I recently visited both the places for gaining more information about admissions in the US and the UK for graduate studies. I found a remarkably acute difference in the ways the proceedings were handled at the two places.
At the American Consulate, the first thing I was asked to do was deposit my original drivers license and my cell phone at the counter, and log my name and address at the library gates. I could not help feel intimidated with all the blast doors and metal detectors, all I wanted was some information! Inside the Library, there was a small room for the USEFI and everyone were expected to maintain a lot of silence.
At the USEFI, there was one lady attending the visitors, and for any question I asked, she had one answer, refer the xyz guide on the rack behind you. I asked if I could have a session with the counselor who could guide me specific to my profile, she said, their adviser had resigned, moreover, I need a membership, once they employ one! I finally got up to read some of the guides, when the lady pointed to the top rack saying only those are available for free! Besides, their entire collection was just 4 racks. Internet has a lot more to offer.
The British Council was a lot different. First and foremost, I was allowed my cell phone! When I entered the Library, I saw this huge hall with people actually using the facility. There were lots of journals lying around. There was a lounge with VH1 running on a huge LCD. This brings us back to the very fundamental question, why should libraries always have pin-drop silence? Here we had a library with a built-in lounge and good music!
At the desk, the counselor actually had hands-on information, and I was given a lot of pointers with help of the Education UK website as well as pamphlets on scholarships and University ratings (apparently the Gov. of UK rates universities’ programs on a scale of 5, they do not follow rankings). More over, I was allowed free access to 250 university prospectus, which were useful. I even got to attend a special seminar conducted by the University of Sheffield that evening. They are one of the 20 Russell Group Universities, which is quite prestigious.
The simplicity practiced at the British council is very inviting compared to the hostile atmosphere at the USEFI. It could be argued that the USEFI is located inside the American Consulate and hence the added security could be justified, but the irony and the contrast was too much to digest. All this is of course, my personal opinion, and I am sure there are others out there who appreciate USEFI’s guidance.