What’s Your 9/11? Join the Global Community Sharing Life-Changing Stories

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Friday, August 19th, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Stories of the days that changed young lives

Everyone has had in their life that one moment that will be forever imprinted on their memory, and that breaks their personal story into a before and after. For many Americans, including myself, it happened on September 11, 2001.

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, we want to gather and share stories of those events and those moments that changed lives all around the world.

We’ve collected experiences from Armenia to Pakistan to Kenya to America about everything from 9/11 to the Salvadoran Civil War. Will you join us in this exciting project and share yours?

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What to Pack for Your First Trip to the United States

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Thursday, August 18th, 2011 at 3:48 pm

In anticipation of the start of the new school year, bloggers from across the internet are sharing their tips for coming to the U.S. for the first time, and a lot of them are talking specifically about what to pack in your suitcases:

Here's one thing you definitely shouldn't pack (Creative Commons photo by Flickr user ClintJCL)

Here's one thing you definitely shouldn't pack (Creative Commons photo by Flickr user ClintJCL)

- Make sure you know the weight limit for checked bags on your flight, and stick to it if you don’t want to pay overage charges, says a contributor to Happy Schools Blog.

- Pack the clothes you feel comfortable in, not what you think is in style, said Senzeni based on her experience last year. And bring dressier clothes too, she suggested – you can’t always wear t-shirts and jeans.

- Bring some key things from home that won’t be available in America, said Tara in that same post. For Chinese students she recommended BB Cream and maybe a rice cooker.

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Write for the Student Union!

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Wednesday, August 17th, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Don’t forget, if you currently study in the U.S. or are applying to study in the U.S., we’re looking for new bloggers to join our returning writers for the coming school year.

If you are fluent in English, creative, insightful and not shy about talking about your life (even the embarrassing parts), we want you to apply.  You will come away with a portfolio of professional writing, and we will work closely with you throughout your internship to help perfect your writing and storytelling skills.

You must:

- Have exceptional English writing and speaking skills. Multimedia skills (video, audio, photography) would also be an asset
- Be a current college/university student (or be applying to college/university this year). We’re looking for people from a range of backgrounds, majors and degree levels (grad and PhD students included)
- Be willing to contribute at least once a month when school is in session
- Be able to commit for at least a semester, preferably for the full year

To apply, send your resume, cover letter and a writing sample to jstahl@voanews.com.

Side by Side Comparison: Top 10 Cheapest Colleges for Foreign v US Students

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 at 10:29 am

Screenshot from the Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center

Screenshot from the Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center

The U.S. Department of Education recently launched a great new website, the College Affordability and Transparency Center, designed to help students get information about the cost of an undergraduate college education.

One of the neatest features is a little tool that lets you look at lists of institutions with the highest/lowest tuition and highest/lowest net prices. The net cost lists are particularly interesting – they take into account all the costs of attending university (tuition, fees, housing, books, etc.) and subtract the average amount of aid received in order to find out the true average cost for a student.

But international students beware. That list of net costs only applies to domestic students – and for public colleges, it only applies to in-state or in-district students. Some colleges DO offer a lot of aid to international students, and make an effort to keep the net cost low, but they may not be the same colleges that offer a low net cost to domestic students or state residents.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the top 10 highest and lowest net cost lists you’d get using the college cost tool, and the top 10 for international students, based on our calculations.  You can see right away that the results are quite different for international students.

1) Lowest Net Cost

4-year Private Non-Profit Institutions:

College cost tool Net Cost ($) International students Net Cost ($)
Universidad Teologica del Caribe 82 Berea College* 209
Talmudical Academy – New Jersey 469 Gettysburg College 2972
Colegio Pentecostal Mizpa 1776 Skidmore College 3268
Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary 1876 College of the Atlantic 3790
John Dewey College – University Division 1956 Paine College 3820
Turtle Mountain Community College 2031 Southwestern Christian College 4033
Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico – Ponce 2208 Yale University 4449
Southeastern Baptist College 2699 Kentucky Mountain Bible College 5024
Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America 2839 Trinity College 6507
Our Lady of Holy Cross College 2874 Wayland Baptist University 6585


