A New Way of Life for International Graduate Students

Living in a foreign country can be difficult in itself. Studying in graduate school at the same time brings about a whole other challenge. Knowing what to expect can help students be prepared for life as a graduate student in a foreign country. The following includes a range of experiences and tips from current international graduate students who have been at Ohio University for at least two semesters.

After one is finished celebrating for getting accepted to graduate school (and receiving a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019) at a foreign institution, the first step is to apply for a visa at one’s United States Embassy or Consulate. When one goes to the visa interview, it is important to bring proof of funding (for example, a scholarship award letter from OHIO, a bank letter showing personal funds or a bank letter from one’s sponsor), one’s SEVIS receipt and one’s Form I-20 or Form DS-2019.

“The visa process can be annoying, but after that it’s a lot less complicated once you get to the U.S.,” communications and development master’s student, Triwik Kurniasari, said.

The International Student Union (ISU) oversees more than 30 organizations on campus
There are 117 countries represented by OHIO students and staff.

Kurniasari, who is the programming director for the International Student Union (ISU) and a student advisor for International Student and Faculty Services (ISFS), said students should make sure in advance that they have a ride to Athens from Columbus’ airport.

“I first arrived on a Sunday when there wasn’t a bus running for some reason. I just landed from a long 24-hour flight and I was struggling to find a means of transportation to get to Athens,” she said.

Otherwise, she said there are a few options, including GoBus and the airport shuttle that OHIO provides at the beginning and end of each semester.

When one finally arrives, Kurniasari said one should check in at the Office of ISFS, where they take care of copying international documents (passport, visa, etc.) and provide information on how to apply for a Social Security number or an on-campus job.

Of course, incoming international students must attend orientation, which usually lasts at least a week.

Journalism master’s student, Jing Fu, said orientation is a fun time where one can schedule classes, as well as meet classmates and other newcomers.

“You get introduced to a number of campus organizations, they show you how to get around town and teach you about academic culture in the United States,” Fu said. “They also offer social activities at orientation, such as a welcome picnic, ice cream social and a movie night.”

Journalism master’s student, Sisi Zhao, said one initial annoyance can be taking the Ohio Program of Intensive English (OPIE) courses.

“Ohio University forces international graduate students who score under 100 on the TOEFL to take OPIE classes until they are proficient enough in English,” Zhao said via e-mail. “More so for undergrads (who need at least a 74), it can be a long way to go before they can start taking regular courses.”

Kurniasari said ISFS can help with on-campus or off-campus housing arrangements before or during orientation, but she recommends contacting them before one’s arrival on campus.

“I looked at University Commons, Summit at Coates Run’s, and River Park since those were a few places that already came furnished, which made sense since I couldn’t lug furniture on the plane,” she said.

International Student Union programming directors, Triwik Kurniasari and Alena Kilmas, working in their office
International Student Union programming directors, Alena Kilmas (left) and Triwik Kurniasari (right), working in their office.

Living off-campus, Fu said it can be hard without a car in Athens.

“The public transportation is lacking in the United States. Buses aren’t running at all hours or on Sunday’s, but I usually manage to get around,” Fu said.

Fu said she often carpools with a classmate for groceries and evening events.

Political science master’s student, Essam Mikhail, recommends driver’s ed (driving school) for international students who do not have much driving experience.

Previously living in a city of 12 million people, Kurniasari was surprised by the small-town size of Athens. Nonetheless, she said there are many events and organizations where students can get involved.

“I found out from ISFS, resource fair, friends and announcement boards that there are many events, organizations and volunteering opportunities on campus,” Kurniasari said. “Since I like meeting people and wanted to know about other cultures, I went to many events and joined multiple organizations.”

She said ISU oversees more than 30 organizations and holds many events, such as international dinners, a fashion show, soccer tournaments and the International Street Fair.

Mechanical engineering master’s student, Prashant Kumar, said being involved in clubs like ISU and the India Student Association makes him feel more at home.

Kumar said the hardest part about living in a foreign country is being away from family and friends.

“When I miss my family and friends, I usually chat with them through Skype and social media,” he said.

Kumar said he heard about OHIO through word-of-mouth, including some of those friends and family, as well as international recruiting efforts by the University.

