Monday, July 8, 2019

Reposition Yourself at the University of Michigan

All of us know that every transition in our lives is significant. In addition to excitement, we may feel that life becomes harder at the very beginning when we go to a new school for a higher level of education. I was overwhelmed for nearly the entire first semester since I did not reposition myself in a brand-new environment here at the University of Michigan. In other words, sometimes I had inaccurate positioning and impracticable expectations on myself.

It is not uncommon that students can underestimate or overestimate their abilities because of several reasons. One of the most important reasons is that we have not adapted to do that thing and we neglect the degree of difficulty. For instance, although we have received many years of schooling, most of us are not very familiar with the requirements and criteria of college-level courses or graduate-level courses before we start. So If some students are good at taking examinations but not writing papers, they need to leave extra time to prepare for some compulsory courses that require them to submit a final paper as the main source of the final grade. Otherwise, it is very possible that these students can be surprised that the result is not very desirable. Similarly, language as well as teaching style can inevitably influence your learning experience as international students, and you need to evaluate different factors that can be different from your former schooling for a great start.

Take myself as an example, I underestimated myself for nearly half a year. I compared myself with other students in my department, felt that I was not as good as others, and ignored the fact that I did not study education as my major when I was an undergraduate student and English is not my native language. In fact, some Ph.D. students have studied more years than me and it is reasonable that they know more background knowledge and research methods in my field. Also, 47 of 49 students in my cohort are American students and they can read and write faster than me. It made me think that I was stupid at the beginning, but eventually, I understand that it does not mean I cannot be a good researcher in the future.

At last, I find two helpful approaches to solve the problem of repositioning myself. The first one is the cognitive adjustment, and the second one is taking effective actions. With regard to cognitive adjustment, I told myself that it is clear that the admission office did not make the mistake when they decided to send me the admission letter. Then I realized that I should have reasonable expectations and give myself adequate time to adjust and succeed. What is more, it is good to think about my career plan and know that GPA or other standards cannot tell everything, I should focus on learning knowledge and skills rather than grade. In terms of taking effective actions, I find resources on campus are really helpful. Every time I was not satisfied with my writing, I made an appointment with an instructor at the Sweetland Center for Writing to help me revise the paper. In addition, I decided to keep my own schedule instead of pushing myself to study like some other students who would like to study late at night in the library.

In a nutshell, it is very important to know yourself and the university. Don’t push yourself too hard and enjoy the process of growth!

Written by Peilin Qiu
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Graduate Student

