Embracing challenges with an open mind and striving for work-life balance

Story by

Coralhead

From

Malaysia

Institution

Cornell University

Major/Field

Social Science

Level

Graduate

Graduate school for me was and still is a series of transitions and adaptations on several levels.

First transition was the academic environment: active participation (not just merely attending, although I was a listener for the most part out of shyness) in the department meetings, seminars, and peer review sessions. It took a good year became I felt confident about asking questions and providing feedback. I realized that people are often kind and as long as I applied myself to the problem, the results are usually satisfactory and the interaction was positive.

Second transition was adjusting to the work load that was expected by professors at graduate-level courses and balancing that with the work that goes into writing a dissertation proposal. Whether it was statistics or social science theory or some methods course, there was so much to do and read within a week! My spouse who was a PhD student at the same university advised me that my approach to coursework should not be the same as an undergraduate, meaning that an ‘A’ might not be as important as understanding and applying the concepts needed for my own research. Eventually, after a year I was able to let go a little as I tend to be a perfectionist or wanting to respect the professors teaching the course by doing the work, attending all the classes, being an active participant. I am not suggesting slacking off but to prioritize accordingly because in the end, the coursework is meant to serve a bigger cause – the dissertation research.

Finally, as a graduate student who is also a wife and mother of three young children, my time is a very scarce resource. Precision time management and discipline are prerequisites for making grad and family work. Having a personal life motivates me to strike a balance. Sure, I would love to work all day on geostatistics or understanding the theory of collective action, or work weekends because there is that paper due, but my children are asking me to come play. So work-life balance is essential because graduate life is like a marathon where I try run it at a sustained speed. I hope to reach the finish line in good form and having enjoyed the journey as well.

Paying Attention to Detail

Story by

Shailendra Gyawali

From

Nepal

Major/Field

Engineering

Level

Undergraduate

One thing that I’ve always found intriguing as an international student is how absolutely important even the smallest of things can be for us, especially when we are new to the American university. Local students will certainly face many of the same challenges that I faced as someone coming from the other side of the world, but I thought there were too many things, including the too small things, that were at first very challenging to me. Let me describe a few.

Finding the right building and the right classroom was a big deal at first. The day I joined a college in the US, September 4, 2007, was a very exciting and important day in my life. When I entered main gate, I felt minuscule compared to massive buildings around me. Each department had its own building and I was looking for the Mathematics department. I did have a detailed pocket map of the college that was given out at the orientation program, but even after I located the correct building, I was still lost. A student nearby looked at my desperate face and asked if I needed any help. I said yes, but when trying to describe the help I needed, I had to repeat myself several times because she couldn’t understand my accent. Finally, she understood me and took me to the right classroom, even though she was running late for class herself.

The next challenge was understanding the details about a course. The first week of class, I found it very interesting—and this time, it was also very useful rather than confusing—that each of my professors handed out a “syllabus” that contained a lot of detail about the course. Most of the professors talked the entire 45 minutes about the syllabus and course outline. For the local students, much of the details of the syllabus may have been obvious or just a formality that the professor includes in the document, but for me syllabuses were an absolute blessing. They worked even better than the campus map I had the first day of class because they provided a concrete timeline, distribution of credit points, and description of the work to be done. For me, the syllabus was like a reference book. Without the detailed syllabuses and schedules, I would be lost, and I might not have become the successful student as quickly as I did. I was astonished and grateful to realize how helpful the syllabuses and schedules were. I had never seen something like this in my life before. The well-organized course outline and dedication shown by professors helped to overcome my apprehension of studying in a different academic system.

