Olga-Sofia Offers Five Pieces of Unsolicited Advice for College Newbies

by Guest Post - Posts (71). Posted Thursday, March 21st, 2013 at 3:43 pm

You’ve probably seen by now some of the stories that we’ve featured from people responding in our comments section or using our submission form. Often people write in to respond to stories we’ve posted with their own anecdotes, or to tell a story from their time in the States.

Not Columbia University student Olga-Sofia. She just dropped in to offer, in her own words, “a few pieces of unsolicited advice for the newbies.” But they’re good ones, and we’ll take them. Here are Olga-Sofia’s five pieces of advice for those who, like her, find themselves “utterly unprepared” for the consequences of “sudden opened horizons” :

1. Learn to be bold.

If you have a problem, scream for help. My school has all sorts of safety nets, and I bet yours does (or will), too!

2. Learn to persevere.

Sometimes it’s just about hard monotonous work.

3. Learn to read.

If, heaven forbid, your native language is not English, come prepared. Read. Read day and night, never stop, and make sure you learn to retain information in English. One of my largest struggles was with English – and I scored 118 on TOEFL IbT and got almost perfect score on my Critical Reading section of SAT.

4. Learn that you no longer are looking at the ‘smartest’ in the rear view mirror.

If you played your cards right, and did all you could, you are at the right school. This means that your peers are most likely very close to you in intelligence levels. This, in its turn, means fierce competition. Sometimes I think that the curve is Columbia’s strategy to literally force us to pick the field of least resistance and therefore tap into our greatest potential.

5. Learn to have fun.

Yes, have fun. Right now, get out and have some fun. The second semester I had to drop a course in my major, came to my advisor prepared to crumble under the chair out of embarrassment, and… received a “Drop it. Enjoy college!” Shocking? Yes. True? Very much so.

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On the Comforts and Disappointments of Going Home

by Yu - Posts (3). Posted Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 at 5:08 pm

When I left home for the first time it did not occur to me that I would never be able to return to it again. I don’t mean ‘return’ in the literal sense, but in the sense that something happens between the moment that you leave a place and go back to it that irrevocably changes how you perceive things, that renders the familiar objects of ‘home’ into something distant, unattainable –  something of the past.

Like so many others, I left home when I was 18, and while I had been told many things about leaving, I did not know anything about what, exactly, it would mean to return.

When I left home for the first time, I didn’t think about looking back. I was only worried then about where I was going, how to begin a new life. What I did not know then – and what I know now – is that the pain of departure is far easier to bear than the pain of return.

Trip one

The first time I went home was the summer I turned 20. I was studying abroad in Paris and had become increasingly, quietly, desperate. I had grown tired of cathedrals, café crèmes, and the decay of Europe. I had been away for nearly two years, and ‘home’ had become nothing more than a nebulous image in my head, an absence rather than a place I longed for. The summer lay before me, empty and unplanned, and in a moment of panic, I decided to return to Thailand.

Going home that first time was an experiment: I wasn’t sure what to expect, and whether I was going to experience Thailand as a tourist, or as a resident. I had been away for so long that when I stepped into the Thai citizen line at Suvarnnaphumi airport, I could barely speak. The language felt unfamiliar and foreign, and the words garbled in my mouth.

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Arty Suggests That Befriending Americans is Good Career Preparation

by Guest Post - Posts (71). Posted Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 at 3:46 pm

One of our most popular posts examines why Americans and international students often don’t become friends, even though both groups say they want to mingle more. For Arty, making the effort to overcome that barrier is about more than just having more friends – it’s about adapting to aspects of American culture, such as working in groups and building personal relationships, that are important in the workplace as well. Here’s what Arty had to say about why international students should make more of an effort to expand their friendships at school:

America is an amazing country, and also an amazing place to study and experience a very unique culture. My parents are from an Asian country but I was born and raised in America and have experienced studying in Asian and European countries. America I believe has much more opportunity for a foreigner to adapt and understand. We are not a mono-ethnic country and are a melting pot of different people and cultures.

American schools value things that actually help you be successful in an American career. Failing to adapt and make friends with people here will not help you succeed. Like in an American company, having people that will support and vouch for you will help you succeed.

We often reward those that step outside their comfort zone – so you should do that. If you are shy, make it a point to be outgoing – so much good will come from that. I suggest international students to do that: make friends, embrace the culture while not abandoning your native culture, find a way to connect it to who you are as well – doing that will allow you success inside and outside the classroom. If you want to increase your chances of getting a company to sponsor your visa to work, fitting in the American culture and company culture is something they will invest in.