Friday, June 28, 2019

What to Expect out of Grad School

If you are reading this, I will assume that you are an incoming student. Congratulations, you have made it to the best university! I recall me being at this stage, one year ago - lots of dreams, "assumptions," and confusion. So, I hope this article might help clear things up a little bit. 
I was just as excited as you after being accepted into the U of M. As an engineering student from India, a rigorous undergraduate schooling only made me say, ‘Phew! I can have a much more relaxed school life in the US, finally!’ (What was I thinking?).
Image result for confused girl face cartoon
I knew grad school would mean going through some hard classes, but what baffled me was the education system. I did not expect some grad courses to be as intense as a ton of homework assignments, midterm(s), finals and a course project! I don’t mean to scare you; it is completely doable with mental preparation and time management. My first semester was misery simply because I didn’t foresee what was about to come. This put me in so much stress I couldn’t handle. However, my second semester was much better, because I rolled up my sleeves as I began the winter term.
Grad school isn’t hard, provided you are consistent. Start you assignments early; at least read the questions the day they are assigned. This allows you to allocate the right number of hours in your calendar. Grad school means a lot of things happening simultaneously, that sometimes require equal attention. The best way to sail through this would be a regular schedule and a planned calendar.  Use your weekends to sketch down how the upcoming week might look like. It is hard to go by plan, but it helps. Juggling isn’t hard if you keep track. Most of you would have been quite organized in your undergrad years, but grad school is a slightly different dynamic because it’s not a marathon, but a sprint.
The task of finding a(n) job/internship comes next! It might require submitting hundreds and hundreds of applications. This implies that you are bound to receive one or two rejection emails every single day. Stay intact, do not let it demoralize you. A rejection has nothing to do with talent. Also remember, everyone has a timeline. Never let peer pressure overcome. A delay does not equal a no.  
The key to a successful and smooth grad life lies in teamwork. Make friends in your class, socialize. Almost all assignments and projects in grad school are designed in such a way that you work as a group, unlike undergrad assignments. It reduces working time even to a fifth! It also helps you learn more. You can feel a shift in quality of assignments in grad school. I would say undergrad assignments are ‘labor-intensive’ whereas grad school assignments are ‘brain-intensive’. You will often see professors giving you two weeks to solve a single problem. So don’t procrastinate assuming it is just one question!
Talking to your professors and advisors and maintaining a good relationship is integral for a good grad school experience. Never hesitate to talk to your professor and/or teaching assistant (called GSI in the U of M). They certainly help you understand the subjects better and would also help you navigate through various other aspects of grad life. 
So to sum it up, what to expect out of grad school? 
The answer is simply, “It’s going to be a series of firsts. Just be prepared with spirits high and you will love it, you will ace it!”
Written by Monica Jambu
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Graduate Student

Always Mind and Care for Your Mental Health

Studying abroad is tough. Not only do we have to deal with challenging curricula, cultural differences, and language barriers, we may also frequently suffer from homesickness and self-doubt. Sometimes the pain can be too overwhelming that you feel you cannot take it any longer. That’s totally normal! You are not and will never be the only one who feels this way. What I want to let you know is that it’s always okay to be not okay. But it’s not okay to struggle along. Always be mindful and take good care of your mental status, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Nothing is more important than enjoying your life here at the University of Michigan.

I remember myself going through a breakdown during my first semester. Trying to go over a mass of reading materials made me lack sleep for days. However, during the class, I still found it hard to keep pace with the professor. After class, I couldn’t help but feel the world was so doom and gloom. I kept questioning that since I had all the passion towards what I was learning and tried to devote the best of myself, why couldn't I make it? Everything just seemed so meaningless to me at the moment. I called my mom and fell apart. I started to doubt whether studying abroad was a good choice and told her how I felt I could not take this any longer. Fortunately, my mom didn’t push me. She said that I had done really well so far and could always choose to quit if that’s what I really wanted; that her only wish was for me to be happy, and she will always be there for me. I got reassured by my mom's words and decided to put myself together. I made up my mind to stick with my efforts and let time tell how things would turn out to be. And it was truly a turning point for me – you’ll be amazed by how powerful the support from your beloved ones could be. It holds you together and helps you move forward.

It really was not a pleasant memory. However, through this experience, I found a better way to deal with similar situations and learned how to take good care of my mental health. First and foremost, confront your feelings. Like I mentioned at the beginning, it’s always okay to be not okay. It’s safe to say I sometimes feel anxious, stressed, depressed, or empty. It’s always important to learn to be honest about what you do, and how you feel.  Second, focus on what you’ve achieved rather than what you are “lacking.” Sometimes we might just need to relax. Take some rest, eat some chocolates, or go for a run. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can and everything is going to turn out just fine. Last but not least, remember that there is always someone ready and willing to listen and help you find the assistance you need. When you feel down, don’t hesitate to reach out to your friends, family, or whatever can make you feel better. Let them tell you how great you are. The University of Michigan also offers Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in every department and even online counseling services that can help you out. Finally, never, ever give up on yourself. No matter how bad things seem to be, there’s always something good out there, just over the horizon.

Written by Jiawen Qiao
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Graduate Student

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Building a Social Network: Communication for Academic Success and Personal Development

It is no secret that we need social connections to thrive in any kind of environment, and we all benefit from sharing experiences, knowledge and skills. As a student at university, it is no different: effective communication and developing interpersonal skills can take you a long way.