Moving on to the many and mostly new academic activities, I was at first overwhelmed by large assignments. Because in my previous academic training back in South Asia, I had never learned how to read, write, or research in the way that was being demanded here in the US. So, even a five or seven page paper was overwhelming for me. In most of the courses, I could handle the content itself, but when it came to the skills for researching, reading and writing, it felt like I lacked basic skills. I could not find the right references because I didn’t have research skills. I couldn’t read enough materials because my reading was slow and incompetent. And I couldn’t write well because I didn’t know where to start or how to develop my own ideas, because I had not learned how to write. Back in my home country, I never wrote or learned to write as a part of education. Writing was only required for taking final exams, and that did not help me develop writing skills. I answered questions and didn’t remember anything that I wrote. I never did any research or wrote anything extensively.

But, again, as a new student in the US, I gradually started being able to tackle the big challenges by paying attention to tiny details. I read the assignments very carefully and underlined the words I didn’t understand. I made appointments with tutors at the Writing Center to get their help with writing. Soon, I realized that everything was more systematic here. There was more support and people were willing to help. I could take small steps for making bigger achievements. I actually liked the academic system and environment here.

As I paid attention to and learned one small detail after another, I soon began to feel that I was headed in right direction of learning and I was a step closer in the process immersing myself in another world of knowledge and deepening my personal and academic understanding of science. If you are a new international student, I would reassure you that if you pay attention to small details, you will soon begin to gain confidence. You should take in the experience of studying in a different country and academic environment with interest to the little daily things. If you are serious and interested, your understanding will begin to make you no different than anyone and perhaps better than the average student.

So, my best lesson learned as an international student in the US was perhaps this: pay attention to detail.

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.

Benefits of Discomfort

Story by

Yeongmin Ahn

From

South Korea

Major/Field

Humanities

Level

Undergraduate

Most of us instinctively desire to be in an anxiety-free state, also known as the “comfort zone,” even if we know that getting outside of it is good for intellectual and professional development. There was a moment in the army when I had to come out of my comfort zone. That experience not only challenged me to grow personally but also changed the course and quality of my academic life.

In 2010 I joined the army as a KATUSA. KATUSA stands for Korean army to the United States army. Simply put I was an American soldier under Korean administration. During my service term I had to go attend a class called “Equal Opportunity Leader course.” The class was about discrimination in the army such as abuse of rank, sexual and racial discrimination. Teaching method was a typical American style: open discussions. Individual participation in class also was reflected in the final grade. But the key difference between here and school was that I had no choice but to participate because it was mandatory.

The highlight of this class was giving presentation in front classmates. Each person was given a topic to work on with five day time limit. I had never in my life given a presentation in front of anybody until that point and it was driving me crazy. I had complaints but since it was obligatory, I prepared for my material. It was no easy research to look through huge database finding thesis and data that fit my topic. I personally asked my sergeants and gathered advice from my peers in the class. It was not a material that I could simply extract sitting in a chair. I really had to dive in it.

On the day of presentation when it was finally my turn, I pushed back my anxiety and walked towards the platform. As I stood up in front I felt very nervous but once I started talking, the presentation proceeded smoothly. After five minutes of presentation I received applause from my classmates and shook hands with the instructor. It was an incredible moment filled with pride and joy. Above all, I was extremely satisfied that I had walked out of my comfort zone on my own. This experience was meaningful in a way that it advanced perception of my academic caliber. Due to this incident I learned that I am capable of expanding my limits.

Before I joined the army, my view on my academic experience was not clear. During my first year in SBU I never gave a deep thought about what or why I was studying. I just sat in the class and when I had the chance to participate in sharing ideas I chose not to. Avoiding attentions was one of the reasons that made it hard for me to understand the American way of teaching, the purpose of open discussions. Was studying not sitting on a chair reading and memorizing text? To me, standing in front of people expressing opinions was nonsensical. I had the notion that academic subjects should be approached with the methods that I was used to: reading and understanding, not expressing one’s opinions.

I had been accustomed to the Korean way of studying before I came to the U.S. In Korea from elementary to high school education is vastly similar. The instructor lectures while students take notes and memorize them. During class period there are no presentations or oral discussions but just one sided flow of information. Nobody questions or ponder on why studying should be done that way. Naturally, I accepted that this is how it is done. From that perspective feedbacks in class are unnecessary and a waste of time.

