Let Your Voice be Heard

Story by

VY Jiang

From

China

Major/Field

Level

Undergraduate

Imagine if you showed up on the first day of class and everyone thought they already knew you. With one look at you, your classmates seem to guess that you are an engineering student, that you are not good at sports, and that a hoard of people that just like you is about to burst in and start babbling in a language that your classmate do not understand. And the domestic students and international students do not interact a lot. This was what my first day was like as an Asian international student.

If you are thinking about one of these students, then you are not thinking about me. Unlike the stereotyped Asian who is quiet and shy, I am outgoing and enjoy sports; I like to challenge myself with humanities subjects in a non-native language; most importantly, I want to make my voice heard by others. I am certain that many of you are the same. We all have insightful ideas; it was just that our English-as-second-language hindered our ability temporarily. You should never let stereotype overshadow you.

This is a story of mine from my freshmen year. As one of the only two international students in a sociology class of 50, I struggled a lot to get my voice heard. Thinking I am an “Asian doll” who knows only smiling and nodding, my classmates constantly saw through me during group discussion as if I am transparent. What was really happening was that I was sort of slow on engaging in small talks such as latest celebrity news ahead of group discussion since I was new to U.S.

However, as time passed, despite the domestic students ignoring me, I utilized the knowledge I learned to examine my situation and overcame it by actively seeking chances to make my voice heard by others. Although English is not my first language, I actively sought chances to talk in class and present my own ideas. During group discussions, although my peer group thought I would not express any opinion like the usual Asian international students, I stepped forward instead of following and letting them put words into my mouth. 

For example, once the class was discussing how has race and ethnicity changed in our family over the three generations and has class status changed – has there been upward or downward mobility, or has class status been essentially reproduced across the generations. This is an assignment tailored to the American society and was supposed to reflect on how the class structure of the entire society has evolved. My class was not expecting me to contribute anything to this discussion, but I believe that theories are applicable universally. I analyzed my family mobility factoring the special history background of China during these three generations. I shared my findings with the class and interestingly enough that the trend echoes with their findings as well. This incidence once proved that there is no boundary or barrier in front of academia.

Eventually, I integrated into the class and expanded others’ as well as my own educational experience.

Is that Mayonnaise?

Story by

Adoit Pradhan

From

Nepal

Major/Field

Business

Level

Graduate

My second week as a freshman in a rural mid-western liberal arts college! Coming from Nepal, Indiana was a different ball game. The trees seemed strangely greener, the lawns were well-manicured, the roads were paved smoother, and the buildings were a lot cleaner. I remember the sounds that felt very foreign, the colors that were unfamiliar; and the smells, the smells that kept reminding me that this wasn’t home. This was different, and new, and exciting, and unnerving. And so on that evening, as the setting sun streamed through the huge windows of the campus dining hall, I asked the guy in front of me if the white paste in one of the food containers was Mayo. It didn’t seem like mayo, as it was whiter and looked smoother and creamier. But I couldn’t think of anything else that looked similar, and was not sure if it would go well with the food on my plate. Hence, the question, “Is that Mayonnaise?”

The response I got was a gentle shaking of the head, and a little grin. But it was a jolt to me. I felt like a fool for not knowing what it was. And alas, that feeling surfaced regularly over the next couple of years. Ordering food in a restaurant was the scariest proposition. What were the sides that they listed in rapid fire succession? Should I ask them to explain each one of them? What was this thing that people referring to as greens? Is Chipotle sauce good, should I even try it? And the cereals, so many that I still don’t know most of them.

It was a great leap to come from an all-familiar culture to one so completely alien. I thought I knew a lot; after all I grew up watching TV shows and movies from the US. But they had forgotten the details. The details that I had maybe seen and heard about vaguely, but did not understand. I was an outsider, trying to fit in a world I barely understood. I was in a rush to become one of them, in a rush to become a part of it all. I wanted things to be familiar again, and I wanted to be comfortable with it all. But it took time, and a lot more than I realized back then.

The same uncertainty was also present in my academic life. Writing was the first adjustment, simply because of a stricter focus on structure. Even though my grammar was fairly good, and had taken writing classes in high-school, I realized that I did not have a strong grasp on many grammatical rules, leading to many little errors. I learnt that academic writing was different than fictional/creative writing, which I was more familiar with. Also, learning all the rules of citations took a while, as I made numerous mistakes even while following the guidelines. Then there were the spelling differences between British English  and American English. For half a semester, I thought my Economics professor could not spell the word check, as I was used to cheque. I have seen that most international students take some time to adjust to the writing requirements.

