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.

Writing and research resources for graduate students at Ohio University

If you have already decided to attend Ohio University for you graduate education, then you are probably already aware that O.U. is a top research institution. But for those who are unsure if they are going to continue their education, or who are still trying to decide where to go, they should know O.U. is nationally recognized for the research its students and faculty produce. Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, the framework used to rank colleges and universities in the U.S., ranks O.U. as a “Research II University”: it is a university that consistently generates a high output of research. And because O.U. is so focused on leading the country in a wide range of fields, from avionics engineering and virtual reality to mass media and computational neuroscience, they place a premium on providing graduate students with all the tools they need to succeed in fulfilling their goal to become world class academics.

The following is a list of five things Ohio University does to help their graduate students become better communicators, researchers, and, most importantly, advanced-degree holders.

 

1) Librarians are probably the most easily accessible but underutilized resource. Here at O.U., every college has their own designated librarian. These people literally come to work each day for eight hours just to help you find stuff. Each one specializes in a particular subject, so no matter what you are studying, there is at least one librarian that is familiar with the type of questions you are investigating. Doing a literature review on the mating habits of pygmy marmoset monkeys? Ask the biological sciences librarian; he can help. Can’t find any research on the subharmonics of Tuvan throat singers? It’s out there; you just need an expert to help you look. All the librarians at O.U. have a master’s degree in library sciences, so they are highly trained professionals who have a passion for helping young academics succeed. Jessica Hagman, the subject librarian for the Scripps College of Communication, says “just ask.” If they don’t know the answer, then they will find someone who does.“It’s our ethos: if you ask me a question, I’m going to follow it until I get you an answer,” she said. The librarians at Alden also regularly make “how to” videos and posts them on their Youtube page. Here is a short tutorial about how to use Zotero, a dynamic research tool every grad student should know how to use.

 

 

2)  E.L.I.P., or the English Language Improvement Program, is a set of courses O.U. provides to prep grad students for academic success. If you are a native English speaker, don’t be fooled, these courses can help you with writing your thesis or dissertation. There is even a course to help you prep for the dreaded oral defense. These courses, however, are an excellent option for students who are speaking English as a second language. It is hard enough to move to a place where no one speaks your native tongue, but it is even harder to speak and write academese in a language you have not been speaking since birth. E.L.I.P. can help. They have two courses exclusively for international students that teach academic vocabulary, grammar, common idioms, strategies for public speaking, and the finer points of American culture. All of these courses can be counted towards earning your degree, and there are no extra fees or costs. Dawn Bikowski, the director of E.L.I.P., says, “No other university offers this kind of support that I have come across in the country.”

3)  The Graduate Writing and Research Center (G.W.R.C.) is another great resource available to grad students at O.U. Say the end of the semester is fast approaching and you have a major paper coming due that counts for almost your entire grade, well you can take your paper to the G.W.R.C. and have them proof it. They will help you with formatting your paper, as well as provide feedback on what corrections you need to make to have a solid paper. However, keep in mind that you have to schedule an appointment well ahead of time, so don’t expect to be able to walk in the day before your paper is due.

4)  The G.W.R.C. also holds regular workshops and events to get you in gear to sit down and write your daunting paper, thesis, or dissertation. One such workshop the G.W.R.C. regularly conducts is the “Writing the Literature Review Workshop.” This workshop will help you blast through any writer’s block you might have, and get the ball rolling on your papers. The G.W.R.C. will teach you about the structure of a literature review and how you should write one, and if you already have one written and you want them to look at it, then bring it with you. The G.W.R.C. also holds events such as “The Long Night Against Procrastination” and the “Dissertation Writing Retreat.” The Long Night Against Procrastination is a six-hour writing marathon held in Alden Library where you come in and plop yourself down and begin hacking away on whatever project is going to end your life if you do not get it finished on time. The G.W.R.C. tutors and the librarians are there to help you with whatever you need. The Dissertation Writing Retreat is exactly what it sounds like: it is a week where everything you do is about writing your dissertation. The G.W.R.C. only accepts 15 students for this event, and for five days you have to commit fully to putting in some serious work on your dissertation. If you choose to sign up for the retreat, you will be given some instruction on how to write a dissertation, tutors will be available, and they’ll even teach you some techniques for stress management.

5)  On top of providing specialized courses, E.L.I.P. also has a graduate writing and critical reading lab. These labs provide a designated place on a campus where you can come in and get feedback and tutoring on whatever project you are working on. There is always a team of experienced tutors there to help you with your research. They also have computers in the lab, so if you do not have your laptop with you, they got you covered.

 

There you have it folks, five incredible services O.U. goes out of their way to provide for their graduate students. If you are smart enough to get accepted as a graduate student at O.U., then you should be smart enough to take advantage of these great resources. And if you are still on the fence about coming to O.U., then shop around; I am sure you will not find a university that is more dedicated to the success of their graduate students as Ohio University is.

Potential grad students should understand the challenges and opportunities of their programs and community

Being a graduate student is a life changing experience, and students often take on a dual role as both a student and teacher.