Given that kind of academic background it was a no surprise that I was baffled when I arrived in the States. Professors encouraged students to actively participate to bring out our thoughts and it seemed the students enjoyed it as well. I was at first dissatisfied by the system thinking this was not effective academic learning. I stayed silent most of the time for about a year. I was a passive person and I was comfortable with it. During my time in school I sometimes wondered if I should change my way of studying but I could not really change my attitude. That is until I had one incident in the army.

I returned to school a few months later with different mindset from my first time to school. This time I could more easily participate in class and accept the American way of studying efficiently, expressing my opinion and expanding the spectrum of my academic abilities. The teaching system here was not wrong, it was only different from what I have been used to.

My personal experience might not be a 100 percent academic incident. However, this incident has had an enormous impact in altering my way of learning. Through this event, I have learned that one moment in life experience may shape the rest of your academic career. The KATUSA training course made me a better communicator, and it gave me a whole new perspective and confidence to pursue my university education in a very different and effective way.

The incident taught me not to be afraid of getting thrown into situations but use that chance to expand my limits. Had I insisted on staying in my comfort zone, it would have taken a lot more time to be a successful student in a new environment.

New Discovery to be a Student

Story by

Julia

From

Ukraine

Major/Field

Other

Level

Undergraduate

Have you ever thought how an education system of a different country might have to open new capabilities in your personality? Many people don’t expect that studying abroad could teach them not only new ideas and skills, such as a language and culture, but also open a new dimension of their individuality. I have never been a shy person and always had my own opinion. However, in Ukraine, I shared my thoughts with my friends or family but never with professors because of an invisible rule, in which a student isn’t allowed to do that. Being a foreign student in the USA has taught me to be a successful student by using critical thinking skills and an open mind in my academical life.

First, I was never taught to express my opinion and I was shocked how at first that influenced my grades, relationship with a professor, and my personality in the American university. As a student, who already had a bachelor degree in chemical engineering from Ukraine, I was surprised how the ability to be active in a class can changed my opinion about studying. When I came to the USA to do my second bachelor’s degree in August 2011, I couldn’t imagine how different American education system is from the Ukrainian system and how different I will be become. Education in the Ukraine is based on a kind of hierarchy between professors, who are always right, and students, who shouldn’t have their own opinions; in addition, a student is not allowed to express his/her opinion, thoughts, or ideas because a professor has only his/her correct and wise judgment. As a result, Ukrainian students are trained as listeners of only “one truthful belief,” not as an active interlocutor with new and fresh ideas as it happened with me in the USA.

Second, my ability to listen and never express my own opinion, which I learned during my study in a Ukrainian university, was regarded as shyness. Two years ago, I began to learn English as a second language at Stony Brook University. During my first semester, I was so excited about a new school, international students, and a language but something was wrong. Something made me nervous, stressful, and lowered my scores and that was participation! This word scared me out of my wits because I didn’t know how to do it. Although Ukrainian universities have 30-40 students per class, a professor doesn’t have a time to ask everyone’s opinion and thoughts. The main goal of a Ukrainian student is to listen to his/her professor, take notes, and express professor’s point of view in the exam. On the contrary, American universities begin to train students to contribute their thoughts in small classes. My learning of how to share my ideas began when I took ESL classes at Stony Brook University, which I started in August 2011.

The class consisted of fifteen international students, which is the smallest group of people I have ever been with. All the desks were arranged in a shape of a rectangle and professor’s table on one of the sides. So, everyone was sitting in front of each other. When my professor asked me for the first time what do I think about the campus, I was very nervous to answer. All I could say at that moment was, “It is ok.” I mentioned nothing about nice fountains, colorful flowers, and friendly staff. I had never been in a situation during my studying in the Ukraine, when someone asked me about my opinion, and almost 15 classmates looked at me with the desire to hear my thoughts. I didn’t know how to do it not because I am a shy person, but because I’ve never been asked to do it before by Ukrainian professors. In addition, because of a language barrier I couldn’t say what was in my mind. Most importantly, I couldn’t imagine that somebody needed my opinion and if I expressed it, I wish someone would judge me because it is different from the professor’s point of view.

