark contrast in education

The first couple of weeks were about multiple activities spread across for international students, which gave her an opportunity to meet students from Mongolia, Japan, Korea, China, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt and Canada. “It made me believe how diverse my experience is going to be because every person has a different perspective and experience that we can exchange which makes it enriching.” But as soon as studies and lectures kicked in, she saw the contrast in education system between the US and India. “Back home, we have academic-based classes focused on exams but here it’s more about weekly projects and assignments that has a heavy weightage on your grades. Also, the format of teaching is very different,” she reveals, adding, “We also need to figure out a schedule for the classes as we take up a few additional subjects each semester which push us out of our comfort zone.”

Broad range of subjects – a welcoming change

But it’s the variety of subjects and classes that makes studying at the Iowa State University exciting for Tanya. Despite her major in computer engineering, she has been attending classes on sociology, psychology, women and gender studies – an option that she says she wouldn’t have gotten back home if she was pursuing the same major. “I got a broad understanding of a variety of global issues. Looking at things from different perspective is something that has changed for me, irrespective of the fact that I agree or disagree.” Moreover, these classes have given her a perspective on how to expand Lakshyashala in the US. “Not just in terms of programming but how I can alter the model depending on various needs in the US. It’s something I wouldn’t have gotten had I not taken these classes. The education issues in the US are a lot different from that in India, and has helped me look at different ways to expand Lakshyashala,” she says.

It’s the balanced approach of mixing studies with overall development that makes studying in the US a unique experience for Tanya. “I like the campus community and the various clubs like painting, weightlifting, hiking, women in stem, entrepreneurship, campus service along with on campus activities like trips. They focus on the overall development of an individual. You hobbies are equally important here and they encourage you to stay in touch with those hobbies.”

Despite being in the country for two years, Tanya says that at time she finds the environment unfamiliar. “I have faced so many situations for the first time, and that too alone.” However, she says it has helped her become independent. In the meantime, she has found a support system in her friends that she met during her different classes, club activities and at events. “At Iowa State University, there is a really good international students office where we can go in person and talk about the issues we are facing. It helps me provide an opportunity to network with other international students.”

Budgeting her way

Having worked with Lakshyashala and projects with the UN at a young age, Tanya has been taking care of the funds and budget from a young age. So, taking care of her finances in the UK wasn’t a challenge, thanks to her previous exposure. “The biggest challenge for me was to understand each product and its actual value. Some stores hike up the price of the products. Certain things are expensive in Target in comparison to Walmart. I was initially spending a lot of money on things that were expensive but later I understood where I can find the same at much lesser price,” she smiles. But like every Indian, the first few months went into converting every dollar into rupee in her mind, during every purchase. “But then you have to learn to ignore it and understand that things will be expensive in the US and you shouldn’t bargain at the cost of your wellbeing.”

To keep up with the cost and to get some experience, she worked with the on-campus IT dept for over a year where she made $13 per hour. “During the semester, you can work up to 20 hours per week as an international student and during breaks, you can work for 40 hours per week on campus. You aren’t allowed to work off the campus,” she reveals, adding that her university approves her internships. “The job should be directly related to your major and align with the US immigration rules.”

Future plans

With one more year to go, Tanya has plans of taking up post graduate position in the US, and has already started looking out for graduate courses and colleges. “I also want to be involved in research work on the campus, and continue my work with Lakshyashala as I still engage with Technovation and entrepreneurship opportunities on campus.”

Belting out advice to students looking to study abroad, she says, “Push yourself out of the comfort zone. Coming to a new country in a new environment can be scary but it’s worth it. Befriend more people and learn about their culture and experiences. I’d encourage them to take that leap,” signs off Tanya.


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