Two Russians Discussing American Education

by Anna Malinovskaya - Posts (17). Posted Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 at 12:06 pm

This year is my second year at Mount Holyoke College and my third year in the States. Yet even after so much time here, there are still moments when I realize how culturally different Americans are, and I feel like screaming, “I don’t belong here!”

I contacted my friend Dmitry, who is finishing his third semester as a Fulbright Fellow at Iowa State University, to ask him how he was feeling about American academics so far.

We both went to university in the same city in Russia, so I thought it would be fun to compare notes.  As it turned out, we didn’t always agree on how the American style of education is different from what we’d experienced before, or why.

anna and dmitry

Here’s our conversation on:
- Classroom behavior
- The relationship with professors
- Personal conversations
- Homework and grading
(click to jump to that section)

On classroom behavior

Anna: I will never forget when in my first year in the U.S. a girl sat next to me in the front row of a morning class and, as the professor was speaking, put her breakfast on the table and started eating. First, she peeled an egg. Then she spread jam on her toast slowly. I thought to myself: “Oh my god, I hope the professor won’t notice!”

It felt so awkward to me and all I wanted at that moment was for the professor not to notice her eating. Later I learned that in an American classroom eating and drinking are totally acceptable and it doesn’t upset me anymore when I see Mount Holyoke students eating their breakfast or lunch in class.

In one of my classes at my Russian university I felt thirsty and went to get a drink. I wasn’t even going to drink it in class; I just put it on my table. However, when the professor noticed that, she paused to scold me. Yes, right in the middle of her lesson!

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The Tumultuous Story of My First Thanksgiving Turkey

by Sava Mounange-Badimi - Posts (2). Posted Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 at 9:50 am

sava turkeyA year ago during Thanksgiving week, I was browsing the internet and randomly came across a recipe for the holiday’s most famous dish: roasted turkey. I went through the ingredients and the instructions, and after a few minutes of deliberation in my adventurous mind I decided to attempt cooking this legendary meal.

I have always loved cooking, and I never understand when people say they can’t cook. I mean, we can all read instructions and follow them, right? As long as I have a recipe, nothing can stop me. So I had no worries about attempting my first Thanksgiving turkey. Normally I try to have everything prepared and thought out ahead of time, but I wanted to cook my turkey as fresh as possible, so I decided to buy it on the very day of Thanksgiving. But little did I know…

On the fateful day of Thursday, November 24th, 2011 I slept in excessively late, enjoying my holiday break, and around 6pm my brother and I took off – driving – for “HEB,” a popular grocery store in Texas. We turned into the empty parking lot of the supermarket and made our way to the entrance, only to find that the store had closed at 3pm because of the holiday. I was not expecting this at all, but I was not giving up.

We drove to “La Michoacana,” a Mexican meat market we frequently visit. It was open, but when we got inside, the butcher informed us that he had no more turkeys left. Yikes!

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Finding Inspiration for Afghanistan in America’s Election

by Abuzar Royesh - Posts (5). Posted Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Two weeks ago, I was standing among a throng of students in Hotung Café at Tufts University—a crowd burning in anticipation to learn the outcome of the presidential election.

I had left my quiet dorm room just ten minutes before with a friend of mine, after finishing my assignments, to witness this historic moment.

The area was packed; I could only cram into the room by jostling and shoving other students aside. The predictions for most of the eastern and southern states had already been announced; Governor Romney had a marginal lead over President Obama. After a while, the emcee announced that CNN’s prediction for Ohio, one of the key swing states, was out. Breaths were held, dead silence prevailed, and all eyes were fixed on the two TV screens.


In my mind I was transported back to the Afghan presidential elections in 2009.

The number of candidates was 22 times the number running in the American elections – 44 candidates – yet the thrill of the election was barely noticeable. In fact, I don’t even recall following the news about it. No matter how many candidates there were to choose from, there was little faith that any of them could or would bring much change.

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The 3 Pieces of Advice I Thought I Didn’t Need (But Definitely Did)

by Sarah Bosha - Posts (4). Posted Monday, November 19th, 2012 at 12:34 pm

suitcasesBefore I left for the U.S., I attended all the orientations about what life would be like there.  I heard tons of useful advice about how to prepare, what to pack, and what to expect.   And like most people, I scoffed at some of that advice.  But boy I wish I hadn’t!

