The Time I Was Told To ‘Go Back to Your Own Country and Improve Your English’

by guosilu - Posts (1). Posted Thursday, January 31st, 2013 at 4:51 pm

An ad for the movie Pitch Perfect. Is it perpetuating stereotypes of Asians?

An ad for the movie Pitch Perfect. Is this how Americans think of Asians?

Recently I went to see a movie called “Pitch Perfect” with Emanuele, one of my best American friends.

“How did you feel about that?” she asked me on our way to the parking lot. We pushed the door and walked into freezing wind.

“Well, yes I think that is pretty much it. It’s true,” I said.

I knew exactly what she was asking.

In the movie there are two Asian girls: One speaks in a really quiet voice and has a weird accent; the other only hangs out with people from her own country and hates American food and culture. It feels like they are so different and somehow crazy.

“That is how some Americans think of Asians, right?” I asked.

“Well, to some degree, yes,” my friend Emanuele said. She said some Americans don’t like Asians because they don’t understand them. “Sometimes they don’t even know anybody from Asia,” she said. “They learned it from movies and other pop culture.”

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The Novelty Has Worn Off. So What Now?

by Tom Collier - Posts (6). Posted Wednesday, January 30th, 2013 at 12:55 pm

A sea of red in the stands at the football game

Going to an American college football game during my first, action-packed semester at Maryland

After conquering my first action-packed semester in the US, when I returned for my second after the Christmas break I expected to come back almost victorious. I had overcome all the nerves I had felt before I first came, and had had an incredible few months.

Instead, upon returning to campus I was hit by the same feelings of detachment and homesickness that I thought I thought had been dealt with.

I loved every second of my first semester in America. All the fear I felt when I first arrived four months ago had dissipated by the time I was set to make my first trip home to spend Christmas break with my family. In fact, it was going home to England that had me filled with a strange nervous excitement.

The comfort of visiting home

I had arrived in America with no plans at all, and with no expectation of what was to come. All I knew was that, as an exchange student who is only here for one academic year, I wanted to make the most of the experience before it ended in May.

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Is the Southern US More Like Asia Than Like the North?

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Wednesday, January 30th, 2013 at 12:08 am

“I wish I had known that this would be such a huge adjustment,” wrote Reddit user forthelulzac about moving from America’s northeast to the southern state of South Carolina.

North v. south in terms of election results, scaled based on number of electoral votes (Creative commons image by Mark Newman, University of Michigan)

North v. south in terms of election results, scaled based on number of electoral votes (Creative commons image by Mark Newman, University of Michigan)

The comment sparked a flurry of agreement from both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.  Americans from the north and the south might be citizens of the same country, but, at least according to those who responded to forthelulzac’s lamentation, they’re from two totally different cultures.

“[Meeting someone from New York] was the first time I had literally no clue what anything a person said or did meant.  I couldn’t tell how he felt about anything,” wrote southerner multirachael by way of explanation.  “For Southerners, everything, everything is in the subtext.”

Southerners have a complex system of rituals and social cues, she explained, contrasting this with the more upfront north.  “[I]f you come right out and say what you’re thinking, it’s considered aggressive, confrontational … If a Southerner labels you ‘rude,’ it’s pretty much the worst thing they can call you …”

“It’s about softening things.  It’s about having a ‘nice’ society. It’s about making things ‘pleasant.’”

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Host Family, Apartment or Dorm? Picking a Place to Live

by Annisa Budiman - Posts (4). Posted Monday, January 28th, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Where would I find my new home in the US?

When I started this year at school, I knew my ideal living situation couldn’t last much longer. I had come over to the U.S. with my parents, and had lived with them for most of my education, but now they were moving back to Indonesia and I had only a few months to figure out where to live for my final semester of university.

Finding a new “home sweet home” was not easy. Each time I thought I had a plan, my attempt failed and I was back to the drawing board. I explored a lot of different options, and learned a lot about the pros and cons of each.