Mathematics was different too because the terms used were different. The trigonometric functions had slightly different names, and were pronounced differently. Calculus in particular used different terms, even though the process was the same. Economics used familiar terminology, but the examples often times required a little more research on my part. In one of my first classes, the professor used marshmallows as an example and I had no clue what it was. Reference to many movies and figures were made that I was not familiar with. Ebenezer Scrooge was brought up in Economics quite a few times, but I had not seen A Christmas Carol so wasn’t sure what the reference exactly meant.

Being an international student is not always easy. Language can be a challenge to many, as can food. And academics will sound unfamiliar too. Some students seemingly get in the groove right away while others struggle, but everyone has to make adjustments. However, one always has to remember that it gets easier! My early semesters in college mirror my first experience with what turns out is a common American condiment. I did not know what it was, and it felt bad. But once I got used to it, I enjoyed it. It just takes a little time.

And of course, the answer was not Mayonnaise… it was sour cream.

Change Your Perspective

Story by

Shrutee Shrestha

From

Nepal

Major/Field

Business Studies

Level

Graduate

I graduated last month with a master’s degree from a prestigious university and a full-time job on hand at a prestigious accounting firm in Washington D.C.

But I am not sitting down to write about how successful I have been as a student. I want to write about the obstacles that I had faced as an international student.

The problem, however, is that I don’t seem to remember the insurmountable challenges that I had faced during those five years. I don’t know if it has happened to you, but when I see the outcome of a project, I tend to forget how challenging it was, because I get too fascinated by the results. I am in the same phase right now.

When I first joined the university, I faced so many challenges that I even almost broke down. Interestingly, at this moment, the only thing I can think of is that those five years were the most amazing time of my life. I am amazed at where I am today because of those five years.

But as I think harder, I realize how I am forgetting the time when I almost dropped out of school and went off the academic track during my first year in the US. After the first few months of freshman year, I kept convincing myself that I was overwhelmed with everything. I didn’t drop out but I withdrew from the university and denied all of their grants and scholarships because I was overwhelmed and homesick. Then I transferred to a community college a few miles from where my close relatives lived. The quality of education there cannot be compared with the quality of education at the university I had attended. But it completely made sense during my first year. I was lost in the crowd of twenty five thousand students in the university.

Back in Nepal, I was an academic star among thirty students. In the university here, I felt like I was nothing. I felt like I was the dumbest student in the entire class full of amazing students. So, I went to the community college, back to a classroom of thirty students and back to being noticed by teachers. But in spite of all the bad consequences of transferring to a community college from a prestigious university, one good thing happened to me. It made me feel better and boosted my confidence. I am glad that I did not drop out of school completely. I cannot imagine what I could have been if I had done so. I am glad that I continued my academic journey in the community college where I gained my confidence again. After a year, I felt ready to go back to the university and transferred back to the university that I had left a year before.

After transferring to the university, I made a list of things I would not do again like leaving university again, staying quiet in a corner of the classroom, ignoring the events that were happening around me and much more. This time, I took a different approach. I focused on what I needed to do and what I could do. Soon I realized that many people were there to help me out. My advisors helped me enroll in the classes that were being offered to first year students to help them transition to a university. I took some amazing classes that first year like International Cinema, Public Speaking, International Development etc that helped me have fun with other new students, learn as well as participate actively in the classroom activities. In Nepal, I grew up with the concept that participating in other activities not related to my field will distract me from my studies. But in the US, I figured out it was just the opposite. Such classes helped me broaden my perspective, understand the material from the students with different academic background and have fun at the same time. Tutors were available to help me with my papers. I was surprised that my professors were ready to listen to my challenges, even the ones that were not related to the class they taught and were ready to help me get over the challenges. The career services help me get appropriate jobs related to my major and my employers did their best to adjust my job responsibilities as I completed more classes related to accounting. I was amazed at all the facilities available at the university and even more amazed at the fact that the university invests thousands of dollars every year in creating and updating the facilities. I always felt I was bothering them and kept avoiding them as much as possible only to realize later that these people were genuinely interested in helping me out.