Settling into Indiana was not as easy as I thought it would be, and I quickly began to regret not listening to the suggestions of what to bring with me from home.  Here are the top 3 things I really wish I had brought, and the advice you shouldn’t ignore when it’s time for your orientation.

1. Toiletries

Not packing toiletries such as lotion and soap from home was the first thing I greatly regretted. I am ashamed to say that when the helpful ladies at the EducationUSA orientation gave us this advice, I laughed at it. “I am going to America, where everyone has great skin and looks (and probably smells) good, and everything costs US$1,” I thought. “I will buy it there.”

Unfortunately, when I arrived in Indiana it turned out the supermarket is very far from where I live and only accessible by bus.

When I finally figured out the bus route and managed to get there, I was bombarded by more choices in face wash, lotions, cleansers, and all manner of soaps than I had ever seen in my life!

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The US in Words #3: Buckle Up (and Other Adventures Driving in America)

by Paula - Posts (11). Posted Saturday, November 17th, 2012 at 9:25 am

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

To buckle up = to put on a seat belt

Because I teach English as a Foreign Language, and I’ve been constantly improving my language skills for over 20 years, I have always been pretty confident about my English.  But guess what? When I arrived in Pennsylvania I quickly found that my English classes back home had left me unprepared for certain tasks – like driving.

Buckle up sign

On my very first day, someone from the university had picked me and my roommates up at the airport and was driving us to Selinsgrove when I saw a big sign on the road that said “Buckle up! It’s the law.” I had no idea what buckle up was, so I asked the person who was giving us a ride. She explained it meant to fasten your seat belt.

Since then, I have found the slogan “buckle up for the next million miles” in many spots along the roads of Pennsylvania.

This was the first of many encounters with traffic signals, road signs, GPS devices, safe-driving exams and many others, all of which have proved that no matter how much I’ve studied the language, there are certain things I could never learn without living in the culture.

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6 Events for International Students: Nov. 19-23

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Friday, November 16th, 2012 at 1:35 pm

It’s getting close to application crunch time, so there are lots of free, online events this week focused on completing your application to a college or MBA program. So check them out if you’re planning to apply!

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.

Coming up:

November 19

EducationUSA: The Common Application
10am US eastern time
More details:

mbaMission: MBA Essay Writing Workshop
12 noon US eastern time
More details: 

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Learning to be Thai

by Yu - Posts (3). Posted Thursday, November 15th, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Thailand's Songkran water festival, held in April (Photo: Reuters). Is this part of my identity?

Thailand’s Songkran water festival, held in April (Photo: Reuters). Is this part of my identity?

I still remember a conversation I had with my high school friends one day, when I told them that I wanted to study in the U.S.: “I don’t think I’d ever go there,” said one of my friends. “It seems too liberal and dangerous.”

I also remember another moment, when I was at a store with my mother, and she had told the shopkeeper that I attended an international school: “Learning English is a good skill, but I don’t think I want my kids in that kind of school,” he said. “I don’t want them to be Westernized.”

Although I attended an American international school, few of my friends actually went abroad for college. Most stayed in Thailand, a handful went to colleges either in England or Australia, and I was the only one to go to the U.S. The prevailing attitude was that while, sure, the U.S. offered a good education, it was just a bit too far, too expensive, and too different. When one of my friends expressed interest in going to an American college, her parents dissuaded her, saying that they wanted her closer by.

To me, getting away was the exactly the point; staying in Thailand was the last thing on my mind. I had graduated from high school, seen all my close friends leave, and was overcome by the feeling that I was done with it all – that there was absolutely nothing left for me in Thailand, and there was nowhere to go but away.

