Just Try Harder

Story by

Suah Min


South Korea


Social Sciences



After spending one year in Connecticut when I was 11 years old, and another year in Pennsylvania when I was 17, I thought I had a pretty good English skill. However, it was my mistake and I realized it when I came to Stony Brook University. During my first semester of freshman year, I had such a difficult time understanding what professor was saying. Not being able to understand the class material really depressed me, and I started to question myself why I was here. I did not want to go to class because I didn’t understand the material anyway no matter I go to class or not. Also, there were too much to read that I can never catch up. I was jealous of my American friends who get good grades by going to classes and reading book much faster than I did. I wish all the materials were in Korean, which is my first language. After excusing myself not getting a good grade and being an international student, my sister has given me a really big advice. She went to college and graduate school in New York, and she even got a scholarship while she was in school. She told me that I should never excuse myself from anything because this was the choice that I have made. Rather, I should try to find a way to overcome my barrier, and that will improve myself and help me move a step forward. She said that because English is not my first language, I should put more effort and take it as granted, instead of comparing myself to other people.

What I did first was to go to every single class. I heard many people saying that “Oh, you don’t have to go to this class”, “It’s an easy A class”, “Why do you go to that class? It’s a waste of time” or something like that. However, I thought that going to class was the minimum effort that I could put, and I tried to pay attention to what professor was saying. Also, going to class was one of the ways to let professor be more familiar with my face. The professor might not know my name, but I at least tried to make my face noticeable by sitting at the front row.

However, I knew that I was not going to fully understand the material by just going to the class. So, what I did was that I took notes, and recorded lectures. It’s pointless if you just record the lecture and never listen to it again. About a week before the exam, I listened to the all the recordings again and added some notes to the ones that I took before. It is a very tedious job and some might think it’s waste of time, but this method was really helpful to me. The reason I listened to the lectures again was that I thought lectures are the most important material and most of the questions on the exam are from the lectures. I tried to listen to lectures as much as possible to understand the material fully.

The last thing that I did was going to the office hour. Before, I was too afraid to go to office hour and ask questions. Because I thought that the professor might think I am too stupid or it’s just too simple question. However, I realized that I am a student and it is obvious that I don’t know the material well. Also, I see some people asking their friends or classmates if they have questions. However, I found that it is much quicker to ask professor and much accurate. Professors are people who teach the class, so it is better to ask them than your friends. I went to office hours every time I had questions, or I never hesitated to ask professors questions via email. They always answered with such a friendly manner, and they got to know my names. I think professor knowing your name is very important, especially when you want a recommendation letter from them.

After pushing myself to put more effort and trying my best, my GPA went up about 0.2 in a semester. I am still not as good as native student here, but I never think myself inferior to them. I just need to run an extra mile. I think that excusing myself is the worst thing I can do, and being an international student is something I have to bear with. So, if I can’t change the fact being an international student, why not just try harder?

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  1. A debatable agenda, attending class is not necessarily correlated with better grades, it does not have to be. I have enrolled in courses where I have learned nothing except gazing at powerpoint slides. By contrast, I have also taken courses where only attending class and listening to lectures, was enough to develop a broad understanding of the subject matter.

    Anyways, my point is, international students face enormous pressure in allocating time to different academic affairs. If you find yourself in a class, where the instructors are just reading off power point slides, I think you are better off allocating time to other subjects and productive endeavors. And doing the class work at home/ dorm by yourself.

  2. Each individual is different and it is probable that they come from different sorts of high school preparation.So, while it is a good comment that one can make about a class being an easy “A”, it depends upon the individual to figure out how much of that applies to his/her case. Like in your case, there were times when I heard from my fellows that a class was an easy “A”. But I can definitely say that I would have repented on slacking off in any off my classes that were the so called “easy A’s”.

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