As I recall my academic journey, it seems like everyone wanted me to achieve what I have achieved today. My professors cried when my class of 175 students graduated with their masters’ degree. They knew each one of us by our names, they knew our personal stories, obstacles, strengths and weaknesses. They took care of us as their own children. My family, friends, relatives, roommates, employers and tutors have done their part in teaching me life skills.

Over the course of the following five years, I learned one basic lesson that everybody knows and has heard of: everyone faces obstacles. What looks like an obstacle for one person might be viewed as an opportunity by someone else. So, all we need to learn is to change our perspective and be in that someone else’s position by seeing obstacles as opportunities as soon as possible. That is the biggest lesson to learn in life. Without the positive perspective, everything, small and big, would seem like it is dragging one down when in reality, it might have an important lesson to teach us.

When I first came to the US five years ago, I would complain about everything. I felt like I was the only person who was homesick, overwhelmed, scared, lost and ignored.

But once I learned to adjust my perspective, I saw opportunities. I saw how the entire university had planned for my success and I used those resources to the fullest.

If you are struggling at a university right now, just look around. Use the counseling center if you feel like you cannot handle the situation by yourself. Look for other resources that can help you build yourself. Never ignore a class thinking it is unrelated to your field. If you can fit in extra classes that will teach you useful life skills in your schedule without overwhelming it, take that opportunity.

Looking back, I wish I had started looking at things differently much sooner than I did. I wish I had time to take more fun classes during those years. I wish I had taken interior designing, gardening, skiing classes when I could.

One more thing, I wish I had enough words to describe how it feels to get done with school. If only I knew how I would be spending my time after I graduated (this wonderful summer with family and friends and the days ahead of me), those five years would not have been as stressful as I had felt during those years.

If you are struggling, or almost giving up, change your perspective. You may be actually fine.

Two Lessons From My Academic Transition

Story by

Mahyar Ghorbanian

From

Iran

Major/Field

Engineering

Level

Graduate

Upon finishing my Bachelor of Science degree in an engineering discipline from my home country, I came to the United States as a young, passionate student to pursue my graduate studies (Masters and Ph.D.) and basically internationalize myself and accredit my academic experience. Below is the story of my experience of improving my English over the course of the more than four years I spent in the United States as a student academically and socially.

As an engineering student, my academic experience did not involve too many writing or speaking exercises with the exception of writing technical papers, preparing manuals and speaking in my presentations at conferences and meetings, which I learned to accomplish over time. The reason for that is because I, as an engineering student, got used to demonstrating my opinion through numbers and formulas. My English was not a barrier as it is for other majors’ students. However, I personally liked to develop my English skills more solidly since knowing more English would help me communicate and present my academic and scientific thoughts better as well as increase my brain capacity intellectually.

I pondered about how to express myself when I wanted to have my first presentation in the first semester I attended here. I then realized in order to communicate in the best way possible, it would be much easier and more coherent to think in English first and then speak rather than think in my first language and then translate. Substituting this process with the old one I had in mind would help diminish the intermediate steps to present my thoughts. I made that my motto and tried to follow it. I confess that this idea helped me to absorb that English is another way of communicating in my unawareness.

However, the above technique did not help to improve my accent. I suppose the accent, which we have when speaking foreign languages, is biological and related to our vocal cords which were formed irreversibly during our childhood and puberty. I imagine human beings’ vocal cords are somewhat like an egg. Once the egg is cooked, we cannot take it back to the state it was before. Therefore, we cannot modify our accent to the point of zeroing it on accurate sounds and tones of a different language.

Once I had the thought process mentioned above embroidered in my mind, I tried to learn more vocabulary and get involved in more technical conversations with my colleagues and started reading technical articles. This process would help to learn different types of grammar and various ways of putting together words to present what is going on in my mind. I also kept in mind that vocabulary is like a fish that is alive in the sea of words. I think everybody has a specific style of writing and presenting his or her ideas, which is unique like his or her fingerprints.

I employed these two rules which I formulated for myself in my mind as the semesters and years passed. As a result, I believe my English skills have improved effectively when I compare them to the time when I just came to the U.S.

Plagiarism: A Constant Challenge

Story by

Rajeev Verma

From

India

Major/Field

Natural Sciences

Level

Graduate

With the difference in implementation of education in Asia and USA, it takes an international student a while to realize the education system. It also involves a bigger effort that is required to bring in a change of habit to adjust to the difference in the system.

