Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Conference Tips: My First Conference Experience in Vancouver

During July 29 to August 3, I had my memorable first conference trip to Vancouver, Canada. The Joint Statistical Meeting (JSM) is the largest annual statistical conference in the North American, with over 6500 people attending from all over the world. Before arriving at JSM, I made four goals for this conference trip:

  1. find inspiration from talks related to my thesis work
  2. go to talks for personal interest
  3. reunite with old friends from college who also attend the meeting
  4. explore Vancouver area
In order to achieve these goals, I made a detailed plan. Here are seven tips that made my conference experience a success for me and, hopefully, for you too!

1. Register for the conference, book the flight, and apply for the Rackham Graduate School travel grant
Each academic year, Rackham Graduate School provides one travel grant for each graduate student, both masters and PhD level. Details can be found here. For large conferences like JSM, early bird flight and hotel booking can ensure you more flexibility in planning and save you a lot of money.

2. Make a strategic plan for the sessions you want visit
With more than 600 sessions happening in a week, it was daunting to fit in all sessions and topics that interest me. As a newbies, I carefully studied the session information over the JSM app on the flight to Vancouver, and marked the ones I wanted to go on my calendar. This prevented me from being overwhelmed by hundreds of dazzling talks happening at the same time.

3. Broaden and balance the sessions you attend, and allow time to process new information
While I was busy going to the sessions related to my work, I also benefited from those that were not directly related to my research. For example, during the session on how to effectively communicate with non-statisticians, the presenter shared the core ideas and tips to successfully cooperate with investigators with different statistical demands. This type of talk was less technical, but useful to all researchers.

4. Take advantage of the social events
I was surprised to find that the social events at night were an incredible extension of the formal meetings in the daytime. In addition to personal meet-ups, different schools usually have their own official alumni receptions in the hotel. This is a great opportunity to mingle with alumni and review the remarkable achievements the department made in the past year (and the great food served is always a bonus!).

5. Don’t miss the career fair
Another crucial part of large conference is the career fair. By registering and submitting resumes in advance, you will be contacted by attending companies for interviews during the conference. Although an extra fee is often required to attend the conference career fair, those positions better target your major field and you don't have to fly for onsite interviews.

6. Reconnect with old friends
For your friends who studied the same major as you, it’s a great opportunity to reunite with them if they also attend the conference. For me, it was amazing to reconnect with a college friend during the poster session who I had lost contact for many years.

7. Take advantage of exploring local restaurants and landmarks
Vancouver is definitely paradise for a seafood and outdoor lover, and I happen to be both. I finished my Vancouver trip by spending the last 2 days in the mountains hiking and camping; it was one of the most incredible hiking experiences I have ever had.

Garibaldi Lake where I spent one night camping

Written by Tian Gu
International Orientation Peer Advisor
Graduate Student

Thursday, August 9, 2018

How to Obtain Health Care in the U.S.

The US healthcare system is extremely complex and confusing, even for Americans. For an international student/scholar, navigating the healthcare system can be a daunting task and it might be tempting to put it off until needs arise. However, I urge you to avoid doing so because accidents and sickness can happen to anyone at any given time. In that moment of panicking, it can be difficult to figure out where to get help, and picking the wrong option may delay your care and end up being costly. In addition, since you are already paying for the health insurance and University Health Services (UHS), it is good to know the available services and utilize them to keep yourself in optimal health. Lastly, if you have a chronic condition that requires regular care and medications, it is especially important to establish your care with a U.S. physician in case of medical emergency and to obtain prescriptions for your medications. This is because U.S. pharmacies do not accept prescriptions written outside of the U.S.
When I first came to the U.S., I also delayed looking into this topic. I, like most of my peers, felt that there were “more important” things to do: settling into my dorm, getting to know the university and the town, scheduling classes, and getting accustomed to the American learning environment. Learning where and how to obtain health care was a task of low priority... Until one year later. In my sophomore year, I had an accident that required a three-day hospital stay costing over $200,000. Despite having insurance that covered most of the cost, I still ended up with a bill of over $30,000 that took me months to resolve. Although such a scenario is unlikely to happen again, I have committed to be knowledgeable about the U.S. healthcare system and spent days researching this topic. To help you avoid getting into a similar headache, I am providing below a general description of the American healthcare system, some options that are available to you at the U of M to obtain medical, dental, and vision care, as well as directions to additional resources for those interested.
In general, there are three places to get medical care in the U.S depending on the urgency of your situation: doctor clinics, urgent care facilities, and hospital emergency rooms. Doctor clinics are the most common way to obtain care for non-urgent concerns such as getting or renewing prescriptions, getting annual physical exams, and receiving vaccinations. An appointment is usually required, and the wait time can range from a few days to weeks. For urgent but non-life-threatening concerns such as minor cuts and injuries, fevers, and severe sore throat, urgent care facilities are the best option. These facilities typically do not require appointments, and you can usually be seen within the same day. Lastly, emergency rooms are reserved for life-threatening situations such as major injuries, uncontrolled bleeding, and alcohol poisoning. You will be screened at arrival, and depending on the severity, you might be seen by a health care provider immediately.
At Michigan, the cheapest and most convenient option for international students and scholars to obtain medical care is the University Health Services (UHS). Many UHS services are free for enrolled students since students pay a health service fee as part of their tuition. UHS provides many non-urgent care services and treatments for minor emergencies. In addition, you can establish care with a primary care physician (PCP) at UHS and this person will coordinate all of your subsequent care, including ordering prescriptions, laboratory testings, vaccinations, and referrals to specialists as needed. Please visit UHS website for instructions on how to make appointments. Another option to establish care with a PCP is at the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) General Medicine clinics. Please visit this page for locations and phone numbers for making appointments.