In my experience, communication starts in the classroom. You can discuss subject matter and benefit from different perspectives, and even end up making some good friends along the way. The best part is that this relationship extends beyond the classroom. Student life is stressful, and sometimes you need to be reminded that you are not alone in the struggle. Every time I have faced an obstacle, like a difficult research problem or choosing between courses, I received very good advice from seniors in my program because they have done it all before. Unless you speak up, you will not realize that there may be someone who understands what you are going through.

When it comes to professors and advisors, it is up to you to figure out what communication style works best for you. I have been in two different lab groups and the advisors have rather different approaches towards student meetings. One has weekly group meetings followed by individual meetings for regular updates, and the other has a fixed time allotted for meetings every week, and you may choose to go as you please. It may take a while to figure out what works best, but it is worth it when your research and coursework proceeds smoothly.

It is also important to start building a network of professional connections as a student. There are many networking events, seminars and lectures through which you can meet people in academia, industry and other fields. Networking is one of the most useful skills you can attain at university, and I have seen people get excellent opportunities like internships, co-ops and even jobs because of the contacts they make through various events. It all comes down to how you present yourself and put forth your ideas.

On a personal front, it is quite easy to isolate yourself and focus on nothing but academia. This may seem harmless in the beginning, but in the long run, it can be detrimental to your progress and well-being. I really appreciate the social events organized by my department and the Graduate School, as they are opportunities to go out and unwind with other students, relax and get in better shape to tackle the next big thing. It seems like a tertiary aspect of school, but it helps strengthen your personal connections.

In general, maneuvering through student life is tricky, but we can always support and encourage each other. We may come from different countries and backgrounds but we are united by our experiences at university, and that brings us closer to each other.

Written by Aishwarya Chandrashekar
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Graduate Student

Thursday, March 14, 2019

What You Need to Know to Celebrate Persian New Year!

Persian New Year, Nowruz, starts on the first day of Spring. The exact beginning moment of Nowruz is calculated precisely every year at the stroke of the vernal equinox, when the sun crosses the equator. This year it will happen on March 20.

The term Nowruz is a Persian compound word. The first word “now” means new and the second word “ruz” means day; together they mean “New Day.” It is a secular festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years and enjoyed by people of several different faiths. The traditions of Nowruz were originated in Iran; however, it has been celebrated among people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Canada and the United States.

Families gather together around a ceremonial table known as the Haftseen for the countdown and observing the rituals. In every home, the haftseen table is decorated with seven items – since seven is considered a lucky number. Each item begins with the letter sin (s) in Persian, and each item represents a different symbol:
  1. Seeb (apple), representing beauty
  2. Seer (garlic), representing good health
  3. Serkeh (vinegar), representing patience
  4. Sonbol (hyacinth), representing spring
  5. Samanu (sweet pudding), representing fertility
  6. Sabzeh (sprouts), representing rebirth
  7. Sekeh (coins), representing prosperity
Other words beginning with the letter "s" can also be used, such as the spice sumac, its brilliant gold color representing the sunrise, or senjed, a dried fruit of the Lotus tree, representing love.

Haftseen tables can also include a religious or poetry book (representing Knowledge), a mirror and candles (reflecting into the future), a goldfish swimming in a bowl (representing life), painted eggs (representing fertility), and all kinds of sweets and fruits. 

Nowruz is also a time for spring cleaning, buying new clothes, visiting friends and relatives and renewing bonds. Nowruz festivities lasts 13 days, and during this time schools are closed, and most offices are closed for the first four days. People attend different parties, visit their loved ones, relatives and friends, get together and travel. On the 13th day of the New Year, the celebrations finally end. Since the 13th is an unlucky day, entire families go on picnics and take with them the sprouts (sabzeh) from the haftseen table. The sabzeh is thrown into flowing water, symbolizing a "letting go" of the misfortunes of the coming year.