Where I pursued my undergraduate study, plagiarism was not encouraged but it was not really punished. Since the exams were conducted only once a year and the homework was not really good enough to judge if plagiarism has occurred, students used to copy down notes from peers, seniors and from solution manuals. This useful ‘trick’ was advised by seniors and similarly I also advised the same to my juniors.

When I reached the US, during my graduate school orientation I was made to take a test on plagiarism which tested me on various levels and instances where I as a graduate student and a teaching assistant can identify that plagiarism has occurred. The exam was tougher than I thought because it was hard for me to identify instances which can be considered as plagiarism. It was then I realized that rote writing or even speaking without reference and quotations was a serious offense in US academia.

Following this, I was assigned scholarship in the form of teaching assistantship (TA). My instructor for the course gave me the access to software that recognizes plagiarism if and when an undergraduate student submits an assignment online. The software then scans the content available online as well as assignments submitted in the past the software then and present. It then gives the percent of content that has been plagiarized in that particular document. Anything below 15% is considered to be safe and is usually class average for every assignment.

My university is known for diversity and has lot of transfer student from Asia. While grading for the course I realized that many transfer students had submitted assignments that showed plagiarism rising more than 25 percent which was well above the restricted number. I knew that the students were exceptional when they performed in the lab but didn’t actually realize when they plagiarized while submitting the assignment.

I understood that something as serious as this this would really create a lot of problem for them and might put their future in jeopardy. I personally met up with them during my office hours and explained them the seriousness of their mistake. I explained to them that copy and pasting from a website should be strictly avoided and told them to paraphrase the statements followed by referencing it at the bottom of the document. I was really happy that they heard me out because since that meet up they were really careful in their assignments. What made me happier is that it’s been almost a year since that incident and my students still email me about how my meet up was really helpful to them in other courses as well.

My motivation to help them out was purely due to the fact that it could have been me (if I had been transferred from to an undergraduate school) at that moment and that incident could have ruined my future.

Examinations in the US

Story by

Rajeev Verma

From

India

Major/Field

Natural Sciences

Level

Graduate

One of the biggest features of the flexible US education system is the variety of exams that a student encounters and thus for someone from South Asia this is one of the biggest transitions in education as an international student. The exams I faced during my undergraduate years were once in a year and it was mostly memory based.

Unfortunately, I was never really good with memory based study back home but I excelled in lab exams that required application more than rendering information from memory. The former really used to bring down my grades and I felt like an average student. I never really asked for the professors’ help because at that point I knew that their response would be a statement that was repeated over the years which was, “The exam you faced was the same one hundreds of other students faced, just work harder and you’ll be fine”.

But before arriving in the US, I was told by my education counselor that the education system here is very flexible and I might actually end up enjoying studying there. The concepts of ‘open book exam’ and ‘take-home’ exam were alien to me, and when classes started, I also became further overwhelmed by the graduate student life and the fact that I absolutely needed As in the following semesters to continue my education in that school. So, I consulted my advisor and I mentioned to him that I don’t generally do well in exams that require memorization of information. It was then that he suggested me to take up two graduate level courses that allowed open book exams as well as take home exams.

When the exams were assigned, I was told that I had an entire week’s time to complete the exam. It was at that moment I realized my true potential as a student. All the questions I answered were based on every detail that was explained in the class by my professors and access to wide variety of scientific books and articles. The relaxed atmosphere at home only helped me do well in the exam. I allotted several hours for a single question and worked on the exam until I felt I could not improve it any further.

From that exam onward, I did not look back. It really boosted my confidence since I topped the class with scores of A and A+ in the exams in a highly competitive environment. When I told my advisor about my progress he was clearly delighted but mentioned that it was not a surprise since he believed that I would succeed in an environment which required application of knowledge. That was exactly the morale boost I needed.

The point of my story is that many like me coming to the US for education would feel the way I felt, like an average student. But I personally feel that many of you will realize their true potential when you come face to face with educational structure that offers as much flexibility as the US education system. This, along with an internship will be an ideal recipe that will shape and prepare you for real-world professions.

Be Flexible

Story by

S.B.