4-year Public Institutions:

College cost tool Net Cost ($) International students Net Cost ($)
Sitting Bull College 938 Alabama State University 263
Escuela de Artes Plasticas de Puerto Rico 996 Fort Lewis College 6199
South Texas College 1317 University of West Alabama 7386
University of Puerto Rico-Aguadilla 1591 Haskell Indian Nations University 7760
University of Texas Pan American 1646 Alabama A&M University 7998
Indian River State College 2138 The Citadel 8243
University of Puerto Rico-Bayamon 2345 South Dakota State University 9474
California State University – Dominguez Hills 2451 University of Science and Arts at Oklahoma 9478
California State University – Los Angeles 3263 Kentucky State University 9991
Elizabeth City State University 3335 Missouri Southern State University 10174


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New in the Glossary of Confusing Words: What’s Up

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Monday, August 15th, 2011 at 9:44 am

dictionary and thesaurusJust to let you all know, the regular Monday Glossary of Confusing Words posts are a summer feature, for while our bloggers are on vacation.  We’ll keep doing it for a couple more weeks and then go on hiatus for a while, so get your words in now.  If we don’t get to your word, we’ll save it up until the next vacation time, I promise.  We’re always willing to do words that are specifically related to applying for college/university though, so keep those coming throughout the school year.

Today’s word: What’s up?

When someone asks you “what’s up?,” they are asking you what’s going on in your life, either in general or at that specific moment.  It’s pretty informal, and not to be used in business situations.

There are two basic ways “what’s up?” is used in conversation:

1) As a very informal pleasantry.  In this case, it would be the equivalent of “what’s new?” or even “how are you?” and is asking whether anything is going on in your life.

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A Plan to Overcome the Challenges (External and Internal): Homayoon’s Story

by Guest Post - Posts (66). Posted Friday, August 12th, 2011 at 9:46 am

A few months ago, Homayoon wrote on our Facebook page:

I think my dream to study in U.S will never, ever become true. I recommend that everyone who wish to study at U.S, He/She must get preparation for a couple of years at least (those who apply for scholarships). This prepration must be especially for writing skill because when you are not a top and excellent English writer, you cannot ...covey and communicate your knowledge and thoughts to others. Therefore, finding and winning a scholarship was and is the greatest challenge for me in my academic life. In my opinion, study in US, is one of the great and great opportunity of life for all those who are currently studying there.

Despite past disappointments, Homayoon says he will try again to achieve a higher TOEFL score and apply for scholarships. He writes in with this explanation of why he hopes to study in the U.S., the challenges he has faced, and what he plans to do differently this time around:

On learning English
Homayoon says his ambition to learn English was kindled early, but the conflicts in Afghanistan got in the way. He moved a lot as a child to escape violence – first from Kabul to Nangarhar during the civil war, back to Kabul during the Taliban regime, then again to Nangarhar to escape the U.S. attacks after 9/11, and finally back to Kabul again for his senior year of high school. Though he has continued studying English when he can, Homayoon says he knows he’s not at the level he could be, or needs to be.

A technician directs an Ariana Afghan airlines Boeing 727-200 before take off at Kabul's airport on January 16, 2002. The first plane took off, made a circle and landed again at Kabul's civilian airport, officially opened on Wednesday, after being renovated by British military engineers. REUTERS/Oleg Popov  OP/CLH/

Ariana airlines (Photo: Reuters)

When the civil war or Mujaheddin war started in Kabul in around 1992 – 3, our family moved back to Nangarhar, which was a little secure than Kabul city. After we managed to restart our normal life there, I had to continue my school. In the eastern provinces in Afghanistan, almost all the residents speak Pashto, so education is taught in the Pashto language. That was a big challenge for a native Dari speaker who was just about 8 or 9 years old.

In seventh grade, I used to watch and play volleyball in the Ariana airline office yard, which was located not so far from our house. Watching the airline’s international pilots play volleyball and speak English with each other, I was inspired and got interested to learn English. It was the starting point for my English learning.

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How Did You Prepare to Apply for Scholarships?