As a result, I sat at a desk very quiet and never took part in discussions during the class because of my background experience. Moreover, I knew that participation in the class was 20% of my final grade, but I was still speechless. At the end of semester, all my classmates and professor thought that I was a shy person, who didn’t pass this class and should retake it. At the time, I hated to be an American student. I couldn’t figure out how the ability to express my opinion could influence my grade, and I decided to change my mind because I couldn’t allow myself not to pass the next class.

Third, both extreme fear of being judged by others and a desire to be successful fought inside me. I promised myself that next semester I will do everything possible to get a higher grade, and one point of my plan was participation in class. From the first day, I began to express my opinion, answered professor’s questions, and took part in discussions. I will never forget the feeling that I had at the time when I first began to say what I thought about an article from a school newspaper: my heart almost jumped out of my chest, my throat became dry, and my body felt that everybody’s eyes were turned at me. I was shaking inside because of uncontrolled fear but I had a very confident look on the outside and kept talking.

At the end of the class, my professor was so appreciative of my participation and my classmates made a small talk with me and about how they enjoyed listening to what I had to say. When I came out of the classroom, I smiled. It was my first victory against my “shyness.” For the entire semester, I kept doing the same thing in the class – I participated as actively as possible. Moreover, the more I participated the more I felt confident, relaxed, and less stressful. As a result, at the end of the semester, I got the Award in Recognition of Outstanding Performance and Commitment to Excellence. Also, I was chosen as a president of the class by my classmates, and I got one of the highest grades in the class.

In my opinion, both American and Ukrainian education systems have positive and negative sides. I recognized how to use the skills of learning from different countries and overcome difficulties. On the bright side of Ukrainian education system, I have learned how to follow strict instructions and nowadays, I feel comfortable about due dates, requirements, and an academic schedule. One of the positive aspects of American education, it is a new way of communication between me and people, such as professors and classmates. For example, I understand how to express my opinion and how to be respectful to other people’s point of view.

Thus, once I overcame the challenges, I realized that because I have been a student in two different countries, I have some privileges to those students who receive their education only in one country. Studying in two countries allowed me to learn not only a new language, culture, and traditions but also taught me how to deal in new situations, how to be successful, and how to effectively use my skills in different environments. Education systems in these two countries are different, and it helped me to fully develop my abilities.

A Transition with very little to complain about

Story by

Ankita

From

India

Major/Field

Business Studies

Level

Graduate

I came to USA to pursue my higher studies in Information Systems. Having studied in India for over 17 years, it was blatant that moving to a new country will demand adjustments. While it was quite upsetting initially, owing to the fact that I was overwhelmed and missed home to pieces, it all eventually seems worthwhile and amazing.

The first extremely exciting thing was the tailor made course structure that felt just right for me. I had an option to choose courses from different departments as long as they all were logical with respect to my course. In India, we follow a fixed pattern of studies. You are required to study and accomplish grades for the subjects given to you. Choosing out of a set of provided courses was never an option. That said, the concept of choosing and registering was new to me. The idea of Core and Fundamental subjects was so different.

At first, I was in a big mess because I had no idea about the fact that class registrations have due dates and they fill up due to limited seats. I hadn’t done any form of registrations before I got here. I thought it was assumed I’ll be allotted a class and subject! After having visited the University a couple of times with all the emails that confused me; I figured I was late with my registrations. Classes were full and my University portal displayed all the courses as ‘Closed’. You could imagine my anxiety now. New place, new academic culture and I have no classes to go to! However, my International Students Department and respective professors helped and guided me through the entire process and now I have the subjects that I desired and in fact am loving the same.