For urgent care, after-hours and over the weekend needs, there are urgent care clinics in Ann Arbor that open until 9-10 PM on weekdays and 7 PM on weekend. UHS also has a nurse advice call line (734-764-8320) that you can call at anytime, day or night, for health advices. This may save you a trip to the UHS, an urgent care facility, or the emergency room. Lastly, if you or someone you know experiences a life-threatening emergency, CALL 911 or go GO TO THE NEAREST HOSPITAL EMERGENCY ROOM. In many cases, this will be UMHS Emergency Department on the medical campus. However, there are also other hospitals in the area that might be closer to you.

Dental care can be very expensive in the U.S. These services are typically not covered by your regular health insurance. Some graduate students and scholars might be eligible for benefits that are paid for by the University of Michigan, which include dental and vision insurance. In such cases, I recommend visiting the U-M Benefits Office website for more information on your coverage and where to get care. Personally, I get my dental care from the Dental Faculty Associates Clinic at the U-M School of Dentistry. This clinic is run by faculty dentists and provides services equivalent to any private practice in the area. In addition, the clinic is located in the Dental School building on Central Campus, which is convenient for those who do not have a car. For others who do not have dental insurance, you can enroll in a dental savings plan that provides 15-50% discounts to most services. You can also see a student dentist and Student Clinics at the U-M Dental School for lower fees. However, these appointments usually take longer since the students’ works need to be evaluated by a faculty member.

Similar to dental care, eyeglasses and contact lenses are not covered by general health insurances. However, most plans do pay for an annual eye exam. You can obtain an exam at the UHS Eye Care Clinic or at the Kellogg Eye Center. The UHS Optical Shop, as well as Walmart, Costco, and many online retailers do provide affordable options for basic glasses and contact lenses. If you are are eligible for U-M benefits, you can enroll in a vision plan which pays for an annual eye exam, contact lenses or one pair of glasses per year.

For additional information, please attend the following workshops during Orientation. If you are eligible for U-M benefits, I recommend the “Benefit Overview for Graduate Student” workshop co-sponsored by the Benefits Office. This is held only once on Wednesday, August 22, 2018 from 3:30 PM to 5 PM. Please follow this link to register for this workshop. If you are not eligible for GradCare health insurance, you will likely be enrolled in the UM International Student/Scholar Health Insurance plan, in which case I recommend attending the “UM’s International Health Insurance Plan” workshop. Lastly, I recommend everyone to attend the “University Health Services: Information and Tour” workshop. The latter two are held every week during orientation. For a schedule of these workshops as well as many others, please visit the Summer Orientation website. If you have additional questions, please feel free to comment below and I will answer them as best I can.

Written by Vi Tang
International Orientation Peer Advisor
Graduate Student

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

3 Tips for Building Cross-Cultural Friendships


When I came to the US five years ago, I didn’t know much about English besides the grammar rules that I memorized in high school. I had never met anybody from South America, Africa, or Europe, and I did not know that outside of the Asian countries, drinking plain hot water is not normal. Cultural adaptation was not easy for me. There were times that I wish I was back in Taiwan, sharing meals with my family. And there were times that I felt misunderstood because I was not able to express myself fully in English. However, I was fortunate to gain a few cross-cultural friends who helped me realize the limit of my own culture and the beauty of cultural diversity.