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Thursday, August 11th, 2011 at 10:53 am

This week we’ve been answering questions submitted by Homayoon (see question 1 and question 2). His final question was about scholarships. Homayoon has shared in the past that this has been his greatest struggle when it comes to pursuing a degree in the U.S., saying:

I recommend that everyone who wish to study at U.S, He/She must get preparation for a couple of years at least (those who apply for scholarships). This [preparation] must be especially for writing skill because when you are not a top and excellent English writer, you cannot …covey and communicate your knowledge and thoughts to others. Therefore, finding and winning a scholarship was and is the greatest challenge for me in my academic life.

So he asked us to share experiences about how to get a scholarship.

Can anyone share their experiences about how to get a scholarship? What you have done before start to submit your scholarship application?

In a past post, our bloggers talked about the scholarships they have and how they got them, so make sure to look at “Exploring Financial Aid and Funding Options” to hear some of their personal stories.

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The First Stages of Planning for a US Education

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 at 10:28 am

Yesterday we shared Homayoon’s first question, which was about the biggest obstacles to studying in the U.S. His second question was:

When you planned to get your Master Degree in U.S, UK, or Australia, How do you planned? What have you done as a first thing?

We’ve actually covered this very topic in a previous post, “First Steps: Deciding to Come to the US is the Easy Part,” which goes through the first steps you should take once you’ve decided to study in America.

[Also check out this previous post, "Recap: Applying to Schools"]

The very first step, according to EducationUSA, is to research your school choices and the tests they require. Our bloggers homed in on that point as well in their advice:

Sebastian Sanchez

The most important thing to do is making informed decisions. Again, I had much help from the organization in my country, but for being able to take decisions I based most of my research on http://www.collegeboard.org/. This is an organization that helps you out by providing a lot of very valuable information, from preparation for the tests to financial aid, going through different colleges costs and rankings to student life and the towns those are based.

[Check out other websites that are useful for researching schools on our Resources page]

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Biggest Obstacles to Studying in America

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 at 10:22 am

Our friend Homayoon has told us in the past that he hopes to study in the U.S. but worries “my dream to study in U.S will never, ever become true.” But, far from giving up, Homayoon was in touch recently to ask a few questions, which are worth sharing because they’re probably fairly common. Our bloggers have some thorough answers for him, which we’ll post over the course of this week, and we’ll finish by sharing Homayoon’s own story about his quest to study in America.

Homayoon asked:

I plan to get MBA. I have taken TOEFL couple of years ago but I got only 510 which was not enough than I was expected. I want to take it again, in coming October. Is the only obstacle to study in US is TOEFL?

Our bloggers responded:

Tara Cheng

The biggest obstacle for me is how to “market” myself in the required essays, like personal statement. You gotta be sort of aggressive in the writing because you need to get attention from the admission officer, but you can not be over-aggressive or brag. The balance is a little bit difficult. Plus you do not know what type of persons they would like to get. As to TOEFL, if your score is a little bit lower than school’s requirement, do not worry, school will evaluate your application in an holistic way. Also, they may give you opportunities to take ESL (English as Second Language) classes before your official enrollment.

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New in the Glossary: ASAP, Nother

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Monday, August 8th, 2011 at 12:54 pm

dictionary and thesaurusWelcome to another #glossaryday (I’m going to keep using it until it catches on!).  Today in the Glossary of Confusing Words we have two very colloquial terms that you submitted.


ASAP is actually an abbreviation.  It stands for “as soon as possible,” and you would use it when you want someone to do something quickly.

“Can you get that draft to me ASAP? I need to edit it before the meeting.”

ASAP is normally pronounced by reading out each of its letters, but you’ll sometimes hear it pronounced “ay-sap” (the letter a, followed by the word sap).

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Write for the Student Union (and Other Opportunities)

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Friday, August 5th, 2011 at 10:12 am

Opportunity 1: Write for the Student Union this year!

The new school year is about to start, and we’re looking for a whole new group of writers to join us as regular contributors! If you’re studying in the U.S. this year, or are applying to come to the U.S. next year, we’d love to have you share your experiences as one of our student bloggers.