Now, let’s discuss the grading system here, which was quite a change. I was used to attending lectures, studying, learning the theory and giving exams. The university and professors here don’t primarily focus on marks! They’re more inclined to testing your knowledge through practical studies. Class room studies become so much more light and entertaining when you have some creative brainstorming and constant interaction going on. But, this is how I feel now. The initial one month seemed like a nightmare! I found myself with sleepless nights, trying to fish for industry experts, fetching requirements and generating project work through client requests. I thought it’s all about studying and getting marks, but I was so wrong! I was doing research, speaking to industry experts, surveying and concluding my project work!
It took me some time to let it all sink in and understand that this is what I’m required to do and now I consider myself lucky to have gotten used to the drill because this is how real time jobs work.

Some issues I faced were the jargons and pronunciations used here. For example database rows and records are addressed as ‘Tuples’ here, while in India we’d just call them rows. This however is so trivial compared to things like the class size, independent studies under a professor and the concept of On-Campus jobs!

Back in the Indian system, the class is about a hundred students. You can’t really blame the instructor for the neglected attention being paid to half the class. Whilst here, the professor knows exactly what you’re doing and whether or not you’re keeping up! Further, there’s no concept of fetching for On-Campus jobs and Teaching Assistantships (TA). Here, I saw how students worked hard in order to get a job or work under a professor. At first I didn’t figure out how to go about acquiring one. But it wasn’t long until I, got a job on campus. It involved so much running around but in the end, worked out well with immense satisfaction.

On-campus jobs, independent studies under a professor and working with project members from different parts of the world has given me immense exposure and the ability to deal with people. This has resulted in transforming me into a confident and mature individual which brought out the part of me I never thought I possessed.

Learning never stops and till date I’m only getting to know more about this amazing academic system and it’s associated opportunities.

Believe in Yourself

Story by

Yimo

From

China

Major/Field

Business Studies

Level

Undergraduate

“Well, let us do the presentation next class, and this is our first time to do it. The topic is to talk about a kind of disability. Please be careful.”

When I heard this instruction, I felt nervous. What kind of disabilities did I need to choose? How could I do that? I asked myself. This was my first time to give a speech in the IEC class which was taught to international students. I had no idea how to speak and how to prepare it. When I studied in China, I had never done the presentation in the class. We focused on writing and reading in China, and we spent a lot of time preparing for the written exam. Therefore, Chinese teachers didn’t pay attention to our speaking abilities and listening skills. That is why I felt anxious when I heard that I would do the presentation in the front of the class.

Because the presentation was due in two days, I lose my confidence. I sat down to write the draft but I had no thoughts and ideas to complete it. However, what I needed was not just ideas but spiritual support. So, I called my mother. She told me that I could’t sit still, and I needed to do something. Furthermore, she said that I could not give up and I could not do something before I tried it. After I talked to my mom, I also decided to send an Email to my teacher for help. Several years later, she responded to me and gave me some suggestions, such as: relaxing myself, writing down what I thought and organizing my thoughts. I just followed her instructions. Then, I collected and selected my information about disability. Two days later, I had prepared my presentation completely. In the class, although I was still nervous because of my poor pronunciation, I was full of self-confidence about my presentation details. Along with music, I used my computer to show some pictures about my topic. Finally,I did my presentation successfully. This experience showed me that to be academically successful, students need to believe in themselves. They need to know where to get the emotional and spiritual support, as well as academic help, when they need to regain their self-confidence.

From my experience, I learned that you can’t go on well in life until you let your past failures and heart aches go off. Because of cultural differences and languages, I always lose myself in academic life. However, I found my spiritual support, namely my mom and my teacher. They gave me encourage. Therefore, believe in yourself as a light to illuminate my life, gives me self-confidence.
Believing in yourself is also useful in other academic aspects. There is another experience that I had in the US which cannot forget. This involved finding my own voice. One year ago, I took an economics class. When the professor asked some questions in that class, everyone could answer the question at anytime. They just wanted to show what they thought and what ideas that they had. As for me, I was shy. I did not like to answer in class, because I had never done so in China. In addition, I was an international student. I always acted as a listener in each class. Not only was my habit, but also my spoken English was not very fluent. In this situation, I had no self-confidence to answer the questions by myself.