From

Nepal

Major/Field

Engineering

Level

Undergraduate

During the past two years, one thing that I constantly saw was how the American students were so eager to learn new things and explore majors before committing to declare what they want to graduate in. In contrast, when I first came to US, I thought I knew what I wanted to graduate in. I enrolled in major classes and spent as little time as possible in the general education classes required by the university. There were times when I felt I did not like the courses I was taking. But I just dismissed the thought. I never sat down to think about the career I would be pursuing. I was certain I wanted to be an engineer, the dream that my parents had seen for me. I never considered whether or not I could spend my life as an engineer.

Having grown up in a lower class family with parents who struggled to send me and my siblings to school, I had decided I wanted to live their dream. Also as a background, parents in Nepal are proud of children who become doctors or engineers. They are unaware of the other options. Besides, I was not flexible either. Every thought of changing major would be dismissed by all the sacrifices I had made so far. I did not want to reconsider the priorities of my life. I did not want to invest time to figure out what I actually wanted to be. Nevertheless, when I interned for a company a few months ago, I realized I really did not want to become an engineer. It would be wrong to say that the internship made me change my mind. It was just one of the factors that made me THINK for the first time that what I was doing was not meant for me. University is a place to learn and gain knowledge. It is the place that teaches us to understand the world. Different subjects help us see people and things around us with different perspectives. Political Science, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, International Relations and other subjects view people and their relationship with others differently. It is the place that helps us realize that there are all these potential alternatives available in this world to serve the mankind and it is up to us to decide who we want to become and how to serve the society.

It seems to me that too many of us had already made up our minds when we applied to the US university because we all had to in our country. The circumstances could have been different. For some, it was parents’ dreams, for others it was different high school preparation for different majors. Some chose the major because their friends chose it or friends recommended it. For some, the options were very limited that they just had to pick one. It is necessary to understand that US universities have unlimited resources to help us find the right major for us. Some universities have over a hundred majors and more to choose from. So, we should take our time and learn different things to see whether we like them or not. It may not yet be too late to reconsider. For those who are not satisfied with what they are doing, do not hesitate to meet as many people as you can from different educational backgrounds. Also, it is extremely beneficial to stop thinking about those past years. My positive note to that is I am glad I realized my passion now when I still have time to fix things rather than 20 years from now. It would be a nightmare if I had to wonder what I did with my life when I am in my 40s.

I have realized that I did not come to the university to become an engineer or a doctor or a scientist. I came here to learn everything I could besides just graduating in a subject and fighting for a title after graduation. I came here to gain knowledge so that I could figure out my way in this world. So, my advice to everyone is not to focus only on major classes. You might not want to excel in only one field during these four or five years. We might as well learn a variety of things offered by the university. It is definitely important for international students to continue their education in order to maintain visa status. So, I do not mean leaving everything you have been doing so far (if you are unsatisfied with it) and taking a break to rethink about your life. All I meant is taking few extra classes and exploring alternatives before making a choice. Even after making the choice, one should keep an open mind and value different subjects they have to study and make interdisciplinary connections among them. Universities are really flexible in letting one change majors. Be flexible and try to take other classes as well.

Just as stock brokers would say, keep your portfolio as diverse as possible, because having only one kind of stock is risky.

Challenges in Learning English

Story by

Moussa Ehsan

From

Iran

Major/Field

Computer Science

Level

Graduate

After finishing my BSc. and MSc. in two prestigious universities in Iran, I decided to continue my education in the US. Since during my masters I had published several academic papers in international conferences and attended a few of them as well, I was fairly confident about my English fluency. However, when I entered the US, I realized that was not the case. I would like to give three examples of the challenges I had when I first entered the US:

1- “Think in English”

When I entered the US, I faced a sever problem: although I was feeling that I am speaking fluently, my audience were not understanding me! The reason was although syntactically I was speaking in English, semantically I was thinking in Farsi. For example, in order to say “I will pick you up” I was saying “I will come after you”. I was not realizing that these two sentences have two different meanings. In short term, I was able to overcome this problem by explaining more. The problem was not as serious when I was talking to non-native speakers; however, native speakers were really getting confused.

The problem was arising even more when I was participating in the class discussions. When the professor was asking a question in the class, I had to spent a few seconds to think about the problem to find the answer but a few minutes to think in Farsi, translate it to English, and then make the sentence! These few minutes were also enough for me to decide not to ask my question from the professor. Therefore, in the first half of my first semester, I was incapable to participate in the class discussions; especially that I had some idea about the discussion.