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Tricks for Keeping Friendships from Home Alive

by ZitaMF - Posts (4). Posted Monday, March 18th, 2013 at 4:22 pm

It is hard to live in one place knowing that somewhere there is another place to which you belong. You always wonder what you are missing or whether you would be better off at the other place. The idea that once you go back everything will be different and you won’t fit in anymore often crosses your mind. You are not only afraid of the possibility that once you go back the physical place itself won’t feel like home anymore, but even more so that the friends who used to be a substantial part of your life will not accept you back once you spend so much time away.

Weighing home and schoolBeing so far from home, I really struggled at first with how to get on with building a life in this new place without feeling like I was abandoning my life from home.

When I first arrived in the United States, I wrote messages home every day. I reported everything that happened to me, I consulted my friends on everything I did, and I wanted them to rely on me to the same extent as they did before I left.

Soon after classes started I just could not keep up with reporting every single minor event in my life, because I didn’t have enough time. The unexpected realization I would not be able to keep up my friendships the way I wanted made me feel lonely.

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3 Free Online Events for International Students: March 17-23

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Monday, March 18th, 2013 at 10:06 am

It may be a relatively light week this week for online events, but the ones that are happening are good ones. There are two virtual college fairs coming up this week for prospective undergraduate students, the CollegeWeekLive “All Access Zone” fair and Hobsons’ fair for the Middle East.

As always, if you attend any of the below events, report back and let us know what you learned! (Use the comments, the Facebook page or just email me – jstahl@voanews.com). And please share any online events you’ve found that we haven’t.

Coming up this week:

March 20

CollegeWeekLive: All Access Zone
More details:  http://www.collegeweeklive.com/en_CA/Guest/College-Events-March

March 21

CollegeWeekLive: All Access Zone
More details:  http://www.collegeweeklive.com/en_CA/Guest/College-Events-March

Kaplan: Dos and Don’ts of Law School Admission
9 pm US eastern time
More details:  http://www.kaptest.com/enroll/LSAT/online/events

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The Hilarious and Informative Sounds of Pi Day

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Thursday, March 14th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Pi Day pies (Creative commons photo by Flickr user Dennis Wilkinson)

Pi Day pies (Creative commons photo by Flickr user Dennis Wilkinson)

If you’ve been following this blog long enough, you know that I (unironically) think the song Friday by Rebecca Black brings the world together. So imagine how pleased I was to find out it also holds a special place in the hearts of math geeks today.

Today happens to be March 14, aka Pi Day. That’s pi as in π, as in 3.14159 and so on, and it’s celebrated today because the date is 3/14 (by American date notation anyway).

Pi Day often involves baking pies (the -e edible kind), calculating the circumference of circles, and reciting π to as many digits as you can remember.

But, as it turns out, “Pi Day” sounds quite a bit like Friday, which means it now also involves rewriting the Friday song with informative (and hilarious) π-themed lyrics. Let the YouTube parodies commence:

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Spoiled for Dining Options on Campus, BUT…

by Nicholas Lau - Posts (6). Posted Wednesday, March 13th, 2013 at 5:18 pm

I have no complaints, only compliments, for the food served in my college’s dining hall and food court (which we call the PDen, rhyming with my college’s mascot the Paladin). Don’t get me wrong, the food isn’t exceptional or extraordinary, but they try hard to listen to our feedback and meet our needs.

Plus, since all Furman students are required to have a meal plan all four years of college, the dining hall and PDen are not just places to eat – they become a place where students meet and hang out in between classes.

Valentine's Day celebration at Furman's dining hall

Valentine’s Day celebration at Furman’s dining hall

Our dining hall is arranged into small stations, each with a set theme allowing students to go straight to the station of their choice. For example, the pasta and pizza lovers, they can go straight to the pasta/pizza station. There are also other stations such as the gluten-free station, deli station, produce market station and grill station.

You are spoiled to choose from a wide variety of American food, from the usual burgers and fries to a steak.