Once, my professor asked a question about the Chinese economy. All students in the class did not know the answer except me. For that question, I knew the exact answer, but I could not speak fluently, so I just said a key word in a low voice. At that time, the professor heard my voice, and he point at me and wanted me to speak loudly. Suddenly, my face went red when all the classmate looked at me. Actually, I felt a little afraid. “No, you have to stand up, this is a good opportunity to build yourself.” I told to myself. Although I had no confidence, I had to overcome this difficulty. Therefore, I just said clearly what I knew. After my answer, my professor gave me applause. I knew he wanted to encourage me to take part in the class, and practice expressing my own opinion. I was also quite pleased with myself. After this experience, I changed my habit and tried to answer more. I tried my best to answer questions that were asked by my professor, and I attempted to discuss with other American students. After that, I found that my spoken English had an obvious progress. Once I was able to find my own voice, my self-confidence greatly increased.

Both those experience were memorable for me. Although I was shy to speak my opinions, I changed myself and practiced to speak a lot. Because of my professor’s praise, I became more and more self-confidence. Although my spoken English was not fluent, I believed that I could speak quickly and clearly likes other Americans through my exercises. In China, I developed a bad habit that I never stated my own opinion in the class. However, I challenged this bad habit after taking this economics class.

In America, I became more and more self-confident when I gave a speech or communicated with others to regain my confidence. Although I faced many obstacles here, I tried my best to overcome the challenges. These difficulties would improve my abilities in many ways. In addition, being a listener is a way to improve myself. However, being a speaker is a good way to collaboratively study with your classmates, and this is important part in our academic life. Furthermore, finding spiritual support helpful, but we still have to learn how to become independent. A part of self-confidence comes from finding a supporter.

Especially, for international students, we have to learn that nobody can helps us, we need to do everything by ourselves and believe in ourselves. Spiritual support that others give, helps me to gain the self-confidence that I need to become more independent. All in all, I think that no matter how terrible problems we face are, we need to believe in ourselves. This is the most important lesson of my academic study in the United States.

Learning to Change

Story by

Yin Gao

From

China

Major/Field

Medicine

Level

Undergraduate

Learning to change and adapt to a new environment has been very important to me.

When I was a little girl, I was afraid of changing. As a child, my life lacked change because my grandma raised me until I was four years old. As well known, elders seek of stability and peace. So when my parents wanted to pick me home, I was so frightened of the new life because I had already gotten used to live under my grandma’s protection.

However, as I grew up, I learned to accept differences, surprises and challenges. Due to various reasons, I transferred to four schools when I was in primary school. As I constantly moved, I had to connect with strange people and faced changes everyday. This unique experience in primary school gave me the ability to face changes, adapt to new environments, and quickly change. Now, I am using my ability to adapt in order to make the biggest move in my life so far, which is coming to a university in the US.

When I was new here in the US, there were so many challenges. The biggest challenge was that it was the first time for me to choose the classes and arrange my own schedule. I thought it was an important and necessary opportunity to think about what I want to be in the future. To be honest, I had no idea about my future because I was used to learning whatever my teachers taught me without asking “why” I should learn in China. It was now the time for me to change my old learning style. I got support from others when I needed, but I started making my own career decisions. For instance, even though my English was not fluent, I met with the college advisor and after a long discussion, I decided my major preliminarily. After I went back home, I did some research online on the career prospects of my major. Finally, I ensured my major and the first semester schedule. Now, I am studying hard for my future career and I am happy about it.