The same thing had also shown up in my writing assignments. My advisor had to edit my articles, papers or reports significantly. Literally, he re-wrote my first paper completely. I used to hear this sentence a lot from my advisor: “This is not English!”

I have been constantly trying to practice how to think in English. I am seeing significant improvements since then although there is long way to go!

2- Limited Vocabulary

When I write I usually end up repeating a limited set of words and their variations in my essays. This is mainly because the domain of my vocabulary knowledge is limited. The problem was hiding itself more in speaking because the domain of words that I needed to communicate with people seems to be less than what I needed to write.

But how should I widen it? That was a challenging question! I first decided to memorize words. I started with a small (~2000 words) dictionary and had a plan to upgrade to bigger one soon afterwards. But at some moment I realized that it was waste of time, due to two reasons: 1- memorizing the words could help if I did not know the meaning of the words at all. But for most of the words either I knew the meaning, or I could guess it by finding the origin of the word. 2- As I was rarely using the newly-learned words, I forgot most of them after a week or so!

Therefore, I decided to change my tactics. Firstly, I only referred to a dictionary if I could not figure out the meaning of word at all or a specific usage of the word was important for me. Secondly, I only used English-English dictionaries and never translated the word to Farsi anymore. This helped me feel the word in English not Farsi — not to mention it also assisted me to overcome the aforementioned thinking problem! Thirdly, I would also read a few examples of how the word had been used. Therefore, I could memorize usage patterns instead of the words themselves. Fourthly, I started reading English novels. By reading more and more novels, I was observing some new uses of the words that I knew. Fifthly, I tried to practice the words by using them in my writing assignments, normal conversations, etc., as soon as I could. If I had felt that a word is very common, I used it in every other sentence if not every sentence! This was a good practice for me to widen my vocabulary domain.

3- Idioms and proverbs

Quickly, I realized that in some cases, although I understand all the words in a sentence, I do not get the exact meaning the whole sentence or topic. The first reason was that I did not know all usages of those words. But there was also a second reason, people in Long Island tend to use idioms and proverbs a lot which makes it hard for non-native speakers to understand exactly what they mean.

For instance, I remember that one of my instructors told me “It’s a piece of a cake. Go and finish it quickly!”. While I was leaving his office, The first thing that came to my mind was how a cake is related to my project?!

Definitely reading novels and watching movies were two useful ways to overcome this problem. The narrations between different characters in novels and movies usually contain some slang. Also, over time, I learned not to hesitate asking the meaning of a sentence if I do not understand it. At least I ask them to repeat what they said. This helps me distinguish between an idiom and a normal sentence and if learn a new idiom if needed!

My first year at a glance

Story by

Aahana Bajracharya

From

Nepal

Major/Field

Natural Sciences

Level

Undergraduate

For many people the experience of coming to an American university might have been one of transitioning into a large school environment. It was the opposite for me. Having studied in a large school setting up until the 2nd year in high school and then the remaining 2 years in a small school setting gravitated me to choose a small Liberal Arts college for my undergraduate studies. The concept of a liberal arts education seems to be unheard of in my country Nepal. I received some skeptic remarks regarding my choice of a Liberal Arts College but I’ve come to realize what matters most is the experience that you gain through any opportunity at hand. The decision to come to the United States is a turning point in my life to experience new things, trying out how I would fare in totally abstract concepts and finding something that I see myself building my career in.

While having conversations with my friends in my country, I was often asked, what I would study here but I probably surprised them by saying that I was going to explore. They must have found it weird that I did not have a specific answer. But, the whole point of me choosing a Liberal Arts College was to get a chance to explore the courses that would interest me and make reasoned decisions on choosing a field of study. That is something totally different from the education system in Nepal. Here, I have the option of choosing the subjects of my interest by exploring them not only superficially but through classes. I feel like this option best fit my needs and learning style.

Getting praised for one’s works definitely feels good and thus gives an incentive to do better. I got the appreciation from faculty and fellow friends on the fact that though hailing from a distant part of the world, I did have a fairly good command in their native language and more so had the ability to perform equally well in them. It was encouraging to know that international students have been setting up their mark through their academic performance and so the faculty already has some form of expectation from you. This has turned out to be positive in my case. I got appreciated for my academic performance in the form of honors in being named a President’s Scholar and also went on to become the chapter President of an academic honor society of my class.