Of course, Kurniasari said it took her time to adjust to culture differences.

“In Indonesia, the professor will talk and talk, while the students only sit and listen. There is a saying that the teacher is always right,” Kurniasari said. “In the U.S., students are encouraged to be active and share their thoughts, and it is okay to have different opinions from your professors.”

Kurniasari said the dress code is different as well, such that students can wear t-shirts, shorts, miniskirts and flip-flops here.

“It can be challenging to adjust to a new lifestyle, but the education and people at OHIO are worth it,” she said.

Black History Month speaker encourages students to enact change, strengthen sense of community

A veteran journalist and author of three books on urban life and culture visited Ohio University on February 11th to talk to students at the Baker Center Ballroom about the impact they can make on continuing African-American progress in the United States.

The featured Black History Month speaker, Darrell Dawsey, who has worked at several major newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Detroit News and Deadline Detroit, stressed the importance of building a sense of community and sharing an obligation as students in advancing change.

Mechanical engineering junior Mark Brown, a member of Ohio University’s local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter, moderated the event, discussing institutionalized racism, white privilege and other challenges African-Americans have faced throughout history.

“It’s very important that young people be involved in the social change because that’s where the energy and idealism comes from,” Dawsey said. “It’s the students that make change.”

Dawsey said the easiest way to show that black lives matter is just by acknowledging a black person.

“If you are going to have community, the first thing you have to do is recognize one another,” Dawsey said. “It’s very important to just acknowledge and speak to one another.”

Dawsey said that African-Americans have always had to work twice as hard and that they have never had the luxury to be mediocre.

“I believe black people have a particular obligation to be very good at what we do,” he said, adding, “and not just because we have to prove something to white people.”

He said that African-Americans are going to have to continue to fight to get where they ultimately want to be in society.

Dawsey flyer

“You have to be relentless. We’re talking about the value of your life. We’re talking about your very right of existing — that’s non-negotiable,” Dawsey said.

As students, Dawsey said that one not only has the obligation to be educated, but to educate others as well. He said that it is like stacking blocks, as everyone is standing on one another’s shoulders.

“The question isn’t where you are now, the question is where do you want to be in terms of community in two, three, four years?” he said.  “You guys want to be able to leave here and pass down what you learned and what you experienced to the new kids that matriculate in.”

Of course, he said white people also have an obligation as allies.

“It’s very important that you be involved, as white people, in unpacking your own racism, unpacking racism in your family, and challenging that,” he explained. “Your obligation is to listen and to ask if there is a way that you can be helpful, and how it is that you can be helpful.”

No Pets Allowed: Student Takes a Chance

Taking him on his daily walk, mathematics senior Becka Klingensmith tells me, “If I got caught with him, I’d have to pay a thousand dollar fine.” It is a risk she is willing to take. “My landlord doesn’t live nearby or come around often enough for me to be too concerned,” she said. She has had the two-year-old dog for almost a year now. His name? “Chance, named after one of my favorite artists, Chance The Rapper.” #planetathens

Pickup Soccer Unites Students of All Kind

The soccer pitch, whether grass or a number of other surfaces, serves as a home for professional athletes, college students and many others around the world. Wherever one might be, there is always a place for pickup soccer, or pelada, to be played.

Walter Fieldhouse
Club football team warms up at Walter Fieldhouse, home of many club and intramural sporting events.

I found my “home” in the middle of an open field across from Mill Street Village during move-in day. All I had to do was look for the two soccer nets. There, was a group of 25 students playing the game that so many love. After waiting 15 minutes for the initial two games to end, I joined a team of six other students and started playing my first 7-on-7 soccer game on campus.

Each week during the last semester, I would go to the field to play pickup soccer with my fellow students. Being my first semester at OHIO, I made many of my first friends on the soccer ground. The athletes included a mixture of men and women, who were Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Hispanic and Indian. The game connected all of us together, even if we were not from the same place or spoke the same language. Of course, soccer is a universal language in that way.

Additionally, the sport provides a way for one to forget all other problems in one’s life. It can serve as a way to free one’s mind or it can just serve as a study break.

In the winter, we take our game to Walter Fieldhouse to play on turf or the Ping Center to play futsal, a version of soccer often played on an indoor court.