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Yustina Explains How Not to Tell A Friend That You’re Bored

by Guest Post - Posts (70). Posted Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 at 11:15 am

Earlier this week, Zita explained how Americans interpret the phrase “How are you?” and why they might react with surprise if you actually tell them how you are when they ask.  It’s not the first time we’ve heard about funny, frustrating, and even downright embarrassing English mistakes.  Take these, contributed by VOA intern Matthew Kupfer, or these, added by our readers (that’s you!). Commenter Yustina wrote in to share another one of her own:

I said to my friend, “I am boring.” I meant, I felt bored at that time. He just laughed at me and said, “Yes, you are so boring.” 

I didn’t know it was ungrammatical until one of my friend told me it was wrong. She said, “I feel bored.” When you use “I am boring” it means you are a boring person; it does not show what you feel. I said, “I have to study hard in English.”

So far I have big problems with grammar and how to make tenses correctly.  If you have some advice please tell me.

Yustina, you might want to take some of Sava’s advice for making significant improvements quickly, or Shree’s advice for making practice part of your daily routine. And check out this link for even more on learning and improving English.
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Crafting Your Art of English Fluency

by Sava Mounange-Badimi - Posts (2). Posted Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 at 2:26 pm

When I came to the United States, I was barely fluent in spoken English, although on paper I seemed competent in the language. In fact, it turned out the English I had learned over the course of my middle and high school years was quite different from American English.

When you’re not comfortably fluent in the language of your “new home,” a casual chat can rapidly turn into a rollercoaster of confusing words. I could barely even understand the information that the immigration officer told me when I landed in the U.S.

Now, after two years, I can proudly say that my English is lot better than it used to be, although I’m still trying to improve my speaking skills.  To get there, I had to understand that assimilating to a language is an art. You have to feel it, visualize it, and experience it yourself. It’s an art that you create, not that you learn. Here are the four ways in which I have crafted my own art of fluency.

1.     The Craft of Listening

Treatment with leeches. Woodcut from Historia Medica by W. van den Bossche.

Treatment with leeches. Woodcut from Historia Medica by W. van den Bossche.

Have you ever heard of leeches? There are slimy and tiny worm-like organisms that can suck human blood without even getting noticed. A leech will absorb as much blood as it pleases, and then instinctively lets go and begins its well-deserved digestion break.

I know, you must be wondering why I would talk about leeches in an article about learning English. But actually, those little creatures can teach us a lot about the approach to take when learning English. If you really want to be comfortable with daily spoken English, you have to start absorbing the language as much as you can.

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The ‘Wrong’ Way to Answer ‘How Are You?’

by ZitaMF - Posts (4). Posted Monday, November 12th, 2012 at 9:26 am

- How are you?
– Good. You?
– Pretty good.
– That’s good.

This was an actual exchange between two students sitting at my table in the dining hall. When I heard it, I literally burst out laughing and quipped, ”Well, that was a meaningful conversation.” Maybe I was being a bit insensitive but, although I have lived in the U.S. for more than two years and know this is a normal conversation, it still strikes me as odd.

One of the most challenging aspects of being an international student is that you not only have to master a foreign language, but also to recognize the meaning that hides behind the words.

Almost every day I am asked, “How are you?” or “How are you doing?” I’m expected to respond, “Good” or “Fine,” and ask the other person how they are, to which they will also respond, “Good.”

To this day, this style of greeting strikes me as an abuse of a question with which people show care and concern to one another in my culture. When somebody asks, “How are you?” in Hungary, I assume that person is truly interested in my well-being and wants to listen to what I have to share.

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8 Events for International Students: Nov. 12-16

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Friday, November 9th, 2012 at 6:46 pm

This week we’ve found three (count ‘em, three!) virtual fairs for prospective college and grad students. Plus some MBA-themed events, as usual.

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.

Coming up:

November 13

EducationUSA/CollegeWeekLive: International Virtual College Fair
More details: 
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New in the Glossary of Confusing Words: Library

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Thursday, November 8th, 2012 at 7:18 pm

dictionary and thesaurusWhy might “library” be a confusing word?

this is confusing to the french speaking student, it get confusing with bookstore cause bookstore in french is “Librairie”

Indeed.  And it’s just as confusing for English speakers learning French.  So let’s clarify and put “library” into the Glossary of Confusing Words.

A bookstore is where you go to buy books.  A library is where you go to borrow books. It’s as simple as that.