Reflecting back in the past five years, I could not be more grateful for being an international student because it gives me an opportunity to meet people from all over the world. According to the 2017 U-M International Center Statistical Report, there are over 7,000 international students from over 117 countries. The uniqueness of each international student enriches this campus. In this blog, I am going to share with you about three tips that I learned to build cross-cultural friendships. Please feel free to comment and share your tips with me too!

1. Be proud
Be proud of ourselves. Living in a foreign place and studying in English are not easy tasks. We are very brave, so do not beat yourself up whenever you face any hardship. Instead, be proud of who you are. Our cultures make us special and important. A US friend of mine once told me that she was so thankful for our friendship because she learned so much about Taiwan, which broadened her perspectives and stretched her worldview.

2. Be open
Be open to new experiences. Lifestyles can be very different from culture to culture. Time perceptions, cooking styles, courtesies, and even the way people say “hi” are very different. My ways often are not the only way. They are just one of the ways. Therefore, be curious, humble, and intentional about your friends from other cultures.

3. Be Proactive 
Building cross-cultural relationships may be challenging because there are many unknowns. However, accept the challenges by stepping out of your comfort zone. It is also okay to disclose fear and uncertainties to cross-cultural friends. Most of the time, they are as nervous as us about the friendship.

The world is very big and full of wonders. Cross-cultural friendships open doors for us to explore the wonders. Check out the Maize Pages for organizations of your interest, attend events across campus, and ask a group of your classmates to hangout. Do not give-up when you face barriers. Building cross-cultural friendships is not easy. However, remember, the fears are mutual. Be confident, open, and proactive, and I believe you will gain indispensable cross-cultural friendships at U-M.

International Center Summer Orientation Peer Adviser
Written by Shih-Ya Chang
Graduate Student

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Thing or Two about Psychological Wellness at U-M

In summer 2016, the 13-year-old Lori Mae Hernandez received a standing ovation for her stand-up comedy act. Her prime joke was about her babysitting qualifications. She said, “My only qualification to be a babysitter is that I used to be a baby.” By the same token, my only qualification to write about mental health is that I struggled with a number of mental health problems as an international student here at the University of Michigan, particularly in the beginning of my study. After all, there is no formula and every person is different when it comes to mental health. By way of a working definition, according to U-M’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), “Wellness is a proactive and positive approach to living that increases resiliency to stress by promoting life balance and contentment.”

Having stated my confession, and established what psychological well being entails, I would like to share a couple of related tips that might benefit new international students.

Find a support community that suits you

Despite the incredible number of student organizations on campus (please check the Maize Pages for complete directory or International Student Associations for special interest), it may not always be easy to find a support community that matches your particular needs. Be patient and stay open-minded; there are always your “soul mate” communities to grow together.

Coming from Africa, a region least represented both at the University and the US, finding a community to call my own was not always easy; needless to say, having a considerable population on campus does not automatically guarantee a support community. However, making friends and volunteering for the causes of others, such as those who experience social injustice and individual prejudiced, provided me with an enormous source of comfort, sense of solidarity, and an opportunity to learn coupe up mechanisms that could be applied to my particular situations.

One example: I get such support from the place I least expected was Muslim students “Friday Prayer” (Salāt Al-Jumu'ah) congregation. Even though I was not a follower of the religion, the friendships and the stories I shared with them, especially the challenges of the community faced during the past political season had such a profound effect on my mental health and even for my academic success. As the old scripture says, “Help comes from unexpected places.”

Explore the resources on campus

The University of Michigan is committed to advancing the mental health and wellbeing of its students. If you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed, depressed, and/or in need of support, services are available. (Paul Conway, SI 678)

This text is an excerpt from one of the most exciting and challenging courses I took, with an 18-pages-long syllabus, under a title, “Student Mental Health and Wellbeing.” Mental health problems could have different sources including physiological, psychological, substance abuse, sociocultural, academic, linguistic, financial and the like. Here is another example from my story on how such holistic approach worked for me.