I’m happy to report that I did find a place to live. But which option did I choose? Find out at the end!

Option 1: Living with a Host Family

Moving in with my parents’ friends from the Indonesian community here was my first thought, and the obvious choice. It would be a lot cheaper than getting a place on my own, it would be safer, and it would probably be the easiest option as well.

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4 Free Online Events for International Students: Jan. 28-Feb. 1

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Sunday, January 27th, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Once again we’ve scoured the internet to find upcoming free webinars and other events of interest to anyone who wants to study in the U.S.  A relatively light week this week, but still worth checking out.

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 – And please share any online events you’ve found that we haven’t.

January 29

mbaMission: MBA Interview Workshop
9pm US eastern time
More details: 

January 30

IIE: Improving Your Writing on the TOEFL iBT
More details: 

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Is College Life Reality or Fantasy? Does it Matter?

by Abuzar Royesh - Posts (5). Posted Thursday, January 24th, 2013 at 11:27 am

Columbia University, ranked in the top 10 by some measures. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Barbara (Jorbasa)

The unique world of college. Is it a four year break from the real world or a preparation to join adult society? Does it matter? (Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Barbara – Jorbasa)

“The situation in the Middle East is getting even more complicated. Hamas just doesn’t want to sit down at the negotiation table. They are terrorists. They should stop killing Israeli civilians.”

“But you can’t blame one side for all the atrocities that are happening. The Israeli government also should stop bombing Gaza strip and killing all innocent children, women, and men. Besides, for many Palestinians Hamas is a freedom fighter.”

“Well, yeah, but what do you say when Hamas uses school children as shields. Obviously many children will be killed.”

“But don’t you think …”

And so goes a typical conversation with my friends at my university. Here we are, a group of college kids, analyzing the situation in the Middle East, appointing the next U.S. President, and discovering the best solutions for global issues with as much seriousness as if we were making the policies ourselves, and as much authority as if we were Ban Ki Moon himself – our knowledge drawn from that one political science or history class we took last semester.

And then, in the next breath, our conversations subconsciously move to classes, drugs or sex.

That’s the thing about our crazy college life. It’s supposed to be preparing us for our futures, for living in the real world, but so much of it approaches the surreal instead. Are we approaching our education correctly by allowing ourselves to fall down a metaphorical rabbit hole? When I try to think about the answer, my brain dissolves into a muddy mess filled with more questions than answers.

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Nicola Asks Whether Studying Abroad is a Rejection of Your Own Country

by Guest Post - Posts (71). Posted Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Thanksgiving with international students

Is coming to this the same as rejecting your home?

“If you love your country so much, why are you leaving?”

That’s the provocative question South African student Nicola Soekoe asked in a blog post about her decision to study abroad at Yale University. She wrote:

I would ask myself, “If I am as dedicated to uplifting South Africa and Africa as I say I am, why did I choose to come abroad? If I am so quick to boast about the beautiful South African people to the my American peers, why didn’t I stay there and live with them, surely that would leave me better equipped to one day play a part in uplifting my country?”

Certainly some people back home may see the decision to study abroad as a desertion.  Anna wrote yesterday that her Russian friends and family see her differently now that she’s spend time getting an education in the U.S. “I can’t even remember how many times I have been called ‘brain-washed,’” she lamented.

But when we asked Nicola’s question on Facebook, the response was overwhelming: you didn’t see studying abroad as a rejection at all.

“Leaving is simply a quest to get a better education to make one more equipped to develop their country,” wrote Angel on our Facebook page.

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The Doors I Closed When I Came to the US

by Anna Malinovskaya - Posts (17). Posted Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Perhaps all international students discover at some point that going to college in the States costs more than they pay in money terms. I have experienced personal costs that will impact my life long after my education here is done. Some I was prepared to encounter, and others caught me off-guard. I don’t regret my decision to study in the States, but coming here has meant closing some doors and cutting off some possibilities.