On a college campus, libraries and bookstores often take on additional functions, but that core distinction remains.

In addition to being a place to borrow books, the university library is one of the most popular places on campus to study. University libraries usually have tables or cubicles where students can bring their books and computers for a quiet place to concentrate, and often have meeting rooms available for group work.

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Why a Weak SAT Score Didn’t Kill My College Dreams

by Phillip Dube - Posts (4). Posted Wednesday, November 7th, 2012 at 12:14 pm

“The test commences at 8:45am. I work through the essay assignment, frantically, reading quietly as I print out my ideas on paper because I want to avoid silly mistakes.

‘Stop writing, pencils down!’ instructs the invigilator.

We start work on the next section.

The vocabulary in this section is mostly new. I struggle with the first few questions but employ the strategies my SAT tutor gave me and, surprisingly, I finish answering all the questions before the stern-faced lady calls the time. This boosts my confidence and I work on the other sections easily.

After close to four hours in the test room, the exam is finally over. I was out of the room tired but somewhat happy. I answered most of the questions and hopefully I gave the correct answers.”

I wrote those words in 2011 for an article in The SundayMail (the best-selling weekly in Zimbabwe). My early decision application to Amherst College had been deferred and, hoping to improve my chances for admission, I was retaking the SAT for the second time. Two weeks later I found out the result of my effort.

My SAT score had increased by a mere 70 points, from 1680 to 1750. I had given it my best shot, but that score wouldn’t increase my hope of getting into Amherst, my dream school, where the average SAT score is more like 2100.

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What America’s Political Divisions Say About Its People

by Nicholas Lau - Posts (6). Posted Monday, November 5th, 2012 at 6:23 pm

A college campus is the best place to follow an election. There are voter registration drives, presidential debate watches, mock debates, and forums to encourage students to discuss what it means to be an informed voter, and how to make the best decision for the next four years. Meanwhile, the College Democrats and College Republicans, clubs for politically-minded students of each party, have been working with full-force to mobilize the student body to vote on Election Day.

Obama and Romney face off in the first presidential debate

Obama and Romney face off in the first presidential debate

Personally, I have enjoyed participating in all this, even though I won’t be voting on Election Day. I believe that the political culture of a country is a good reflection of the people living in it, and this election has provided a new way to get to know America.

During the first presidential debate, hundreds of students at my school got together to watch the live broadcast.  Several campus organizations sponsored the event, at which they passed out clickers for students to record their opinions to various questions about the candidates and the debate.

The students began by recording which candidate they would vote for if the election were held right then. About 60 percent of those polled said that they would vote for Governor Romney, with the remaining 40 percent for President Obama. The survey also asked them why, and the main response was that they were unhappy with how the Obama administration had handled the economy.

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A British Perspective: Is the American Democratic System All it’s Cracked Up to Be?

by Tom Collier - Posts (6). Posted Monday, November 5th, 2012 at 10:06 am

Reuters presidential debate photo 2012

Photo: Reuters

I got to America just in time for campaign season to begin, and just in time to catch a moment that set the tone for the election as I have experienced it since.

When I arrived, Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin was just about to tell a TV station in Missouri that during “a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” arguing abortion shouldn’t be allowed in cases of rape. I was shocked to hear a candidate say something that was not only scientifically untrue but also such a seemingly extreme point of view. In Britain, this comment would almost certainly have resulted in the candidate stepping down and the campaign of the party being seriously damaged.

While many Republicans did condemn Akin’s statement, and Akin eventually apologized, the outrage was hardly as universal and decisive as I would have expected back home. Akin is still campaigning to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate, and even has a chance at winning, running in a state where nearly 40% of voters are evangelical Christians. In fact, the comments were treated as a political gaffe (albeit a major one); something for the Democratic party to seize upon as “worrisome” and “extreme” in arguing the case for their own party and candidates.

Divisions, Real and Contrived

As I’ve found, candidates can and do run on some very divisive issues, playing to the more extreme parts of their parties to solidify support from the “base.” Meanwhile, each party also goes after the middle ground, exploiting gaffes made by the competition in order to paint them as the immoderate ones.

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The Student Union is…

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.