The spirit of Nowruz is reflected in the renewal of the earth, the flower blossoms, the beautiful colors of the spring, bringing hope and inspiration.


Blog by ICSC Co-Leader Haniyeh Zamani

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Where Do You Belong?

I lived in a vibrant coastal city called Chennai in the southern part of India for the first 17 years of my life. I discovered my love for travelling and experiencing new cultures when I was 16. I applied for a cultural exchange program to Japan. Travelling to Japan was an experience that changed my life.

Japan turned the fussy eater in me into a foodie. I fell in love with Japanese cuisine. Japanese food tantalized my taste buds and made me crave cuisines from around the world. I spent a week travelling to some of the major Japanese cities including Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Meeting a 96-year old survivor of the Nagasaki bombing taught me that strength and perseverance come from within your soul and that there should be nothing that keeps you from getting up every time you fall. I became more optimistic in the way I perceive hardships.

After 5 years, I was ecstatic to visit the land of the rising sun again! I got an opportunity to work on stem cell research at the University of Tokyo. That was one of the best summers of my life, and I truly discovered myself. My solo adventures taught me that I don’t need a group of people to have fun, and that I should never refrain from doing things I love just because there is no one else who wants to do it with me. I felt empowered and content in my solitude. And along the way I met some wonderful people who taught me to be more spontaneous, to let go of things that cannot be controlled, to be free.

Slowly and steadily, travel helped me evolve into newer and better versions of myself. Last summer, I traveled to Israel. The concept of Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, seemed strange to me at first. It starts with sunset on Friday and ends with sunset on Saturday evening marking the end of a week and the beginning of a new one. This day of rest is meant to be a break from work, using electronic equipment and cooking. I was exposed to this culture during the summer vacation of graduate school, the busiest time of my life, a time when squeezing an assignment between coffee and breakfast in the morning was a satisfying accomplishment; a time when it felt like there is so much work that you might forget to breathe. This was a beautiful break from my hectic life. After experiencing Sabbath, I found new meaning and pleasure in living a slow-paced life, in resting my mind and soul from the rigor of this busy and modern world we live in, a world that thinks the busier you are the more accomplished you must be.

Travel has never failed to sculpt me into a newer and more nuanced version of myself. Every time, I travel, I take back with me a piece of culture and countless memories that give my life greater meaning. But the more I travel, the less I feel like I belong to just one city or town. Having lived in so many different places, I often catch myself wondering, where do I belong? The only answer I can come up with is ... maybe everywhere, all at once. After all, the world is one big city, and we are all one people.

Aruna Muthukumar
International Center Student Council

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Friend’s Day in Argentina

Dia Del Amigo, Friend’s Day, is a holiday Argentines celebrate every July 20. Very different from Thanksgiving in the United States where families get together, and Valentine’s Day where couples express their love to each other, Friend’s Day is an appreciation and gathering for friends.

With the growth of technology and online platforms, many people started greeting online. However, Argentines believe in sharing and enjoying the time together like the famous quote they say, “Cuando llueve, comparto me paraguas, si no tengo paraguas, comparto la lluvia”. This means that, “When it rains, I’ll share my umbrella, if I don’t have an umbrella, I’ll share the rain”. Although Friend’s Day is not a public holiday in Argentina, it is as significant to many individuals as it is to New Year, where restaurants are filled up with groups of friends. Teenagers, on the other hand, would bring sweets and candies to school to share it with their friends.

Recent years, Friend’s Day is becoming more popular in Argentina and many other South American countries. It is now proclaimed as an official holiday by the United Nations General Assembly. The UN Day of friendship celebrates not only friendships between friends, but also friendships between people with diverse backgrounds, adding further significance to the holiday.

This blog post was written by ICSC Co-Leader Analia Wu