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.

Situated Learning: Reflections on Academic Writing and Graduate International Students

Expert post by
Dr. Laura Colombo

From
Argentina

Field
Intercultural Communication

During my graduate studies in the U.S., writing in English was one of the major challenges that I faced. As a graduate student, I couldn’t easily go back to undergraduate level to take courses in writing skills, but on the other hand, I had the luxury of reading about and understanding the issues underlying my academic challenges. Let me use concepts mainly from one reading that I found most useful in order to share with you my experience of academic transition and success as an international graduate student in the U.S.

For one of my courses, I read Lave and Wenger´s (1991) book Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. This reading allowed me to better conceptualize and face the learning process I was going through when trying to produce academic texts in English. This book offers a theoretical description of learning as a process of participation situated in a community of practice (CoP). According to the authors, newcomers learn and become full members of a CoP through legitimate peripheral participation (LPP). That is: performing peripheral yet productive tasks that both contribute to the common goal of the community and help develop the learner’s identity. In this way, they have the opportunity to explore different viewpoints while getting involved in various social relations and their participation gradually transforms both their identity and the CoP itself. As a result, they become part of a new system which defines them and, at the same time, they define it.  Learning, then, implies “becoming a different person” (p. 53).

Reading about theoretical perspectives on academic work/challenges helped me feel comfortable in the process of gradually enacting the role of a new person, as a scholar, as more of an insider in the field, and as an expert voice for presenting the results of my research and study. As any graduate international student, I was expected to both produce academic texts in a second language (L2), and to write them as scholars (i.e.: old-timers) in my field of study did (Casanave, 2002). The more I learned about how “outsiders” enter new CoPs and begin to engage in LPP, the more I was able to get involved in new activities, perform new tasks and functions, and master new understandings.

The first academic texts that I produced in English were final papers for my graduate classes, which I learned to write by the very act of writing them as well as by negotiating my writing practices with peers, writing advisors, professors, and friends. Yet in this process, I also had to negotiate my identity as a L2 speaker. The consciousness that the theoretical literature provided me helped me negotiate and find my identity as a writer.

My writing acquisition process, then, transcended the classroom walls and the master/apprentice or professor/student dyad. As a matter of fact, there was “very little observable teaching” (Lave and Wenger, 1991, p. 92) for native or non-native speakers about how to accomplish the writing tasks for the courses. Like my native-speaker colleagues, I found opportunities to learn from other masters/professors and from classmates/apprentices; but as an Argentine who had to use standard English, I was a newcomer in an additional CoP—I had to negotiate not only my identity as  a nonnative user of English but also as a student scholar through LPP in a different CoP.

Peers were a very useful support system for me. Peer interaction allowed me to immerse myself in practices that differed from those I was familiar with back home. Discussing the assignments with my classmates helped me understand the contextual expectations and negotiate my writing. Some of my classmates were simultaneously old-timers and newcomers—old-timers when negotiating their way in institutional practices related to writing in U.S. universities, and newcomers when trying to participate in the conversations of the disciplinary CoP. My relationships with classmates, native and non-native speakers alike, slowly but steadily helped me move towards full participation.

However, unlike some of my classmates, I faced situations where my opportunities to get engaged in a “situated negotiation and renegotiation of meaning in the world” (p. 51) were constrained by my inability to fully express myself in English. While occasionally approaching old-timer status in some disciplinary CoP’s back home, I was a newcomer in the U.S., and my inability to leverage my native vocabulary, coupled with a lack of knowledge of the preferred rhetorical structures, hindered my LPP. I felt that my identity as a writer was challenged, and it seemed that I had to re-learn how to properly negotiate meanings in texts when producing them in my L2.

The expertise I had built as a writer (informed by my identity as a student, a professional, and a practitioner), was almost nullified in these new CoP’s, and I had to re-negotiate my methods of participation. This led to a fair amount of frustration, resulting in a strategy I consider characteristic of international students: learn from people who do not participate in the disciplinary CoP, but with whom the negotiation of meanings is more accessible (i.e., speakers of the same language). For example, when producing my first written texts at the university I drew upon my Spanish-speaking friends. Some of them where specializing in other disciplinary fields. However, they were old-timers at forging their identities as academic English as a Second Language (ESL) writers—an identity that I would have to negotiate in order to fully participate in my own disciplinary CoP. By using my native language to discuss the ways in which I would negotiate meanings in written English, I was able to build my identity as an ESL writer faster than if I had been restricted to communicating solely in English.

