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.
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.
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.