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Ilham Shares Important Lessons Learned Through a Travel Disaster

by Guest Post - Posts (71). Posted Tuesday, March 12th, 2013 at 4:02 pm

A few weeks ago, Zita told her story of flying to New York for the first time, and the mistakes she made. Turns out that’s nothing compared to Ilham’s story. Ilham is from Indonesia and studying at Madison College in Madison, Wisconsin as part of the Community College Initiative program. He wrote in to talk about his three weeks spent traveling all over the country – Chicago, Alexandria (Virginia), Washington (District of Columbia), New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The winter break trip was an “incredible experience,” he said, but also filled with “educational lessons.” Here are some lessons he shared from his long, and drama-filled, travels:

Going on vacation can accumulate stories which can be horrible, fun, unforgettable, and traumatic. And sometimes the best story during your trip might be from the worst night, a tiring long flight, or even bad service at a hostel.

Here are five important lessons I got during my trip:

1) Read your ticket carefully

I purchased my Megabus ticket to Chicago for a dollar, but I carelessly missed the bus. I didn’t notice that my bus would be with Coach USA, the white bus, and I just kept waiting the ‘Megabus.’ What made me hate myself at the time was that I was standing close to the white bus, but was not willing to ask the driver, and eventually saw two buses leave. I had to pay $29 to get a ticket for the next bus on the schedule.

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Race Relations and the Symptoms of a Wounded Nation

by Sarah Bosha - Posts (4). Posted Monday, March 11th, 2013 at 3:51 pm

The first time I saw the wall was at an academic debate on diversity in college admissions. I went to hear some viewpoints on what it meant to be black, white, Latino, Asian, or anything else in America. But what I heard was not a debate on diversity, but a carefully navigated, walking-on-eggshells discussion of race.  I had never noticed it before, but there it was – an invisible wall between black and white students, which everyone was trying to ignore, but kept inadvertently bumping into as they tried to stick within the socially acceptable boundaries of conversation.

In particular, the debate was examining the recent case of Fisher v University of Texas at Austin, which is awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court.  Ms. Fisher is a white female student who claims she was discriminated against in her bid to attend the University of Texas because the school’s affirmative action policy favored minority applicants over white students.

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4 Free Online Events for International Students: March 10-16

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Friday, March 8th, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Before we get into the events for this week, don’t forget you still have time to attend the Hobsons virtual fair for Asia, scheduled for Saturday, March 9. Link: http://hobsonsevents.com/new-asia

As always, if you attend any of the below events, report back and let us know what you learned! (Use the comments, the Facebook page or just email me – jstahl@voanews.com). And please share any online events you’ve found that we haven’t.

Coming up this week:

March 11

Kaplan: GRE Bootcamp
9:30pm US eastern time
More details:  http://www.kaptest.com/enroll/GRE/online/events

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Aya’s Story: A Muslim Woman Breaks Stereotypes at a Southern Church

by Guest Post - Posts (71). Posted Thursday, March 7th, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Aya Chebbi is at Georgia Southern University as part of the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program. She’s been taking the opportunity to teach students and local groups about her country, Tunisia, her religion, Islam, and all about her heritage and culture. Recently she spoke with one group that had a particular impact on how she sees the U.S., and her hopes for her future. Here’s her story:

One of the main reasons I applied for the Fulbright Scholarship FLTA “Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program” was the chance to be an ambassador not only of my country but of my whole region. I hold the complex identity of being a Tunisian African Muslim Arab woman, and I wanted to use that to break a lot of stereotypes and represent Tunisia’s revolution, the African unity, the Arab culture and the true Islam.

I was hoping to be sent to one of my dream universities, Johns Hopkins or Georgetown University, because Washington D.C. is the state most alive with politics, but also full of false assumptions about the MENA region. When the program sent me instead to the very southern state of Georgia, and the very rural area of Statesboro, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to accomplish my mission with people whose accent, lifestyle and orientations I don’t fully understand.

Reading about American history, I expected the south to be very conservative and very Republican, and I doubted I would find opportunities to open constructive debates However, at Georgia Southern University, where I am teaching Arabic and taking some graduate courses (and which I now proudly call “my university”) I found the Global Ambassadors Program. Through that program I get to represent my country, region and culture by speaking to groups both on and off campus.

I have become very delighted whenever I get a speaking invitation, and last semester I got to speak in some of the Global Citizen classes on campus, as well as at high schools around Statesboro. This semester, the experience has already been even more intense and interesting.

Last week, I was invited to speak at the Statesboro First United Methodist Church. I was very surprised that a Muslim would be asked to speak in a church in a very conservative area like Statesboro. Though last year I spoke at the National Cathedral School when I visited the states for the first time as MENA Democracy fellow, that was on the grounds of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where my expectations were more of an open community to other religions and cultures.