Students considering Ohio University have a lot to consider before they enroll. First, there is the classroom where students are going to be asked to do much more than they did as undergraduates. There will also be the addition of research expectations, and finally many will have to get used to living in a new community.

There is certainly an adjustment that must be made in the classroom. Amber Damiani, a graduate student in sociology, stated the expectations increase and students have to change how they take on assignments.

Graduate students need to start planning their project immediately, there is no room for procrastination, she said. In the following video Damiani talks about developing good habits for classroom work.

The additional reading and writing isn’t the only adjustment. Students at the graduate level also have more freedom to choose what classes they will take to help them meet their professional goals.

Students at the graduate level need to change their mindset from one of simply taking classes to fill requirements to one where they consider how classes will impact their future career, said Jamie Beth Boster, a doctoral student in communication sciences and disorders.

“You can really expand and build on things that you are interested in,” Boster said.

While students can still explore in classes, they also can really dig deep into certain areas, she said. Graduate school is much more about the individual and developing as a professional.

This leads Boster to provide advice in the following video about thinking deeply about the program you choose.

Entering Grad School

When considering what school to attend there are a lot of things that should be considered.

First among them should be a true interest in the area a person is considered studying.

Students getting into graduate school shouldn’t be afraid to take a year off and truly consider what they want to do. In psychology taking a year off is not uncommon, said Allix Beauchamp, a doctoral student in OU’s psychology department.

“They should organize their thoughts, think about what they want to do, where they want to go, and what field of research is most intriguing to them,” she said. “There’s a lot going on in your senior year, people start feeling burnt out they’re wrapping up this major part of their life.”

Such a big change in life can be overwhelming. Once a student has made it to the interviewing process the school has acknowledged the student is a good candidate, Beauchamp said.

The goal for the student should be to determine if they are “a good fit for the type of program that (the school) likes to foster,” she said.

Some programs are more involved with mentoring while are less so, Beauchamp said.

“These are questions you really need to know because this sets the foundation for the rest of your life,” she said.

The student can’t be afraid to ask questions about the type of program during the interview process, Beauchamp said. This is because as Beauchamp talks about below graduate school has an significant impact on the rest of your career.

Potential graduate students get a lot of bad advice from people about what they should do, according to Elizabeth Keenan in an article on Vitae.

Furthermore, potential students need to be aware of the challenges they will face while seeking an advanced degree. For example an article from Inside Higher Ed warns that students must be prepared to take charge of their own program, understand why their work is important, and finally comprehend that most of the problems that face graduate students are psychological.

Research and Teaching Expectations

 There are research expectations that come with being a graduate student. Students are expected to contribute to the body of research in their field.

Students should understand that once they turn in a paper they shouldn’t just forget about it. Most graduate students want to do something with their work, said Ryan Dunham, a doctoral student in media arts and studies.

“In graduate school your goal should be to turn term papers into conference papers,” he said. “Use the feedback from the professor to improve your piece.”

Then if the paper is accepted by a conference take the feedback received at the conference and edit the paper again so it can be submitted to journals, Dunham said. The final goal is to get the paper published in a peer-reviewed academic journal.

As a second year doctoral student in Journalism, I believe that graduate students need to take the role of researcher seriously.

 

It’s hard to understand when you first arrive, but having confidence in your work and understanding not just what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how it ties into existing research will be what leads to a job when you finish your program.

In addition to research, graduate students often teach classes. This places students in the position of being both a student and teacher. Students also should understand they have to take the teaching responsibility seriously, make it a priority and not simply focus on their own work even if you might feel overwhelmed.

You have to remember the teaching is often your job as a graduate student and why you don’t have to pay for school. The reviews from students will also influence your ability to get a job.

Around Athens

Not every student focused on the academic side of being a graduate student, some sought to inform incoming students about interesting things to do in and around Athens. The town of Athens and the surrounding area has a number of things for students to do outside of class.

Damiani recommends outside of class enjoying the bike paths. The library allows you to check out a bike and check it back in.

“It’s a good way to see the area. It’s a way you can see the outdoors and not always be cooped up and studying,”

It would be helpful if the university offered tours, or some other type of resources, to new graduate students to learn about the history of the area and see some of the more interesting sites like Bong Hill or The Ridges, which does have tours. It would be a way for students to understand some of the rich culture within the area.

“It’s a small town so there’s the movie theater, a bowling alley, and of course the bar scene,” she said.

Steve Richardson, a master’s student in geography, focused on the number of hiking trails in the area.

 

In addition, he talked about the number of breweries in the area as something grad students like to visit.

“Most people don’t know there are actually four breweries within the Athens area you have Jackie O’s, you have Little Fish (Brewing Company), you have Devil’s Kettle (Brewing), and there’s another one that’s being built,” Richardson said. “It’s great to have local breweries creating fresh local beer for you whenever you want.”

I also believe that graduate students shouldn’t be afraid to venture away from Athens and explore the surrounding communities. Those who simply stay within the city will not understand all the area has to offer or really comprehend the culture of Southeast Ohio.

While graduate school is demanding Dunham has some advice for keeping your sanity.

Finally this slideshow shows a few of the offices where graduate students at Ohio University engage in research and meet with students.

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