You’d be joining some of our previous writers who we’re very excited to have back again this year.

Send your resume, a cover letter and a writing sample to jstahl@voanews.com to apply. More details below.

Opportunity 2: Write for us at any time!

Of course, you don’t have to be one of our regular bloggers to contribute to our community at any time. Many of you have already shared your stories and asked your burning questions, and we hope you’ll continue doing that!

Go to http://blogs.voanews.com/student-union/share/ to participate, or join us on Facebook.

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The Ups and Downs of Summer Work Travel

by Guest Post - Posts (66). Posted Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011 at 4:22 pm

This post is by VOA intern Matthew Kupfer, and was originally written in Russian for our sister blog, Альма-матер.  Matthew says, “although my post is written with a Russian-speaking audience in mind, the topic should be relevant to most everyone because the Work and Travel program is open to students from around the world.”

Photo: AP

Photo: AP

When I studied in St. Petersburg as part of an intensive Russian language program, I often talked with Russian students, who shared their plans and dreams with me. Among the most popular themes of these intimate conversations were student exchanges in the U.S.—especially Work and Travel.

Work and Travel is a program that allows foreign students to come to the U.S. to work and simultaneously plunge into American culture for up to five months. A typical student who participates in this program spends the first few months working, and then can spend time traveling in America if he or she so chooses.

To participate in this program, you are required to apply through a U.S. Government-approved sponsoring organization—such as CIEE, CetUSA or Intrax. These sponsors sometimes help participants find work, but not always. If the employer does not help the participants find housing, he or she ultimately must do it themselves.

The sponsoring organizations’ websites advertise Work and Travel as an unforgettable adventure—not just an opportunity to spend the summer in sunny America, but also to interact with Americans and master the English language. But the summer doesn’t always turn out the way it is advertised. From hearing the stories of former participants, it’s clear to me that many have had great experiences on Work and Travel. But I have also found that there are a sizable number of students who have experienced real difficulties in finding housing and jobs while in America. Many had to borrow money from relatives to afford plane tickets and other necessary expenses, and found returning this money not to be so easy. Furthermore, not everyone’s summer consisted of recreation, travel, and sightseeing. For many, this vacation turned out to be hard work and stress.

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International Student Orientations Online

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011 at 5:23 pm

If you’re starting school in the U.S. this fall, you don’t have to wait until you arrive to get an orientation.  Plenty of schools have put their international student orientations on YouTube.

One of the most viewed is this series, from Columbia Business School in 2008:

But check out this YouTube search for a whole host of other videos from colleges across the U.S. welcoming their new international students.

UNVA Investigated for Alleged Visa Fraud

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011 at 4:32 pm

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has announced that the University of Northern Virginia has been served a Notice of Intent to Withdraw (NOIW) the school’s SEVP-certification and SEVIS access.

It’s the second time this year an American university has been raided and investigated for alleged visa fraud – you might remember we talked about Tri-Valley University back in the winter.  And for the second time, it’s been largely Indian students who have been affected.  This time though, according to the Hindustan Times, authorities say the focus of their investigation will be the school rather than the students.

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New in the Glossary of Confusing Words: Its/It’s, Your/You’re, Their/They’re/There

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Monday, August 1st, 2011 at 10:17 am

dictionary and thesaurus

Along with effect/affect, which we already defined in a previous post, these are some of the words most commonly messed up by native English speakers. Thanks so much to an ESL teacher who submitted them for the Glossary of Confusing Words, saying:

As a former ESL teacher, I frequently had to explain these words to my students. Non-native speakers can be forgiven for finding them confusing, but too many Americans use “it’s” as a possessive adjective because it has an apostrophe.


In the word “you’re,” the apostrophe indicates a contraction of the words “you” and “are.”

An apostrophe is often used to indicate a contraction, like in “can’t” (cannot) or “he’ll” (he will). Although contractions are used slightly less in written English than in spoken English, since they’re considered less formal, they’re still extremely common in the written word.

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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.

Learn more about this blog »

Share your own story!
Tell us about your experiences applying to the US, studying in America, or doing an exchange, and we may include it on the blog.


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.