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My Love Affair with Anthropology

by Sunny Peng - Posts (5). Posted Tuesday, March 5th, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Brooks Hall- the anthropology department at UVA

Brooks Hall- the anthropology department at UVA

After I was admitted as a transfer student by University of Virginia, I went to a send-off party hosted in Beijing by its alumni and the Office of Engagement for incoming undergraduate and graduate students, in order to learn more about my new school.

I was a finance major at my school in China, and did not see any reason to change my career path after changing my school. Especially not after attending the send-off party. It was held in one of the four most expensive clubs in Beijing and I kept hearing from all the alums and students there how “UVA’s Comm School [the McIntire School of Commerce] is the second best, if not the best, in the U.S.”

I would barely even have known that UVA has a liberal arts curriculum, which American universities in general are famous for, during that first encounter.

It was to get a social science requirement out of the way that I signed up for an anthropology class, Anthropology of Globalization, in my first semester at UVA. I did not have any clue what “anthropology” meant, but the word “globalization” attracted me.

The teacher was a graduate student who wore round frame glasses and worn-out jackets that seemed to be from several decades ago. His appearance gave me my first clue as to what an anthropologist might be like—people within this discipline seem to live in the past.

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Take a Tour of our Favorite Campus Study Spaces

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Monday, March 4th, 2013 at 8:01 am

Whether we like it or not, the activity that takes up most of our time – more time than even sleeping – is studying. So it’s important to find a great place to do it, and all of us have found those unique study spaces that have become like our second homes.

Come with us on a tour of the places where we spend most of our time on campus. Which would you choose?

Abuzar – The graduate library
Ginn Library

The Edwin Ginn Library at Tufts’ Fletcher School of International Affairs is adjacent to my dorm hall, which makes it very convenient, especially in the winter. This is not the main university library – it’s for the graduate school.

I go to the graduate library instead of the main library because the environment is a lot quieter and the students who study there are more serious. I usually spend most of my weekday nights in this library perusing my books, doing homework and sometimes (meaning usually) procrastinating with Facebook, YouTube videos, and TV shows.

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6 Free Online Events for International Students: March 3-9

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Friday, March 1st, 2013 at 6:01 pm

The big event coming up this week is the Hobsons virtual fair for Asia, but there are also some webinars for business school and law school applicants.  

As always, if you attend any of these events, report back and let us know what you learned! (Use the comments, the Facebook page or just email me – jstahl@voanews.com). And please share any online events you’ve found that we haven’t.

Coming up this week:

March 4

MBA Watch: Your MBA Questions Answered
More details:  http://www.beatthegmat.com/mba/events

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Why the Instructions are the Most Important Part of an SAT Subject Test

by Shree Raj Shrestha - Posts (5). Posted Thursday, February 28th, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Over the past few months Shree has been sharing his experience applying to colleges in the U.S. Several of the steps have caused him some stress, but perhaps none so much as when he took the SAT subject tests. A mistake on his answer sheet caused his scores to be delayed, and left him in jeopardy of missing his application deadline.

The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which designs the exams for the College Board, was nice enough to talk to us about Shree’s story, and give their advice for other test-takers out there on how to avoid finding yourself in this situation. So as you read Shree’s story, pay close attention to the sections in italics – that’s where you’ll see the ETS/College Board’s suggestions.

After spending months preparing for the SAT and the TOEFL, I found preparing for the SAT Subject Tests much easier. I was already, you might say, prepared for preparing for tests. Still, there was something that I was not prepared for – waiting for two whole months to receive my scores.

Some of the colleges I applied to required SAT Subject Tests, and even for the colleges where SAT Subject Tests were not mandatory, it is always recommended. The subject test measures your readiness for college-level courses and is offered for many subjects, ranging from science to language and literature. In one sitting, you can take as many as three, and as few as none of these tests (you can always cancel a test, even all of them, if you do not feel like you did well on it).

Being a science student, I selected three science subjects – physics, chemistry, and mathematics level 2. I took the test on November 3, and the results were supposed to be published on November 23.

A results day surprise

On that day, some of my friends from the USEF/Education USA Advising Center gathered at an internet café and looked at each other’s scores one by one. I waited impatiently for my turn, with the slow internet connection adding up to my impatience. Finally, I logged in to my College Board profile and clicked on the link that was supposed to display my test scores. But instead of the test score, all I got was a blank!

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