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.

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