Being able to change and getting along with new people and environment helps me to be a better student in the US. As a Chinese student, I used to be nervous with my teachers because teachers treated students like parents did. I was afraid of talking with them, even asking academic questions. However, when I came to the US, professors treated me like friends. When I asked questions, they never questioned whether I pay enough attention in the class. Instead, they answered my questions patiently and encouraged me to ask more. I made friends with my chemistry tutor. He not only helped me with my study, but also helped me in my life. In study, he shared with me his learning experiences to help me to understand the knowledge. In life, he showed me American culture. He also encouraged me to talk more with him for practicing my spoken English. Now, I am teaching him Mandarin and helping him to apply for an opportunity in China. We are making progress together.

Change is necessary for fitting into the new leaning environment. The learning environment in American school is really different from Chinese school. American students like discussing ideas with others; however, Chinese students prefer to study alone. Last semester, I took a college class about leadership. When professors gave time to discuss with the classmate, I ignored him and started the project on my own. When I handed in my project, I was a little complacent because the topic was so easy for me. However, my professor did not give me a good grade. He indicated that my idea was old, personal and without creativity. He suggested me to be one of the class, not to be the only one in the class. I took his advice and changed my working style. I really got the inspiration from the discussion and understood the project better. After that, I got better grade. At the meantime, I learnt to change my unbefitting studying style in a different learning environment.

Change also helps me to get through some challenges which beyond the academic life. When I moved in my on-campus dorm, my roommate was a very nice American girl. She always started a new chat with me; however, I only replied a few word to her. Little by little, she thought I was not a friendly person. Then, she seldom talked with me and never asked me to go shopping with her again. Actually, I would like to talk with her; however, the truth was I was a shy girl and it became hard for me to make friends. I knew if I did not change my personality, I would be a pathetic person who had no friends in the entire college life. I regained the courage that I used to have in my primary school to help me change. I encouraged myself to talk to my roommate first, and explained the reason I did not talk a lot with her. Fortunately, she understood my problem. After that, she always invited me to her family and introduced her friends to me. Gradually, I made lots of friends and we helped each other in both life and study. Now, my personality has totally changed. Change makes me to be more easy-going and friendly.

No matter whether it is in China or in the US, no matter if it is in primary school or in college, I believe learning to change is a useful ability. Gaining an ability needs to be practiced again and again. All the challenges I faced in school provided me a wonderful strength that I can be calm when I face changes.

After I came to the US, all the changes I faced gave me a chance to practice this useful ability. Learning to change gives me strength to be able to handle different relationships correctly, solve different problems independently and adapt to a new environment quickly.

Now, I am not the little girl who wanted to live under grandma’s protection any more. I am eager for changes now because changes help me to develop emotionally, socially, and intellectually. Thanks to all the changes I faced before, I continue to make progress in my academic career.

Discipline Required: A Harsh Lesson I Learned

Story by

Rajeev Verma

From

India

Major/Field

Natural Sciences

Level

Graduate

Difference between education system in South Asian countries and educational structure of USA varies greatly. The transition from former to the latter can be overwhelming for students from South Asia. I learned this the hard way when I was enrolled in a Ph.D program with assistantship.

Getting into a US university with assistantship is getting tougher and tougher every year for international students and I considered myself very lucky to get into a reputed school with teaching assistantship. During the orientation, I was told by the Graduate Program Director about the expectations of the graduate school and the department from a graduate student mainly maintaining a Grade Point Average (GPA) above 3.0. In my home country, while pursuing my undergrad I was living with my parents and there was no need for me to work while studying. The exam during my undergraduate study was conducted once at the end of the year. So, all my energy and focus on the course would begin before 3 months from that exam.

It took me a while to understand that the professors here put emphasis on homework, class participation and many other aspects that boost student learning and all of this contributed to the final grade. Besides learning, I had to focus on lab rotations which would later on help me in deciding which lab I should join in for a Ph. D. Due to competition from local and international students, I realized I had to put in extra efforts to impress upon the professors who had research grants. Also, since I was on teaching assistantship (TA) I was also expected fulfill the duties as a TA at least 20 hours a week.