As long as I can remember, mainstream political opinion in Russia has been anti-American, encouraged by the older generation who grew up in the Soviet Union and taught that America was an enemy to be opposed. Not everyone in the country is anti-American of course – in fact, most people I know are not actively anti-American – but there is an underlying suspicion of American values and intentions. As a result, my decision to study in America is viewed warily, and even negatively, by some.

Job prospects

I expect that, although my U.S. education will increase my job prospects in America and Europe, I will have difficulty finding someone to hire me in Russia with my credentials.

Many Russians believe that American education is not as rigorous as Russian education is, probably because they have heard that the academic environment in the U.S. is less formal and students there have “too much freedom” as they make their own course choices. Russian students don’t make many choices about their education. In my three years at a public Russian university, I wasn’t allowed to choose any classes.

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8 Free Online Events for International Students Jan. 20-25

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Friday, January 18th, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Once again we’ve scoured the internet to find upcoming free webinars and other events of interest to anyone who wants to study in the U.S.  This week: plenty of events for future TOEFL-takers, grad students, and MBA hopefuls.

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 – And please share any online events you’ve found that we haven’t.

January 20

Kaplan: Business School Why and Where to Go
9pm US eastern time
More details: 

January 21

Kaplan: Application Metrics, Your MBA Scorecard
9pm US eastern time
More details: 

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New in the Glossary of Confusing Words: Honor Code

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Thursday, January 17th, 2013 at 6:51 pm

dictionary and thesaurusSadly, I can’t remember who suggested we add “honor code” to our ever-growing Glossary of Confusing Words (if it was you, let me know so I can give you credit!), but it’s a good one.

If you’re not familiar with our Glossary of Confusing Words, it’s our attempt to clarify and define all the words about American education that can be confusing to international students. The words are entirely submitted by YOU, and there’s a form at the bottom of this article to submit any words you want us to add.

What’s an Honor Code?

Not every university has an honor code, but for those that do, the honor code is a set of principles that all students pledge to uphold.  Honor codes usually deal with academic integrity, but some extend to personal values as well, like respect and proper behavior.

Georgetown University students, for example, agree to the following pledge when they enroll at the university:

In pursuit of the high ideals and rigorous standards of academic life I commit myself to respect and to uphold the Georgetown University honor system:
To be honest in every academic endeavor, and
To conduct myself honorably, as a responsible member of the Georgetown community as we live and work together.

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Interesting Tidbit of American Culture: Yelling ‘Play Freebird’ at a Concert

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Not so free bird?

Not so free bird?

If you go to enough concerts in the U.S., eventually you will hear it.  It will probably be towards the end of the night, as the band is winding up, maybe trying to decide what to play for their final song.  And then someone will yell out,  ”Play Freebird!”

The response from the other concert-goers will vary.  Some may join in, others may snicker, and still others may sigh at hearing the overused trope.  But what does “Play Freebird!” mean?

“Freebird” is a 1973 song by southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, who are probably best-known for their anthem “Sweet Home Alabama.”  ”Freebird” hit the top 40, and has been voted as having one of the best guitar solos of all time.

The phrase’s first use, understandably, was to request the song.  On a 1976 Lynyrd Skynyrd live recording, the lead singer asks the audience what song they want to hear, and they shout back, “Freebird!” (the band obliges).

Today, however, “Play Freebird!” is yelled at bands who almost certainly don’t have “Freebird” in their repertoire, with no intention that the band treat the exclamation as a request.

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He Who Gives His All: Andreas’s Story of Applying for the CCI Program

by Guest Post - Posts (71). Posted Tuesday, January 15th, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Man Jadda Wajadda – he who gives his all will surely succeed. Through this Arabic phrase, I finally reached my dream to study in the U.S. After a long selection process, on August 2, 2011, I went to Atlanta, Georgia as a Community College Initiative (CCI) student.