In my very first year, following my 3 weeks hospitalization for an Anxiety Disorder/Panic Attack, I adopted an adorable emotional support dog (Bella) from the Humane Society of Huron Valley. Moving back to my off- campus house, the landlord refused to let me bring my dog, and I had to stay in a motel for 2 weeks which was far away from campus in the harsh Midwest Winter. Especially for a new-comer from the most tropic area of the globe, I had been stunned by the strange land already and suffered from a dread of relapsing for several weeks.

Long story short, the Student Legal Services stepped in and not only resolved, but also started processing to press charges. They would have followed through with the charges against my landlord had I not asked them to stop the process. I rather took a semester of leave of academic absence and go home to my family in Ethiopia. This was made possible with the generous support from the Rackham Graduate Student Emergency Funds, and Center for the Education of Women (CEW+), which supports all non-traditional students, regardless of gender identity. Another example of less popular but essential resources resource for international students could be the International Student Lunch Conversation which is cosponsored by Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)My honorable mention includes: The Wellness Zone, Sleep Disorders Centers, and Mental Health Work Group - University of Michigan(MHWG).

In closing, the moral of my stories is that, even though I am a believer in human agency or the notion of personal responsibility in shaping one's own world, I have learned to appreciate more the support I have had from families, friends, mentors, institutions, and even strangers to emerge from my psychological problems I have struggled with for years. I wouldn’t be able to tell my stories today if it was not for the help of the individuals and communities that were instrumental in transforming my unfortunate circumstances to a happy ending. So, my advice for my fellow international students is, it has never be wise to fight a battle only on your own--especially while you have a range resource at your disposal not only to survive but also to thrive at U of M.

True psychological wellbeing is an ongoing, ever changing process that is unique for each individual. (CAPS)

Written by Simeneh Gebremariam
International Center Summer Orientation Peer Adviser
Graduate Student

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Prepare for the Unpreparedness

This time last year, I was getting ready to leave China to pursue graduate study at the University of Michigan.  I felt fully prepared and optimistic about turning over a new leaf in my life. What happened to me next is worth sharing with the newcomers to help them prepare for unexpected events that might lie ahead. 

In order to make sure I had enough time to settle into my new life in America I bought plane tickets to arrive in the States a couple of weeks before the semester started. While embracing the excitement of a new beginning, I found myself waking up one morning unable to hear out of my right ear. It was a small cold that was caused by a combination of different factors, such as jet lag, lack of sleep, a change of environment and a new diet. If I was still in my home country I could easily get it taken care of. However, this time it was different, because I was in the United States and did not have medical insurance.

Unfortunately, the medical insurance provided by the school was not effective until the program start date on the I-20. I had to go to a couple of community clinics to get treated. Without prior experience and few people to consult I end up paying over 200 USD, including a visit to the emergency room. I also talked to some of my friends in the medical field in China, and none of them were able to give me a ready-made panacea. I never expected to miss the conveniences of China so much and I became more and more anxious every day. I was even considering to fly back home and seek treatment.
I took some over the counter medicines before I was able to be treated at the UHS (University Health Service). During my appointment I was relieved to hear that my temporary deafness was merely caused by a sinus infection. It was such a prudent decision to not fly back to get treated. 

Reflecting on what happened, here are a couple lessons I learned from this experience that I would like to share with incoming international students:

First and foremost, if you plan to come to the States a bit earlier, figure out a way to make sure you are covered medically, such as purchase travel insurance. This may also apply to your visiting friends and relatives. Seeing a doctor without medical insurance in the States is outrageously expensive. Sadly, I am not the only person who has had the misfortune of this situation. Most travel agencies or insurance companies, either from China or the United States, provide short-term overseas medical insurance coverage. Do not take things for granted and do not take unnecessary risks.

Be more proactive getting aid. People here are very nice and resourceful, but if you do not express what you need, they cannot help you. Reach out to school staff. With their rich experience and knowledge regarding the local system, they will be able to provide you with great advice. In my case, shortly after semester started, I met with my academic advisor, Corey Sampsel, and explained my situation. He was one of the most helpful staff I met at school. He was not only a fantastic listener, but also provided me advice regarding getting financial aid if I needed.

Lastly, reach out to International Center's Health Insurance office to see an insurance adviser, either during its walk-in hours or send an email to

Overall, living in the United States is very different from living in your home country. Being an international student, no matter how well you prepare yourself there will always be instances when things do not go as planned. Expect the unexpected. There are always more solutions than problems.

Written by Guiqiu Wang
International Center Summer Orientation Peer Adviser
Graduate Student from P.R. China
Ford School of Public Policy