So as a graduate student, I had to work 20 hours a week, research in lab at least 30 hours a week and then put in time to study for 2 graduate level courses. All this overwhelmed me and really shattered my confidence when I failed in 2 of the 3 duties as a graduate student. I immediately met up with one of the professors whose class I was taking and explained to him my situation and he suggested various solutions. In the end I ended up getting a B in his course, but ended up with a C in another and unfortunately that put me in a sticky situation with the department’s requirements of a graduate student.

Now looking back, I realized that when I was pursuing my courses in my undergraduate school I kept things for the last moment and I never really put in any effort to solve the homework then. This eventually flowed into my attitude and behavior while I pursued my studies here. I realized that if I ever have to be successful at any academic or professional level I would have to change myself completely. The change starts with a disciplined lifestyle that includes having a very strict time-table for research, study and work. It is also very important to have made some recreational time for yourself because only studying and pursuing research can affect a person’s ability to deal with stress.

So all in all a very harsh lesson learned indeed.

What Every International Student Should Remember

Story by

Mia Lee

From

South Korea

Major/Field

Social Science

Level

Undergraduate

A lot of posts in this website share international students’ valuable experiences regarding academic issues such as English and their majors. However, my story and the lesson that I learn from my experience are somewhat different than the other stories in this website. Before we get into my story, I want you to think what is the most important, fundamental and necessary condition that allows you to pursuit your academic career in the USA. If I ask this question to my fellow international students, many of them will say that the most critical condition is the fluent English skill. It may be true. English proficiency may be the most fundamental condition in order to study in the USA. However, I think your legitimate F-1 VISA status (student VISA status) is much more critical condition for you in order to keep studying in the USA. Some of you may criticize me being too cynical, but I learned this lesson from my painful experience last winter.

I transferred to my current university in the USA after I finished my sophomore year in previous university in my homeland. Since my major is linguistics and my previous university offered very limited number of courses that directly teach linguistics, I decided to transfer to study linguistics in depth. At the beginning of my first academic year in the USA, I also had lots of troubles just like other international students. I can certainly explain what those problems were with more details in this essay, but I would rather not since they are not the point.

In my first semester, I tried my best to overcome those problems and finally got fairly great score at the end of the semester. At first I was glad that I could get such a great scores even in the USA. However, I became so obsessed with the score itself and starting to lose interest in linguistics. As time goes, I wasn’t sure that I should keep study linguistics. At that time, I was so confused about my future, my major and even myself. Sometimes people go through personal crisis just like I did. At that phrase of life, they need to stop doing what they are doing, step back a little bit from their own lives and take a break, give some time to think about yourselves and your future. I think break like this is very important to succeed academically or professionally. Therefore, I decided to take a break, take a leave of absence more specifically.

The process to get the permission for leave of absence and the process of coming back to USA was not easy. However, the real problem arose a few weeks after I came back to USA. At that time, I came back to school little early in order to take a winter session. The class was great. The professor was enthusiastic and passionate about the class. My classmates were also having fun. On the other hand, I felt so hard to keep up. I thought I was ready, but actually I wasn’t. Since I couldn’t keep taking classes, I dropped the class and promised myself that I would take this again in the next semester.

A few days after I dropped the class, Visa and Immigration Services contacted me and said that I was in trouble. It turns out my student visa status was in danger because I dropped the winter session class. I panicked and asked my professors to take me back to the class. I got into the class again and my visa status was no longer in danger. However, I went through really tough time when I got back into the class. If I wasn’t international student who need a VISA to keep studying in the USA, I could have just dropped the class and take that again in the following semester or whenever I’m ready. However, since I was international student, keeping my legitimate student VISA status in the USA was my urgent priority. Therefore, I had to hold my pain back and keep taking the class. If I look back from now, it is a great thing that I got back to the class and finished what I started instead of giving up.

Even though I had a tough time in the class, I learned lots of valuable lessons from my experience in that winter. Consequently, I learned two significant lessons out of my painful experience last winter. The first one is that no matter how difficult and hard it is, you can overcome it if you tried with your best. The second one is that international students tend to get less freedom in making choices in the university.