This was how Andreas started his story of studying in the Community College Initiative (CCI) program.  He had written in to talk about his year studying in Madison, Wisconsin, which he called a “once in a lifetime experience.”  According to Andreas, he got this opportunity by adhering to a simple formula: “Dream + Effort = Reality!” But  the “Effort” part of that formula wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds.  He explained:

I knew about the CCI program from my best friend who got this scholarship. After seeing my friend’s pictures in the U.S. on Facebook, I told myself that I had to go the U.S. too. I began to search for as much information as I could from Google and my friend.

I realized my English was not good enough, so I took an English course for three months, three times a week, as my preparation for the TOEFL test. Although I had taken the course, I failed the TOEFL test two times. I had to get minimum score of 500 to apply for CCI program, but my score was just 417 and 473.

Then, I tried another way to improve my English. I bought a TOEFL test preparation book and forced myself to answer 10-20 questions each day before my next TOEFL test. Finally, my effort went great! I got more than 500 for my TOEFL test.

I applied to the CCI program in October 2010, because the deadline was November 1, 2010. It was a great moment when they contacted me in early December to say that I passed the document selection and they wanted me to do an interview.

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The US in Words #6: Pinned Down (How I Discovered my Own Identity)

by Paula - Posts (11). Posted Monday, January 14th, 2013 at 10:59 pm

The sixth in a series looking at U.S. life and culture through its idioms.  View previous entries.

To pin (something/someone) down = to get exact or specific information on/from

There were a few things I was sure I was before coming to the United States: blond, big, and Uruguayan. However, all of these things, which were part of my identity, seemed to blur and fade upon my arrival here.

The first time I ever stopped to think consciously about fitting my ethnicity and skin color into a category was on the plane from Uruguay to Miami, when I was asked to fill out a customs form (if you ever travel to the U.S., you will have to fill in one of those). It gave me options for Latina, Hispanic or White. I didn’t know which to pick and eventually made a random decision to placate a less-than-patient agent at the airport.

After having been in this country for about five months, I have since given the question a lot more thought than I ever thought I would.

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7 Free Online Events for International Students Jan. 14-18

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Saturday, January 12th, 2013 at 1:02 am

After a long break for the holidays, online events are back! As usual, we’ve scoured the internet to find upcoming free webinars and other events of interest to anyone who wants to study in the U.S.  This week: two events for TOEFL-takers, plus events for undergraduate and graduate applicants.

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 – And please share any online events you’ve found that we haven’t.

January 14

IIE: Getting Acquainted with the TOEFL iBT
More details: 

Kaplan: Graduate School Personal Statement Workshop
9pm US eastern time
More details: 

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When Your Race Is Not the Only Race: An Education in Diversity

by ZitaMF - Posts (4). Posted Thursday, January 10th, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Students wearing Columbia University sweatshirts. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user airsoenxen

A multicolored student body (Creative Commons photo by Flickr user airsoenxen)

Being in a multiracial environment changes how you view yourself and the world. Whatever your race is, when you are surrounded by people of another race, you become more aware of your color, your looks, your accent, and the people who you ‘belong to.

You start to see that the world is divided by subtle differences, study then learn to acknowledge those differences, and eventually start to appreciate the great diversity that surrounds you.

Growing up, I was only exposed to people of white skin. I had barely even met people of another color. One of my main motivations for studying in the United States was the multiracial environment the country offers, which I knew would be a new kind of challenge. I was looking forward to getting a better understanding of how different races interact, and seeing how I would react in a multiracial environment. And while I knew this could mean seeing negative examples of race relations as well, I didn’t really have an idea beyond what I had seen in media of how racism manifests.

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A place to hear stories about studying in the U.S. Our bloggers have come from all over the world to U.S. universities, and they'll be sharing their experiences, advice and more.

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Glossary of Confusing Words

Find definitions of confusing words and terms about studying in the U.S. in our Glossary of Confusing Words.

All the words were submitted by YOU, so visit the glossary to see the words that have been defined already and to suggest your own.