Being active outside of class activities might seem to be an extra pursuit but it actually goes along with your studies to make a complete academic experience. I realized this when my Professor wanted to know what else I had been involved in beside my classes while he was to write me a recommendation letter for a campus leadership position. Moreover due to the small student body at my college, activities play an integral part in campus life and even the classes are structured in a way that allows you to incorporate these activities into your schedule. I would not deny that there came a time when I was under the pressure of handling my studies and my academics as I had not anticipated the classes to pick up pace too quickly. But all of these pursuits did teach me the value of managing my time and I’m glad that I learnt this early on.

Opportunities come your way if you seek for it, being involved in activities, trying out classes out of my major, allowed me to know different kinds of people and enhance my social skills. The barrier of culture never again became a problem in communicating my ideas through. I met people who had never heard of my country before and for some it was the first time ever meeting a person from Nepal. But, I’m glad that I get to represent my country here and set an example on their first perspective of a different country. It has been a great year trying new things, experiencing a wide range of activities and finally finding my academic niche on a unique academic discipline of Neuroscience and Applied Mathematics.

Learning to study in America

Story by

Sewa Bhattarai

From

Nepal

Major/Field

Sociology & Anthropology

Level

Graduate

I was the kind of person who practiced the adage “leap the bridge when you come to it.” As a result, before going to the US, I had no idea about the methods of studying in the US. I was only focused on the process of going. I had given a cursory glance to the syllabus, but knew nothing more. Which meant I did not know how important homework was.

Like most other Nepali students, I had given up homework and assignments after school level. There was a certain internal marking in the subject that I did my bachelors in, but it was not given much importance. Me and my classmates were used to submitting them at the end of the semester, or sometimes, not at all, depending on the teacher. So, for me, the weekly homework was the most troublesome things at first. I had never bothered to read the syllabus in detail, which listed out clearly how much weight the assignments would carry. I continued to submit my assignments late, and as a result, got low grades in almost every subject I took. Only in the next semester, when I made friends and started talking to them about studies did I realize the importance of assignments. I then found that assignments made up more than half of the grades in some classes, and the final exam made up only a small part of it. Some teachers did not even like to take final exams, instead setting a long “term paper” of equivalent marks. Only then did I start doing my assignments diligently, and the full weight of the American education system fell on me.

Then I had to say bye bye to carefree weekends, and bye bye to promises of “I will study at the finals.” Every week I found myself doing one assignment after another. But the good thing was that, I learnt more these assignments than from all final exams combined. Going through different material every week, analyzing it, and coming up with my opinion about it forced me to think about a concept deeply, which mugging up had never done.

Another issue was attendance. I was used to bunking classes with friends whenever we were in the mood. I initially did the same in my college in the US. Much later I realized that teachers here take attendance more seriously, especially in the master’s level where there are so few students that the teacher knows each one by name and marks every absence. When a student wanted to bunk classes, he or she would talk personally to the teacher, or write in an email to inform the teacher. I did nothing of that sort. Thinking back, I am sure the teachers must have thought I was a very rude student.

I remember one incident clearly of my problems with the American education system. There was a teacher whose accent I was not familiar with and who I had great difficulty understanding. On the eve of the first exam, he apparently told students that they could bring a cheat sheet to class, which they could refer to in the exam. I did not hear any of it. When my classmates began referring to their cheat sheets the next day, I thought it was an open book exam, and I actually brought out my book from the bag and began referring to it. I don’t know, maybe because he knew that I was new, the teacher did not say anything to me as I leafed through the book. Much later, when I talked to my classmates, I realized what had happened, and that incident imprinted the value of networking deeply in my mind. If there was anything I did not understand from the teacher, friends would always be there to help out!

To all new students going to America for further studies, I would like to say that if the first semester confuses you, it is normal. Nothing can prepare you enough for a different country, I myself thought that as a well read person, I was prepared enough, but I was wrong. It was my first semester in America that taught me what I could never have read about it. After that, I found that I was ready for any challenge that the American education system threw at me, because I now knew how to deal with it. Similarly, every person is bound to encounter challenges that no one has recorded before, but time will also teach you the method to deal with it.