I also learned from the relationships I established with writing advisors. As with my Spanish-speaking friends, they were not apprentices in the same disciplinary CoP that I was. Nevertheless, they were apprentices in their own CoP’s, since graduate writing advisors at my university are also graduate students. They were old-timers in regards to writing in formal English—enabling the writing advisor position—but they were also newcomers in their graduate programs. Meetings with writing advisors gave me the opportunity to explore, in a more personal way, how to negotiate meaning in my L2. In these situations, my LPP in my own disciplinary CoP was empowering, because I was forging a trajectory, and developing my identity and membership in that specific field. This empowerment helped me re-conceive my peripheral role, moving the disempowering aspect of my LPP to the background.

The empowering/disempowering dynamic implied in my LPP (Prior, 1997) factored into my relationships with my professors/old-timers. I knew that learning how to write academic texts was not strictly formulaic, and therefore, while new to the U.S., I tried to interact with Spanish-speaking professors. In these meetings I was using a means (academic Spanish) that was “transparent” (Lave and Wenger, 1991, p. 102) to me in order to negotiate my way into practices that implied the use of a new tool (academic English) that I had not yet mastered. This presented opportunities to legitimize my participation as a L2 writer, and to better engage in existing practices, all the while shuttling between two languages (Canagarajah, 2006).

My learning trajectory shows how I learned to write English in spaces that transcended the classroom and university, though it was not smooth. As Lave and Wenger (1991) state, “[l]earning itself is an improvised practice” (p. 93) and every time I faced a different writing task I reinvented myself and my writing. I expended much time and effort simply trying to gain “access to arenas of mature practice” (p. 110) that I might attain LPP in multiple CoP’s. Crafting my identity as a L2 writer in a disciplinary CoP would have been eased by a clearer definition of these spaces of productive peripherality.

Nevertheless, I learned by doing—and this is where I think the richness of Lave and Wenger’s theory lies. By retrospectively analyzing my learning trajectory, I was able to map my LPP opportunities. So, what would I say to international students who have to learn academic writing?

First, keep in mind that writing as a situated activity. This implies that you do not learn to write once and for all. On the contrary, with every writing-task that you face in grad school, your relative position as an apprentice in the CoP changes, making access to old-timers and other apprentices vital. Therefore, you should implement strategies to facilitate this access. A simple one: ask, ask, and ask questions in order to have more tools to negotiate your participation. Another strategy is to use both, formal and informal resources such as writing centers, writing advisors, professors´ office hours, bilingual faculty, students, friends, proof-reading groups, etc. The mere interaction with others can open precious opportunities to exchange not only ideas to revise and improve your writing but also your writing practices.

Second, learning as participation also implies that all the writing you do should promote your LPP in the disciplinary CoP that you are an apprentice. However, this situation does not always happen. Usually, you have to write final papers for your courses where the instructor and (perhaps) classmates are the only audience. You can change this situation simultaneously trying to engage in publishing practices. Think of your final papers as drafts for future journal articles addressed to your disciplinary CoP. You can even share with your professors this intention and ask them to suggest appropriate publishing venues. Better still, you can propose to your graduate program to support a journal which emphasizes student involvement.

These are some ways in which you would be shifting the writing-to-display-knowledge function of your graduate-courses writing to a writing-to- participate-and-learn one. I hope that you have a successful journey toward becoming a confident member of the communities of practice in your academic discipline and professional field. My best wishes.

V.

References

Casanave, C. P. (2002). Writing games: Multicultural case studies of academic literacy practices in higher education. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Prior, P. A. (1997). Literate Activity and Disciplinarity: The Heterogeneous (Re) production of American Studies Around a Graduate Seminar. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 4(4), 275-295.

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.

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.

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.