Monday, August 19, 2019

Language Barriers

Let’s talk about “you,” shall we? “You” are an international student, most likely grown up using English only in classroom settings. You might have traveled to the United States a few times with families or friends, but have never been around for more than two months, and, most importantly, alone. You probably have aced in buying a Grande Mocha Frappuccino from Starbucks and in your interview with some representative from the U of M. In sum, your proficiency in English is self-evident, but you still feel hesitant whenever you need to engage in conversations in English that are not out from necessities. 
One day, after the tenth time of being barely present at hangouts with your American acquaintances (because the topic always outruns your attempt in organizing your words), you realize that your struggles will never pay. You will never cross the language gap of 5 years, 10 years, or even 15 years, depending on when you started acquiring English. You will never fully express your thoughts and emotions in English, not to mention the endless bank of slang that you have never heard of in your country. You will never arrange your thoughts into words before you lose your listener’s attention. Nobody understands your humor and wits, unless they are also from your country. You are only here for a college degree. Even if you plan to immigrate, you will always find a community of similar expatriates that you can rely on. All you need is enough English to survive college and career.  
But I challenge you to envision an alternative. You chose to study at a university known for its value in diversity and inclusivity. You are also chosen by the university for its conviction in your ability to not only survive but also thrive disregarding you being a foreigner. You just might as well make more out of the 70k that you are paying for your presence at the U of M every year, in addition to the excitement from the exchange of different cultures, stories, and perspectives that the university has laid in front of you. You probably will never use English like a native speaker, and you ain’t one anyway. Don’t forget that at least you are a native speaker of some other language(s) already, which already makes your proficiency English as your second, or even third, language impressive. Give yourself some credit for the time and money that you’ve spent to prepare yourself for this moment, will you? There is no better way to do so other than the self-evident “Use it.” 
“Easier said than done,” you said after a sigh. But how hard could it be anyway? Is it ever going to be more unbearable than the itch and doubt that haunt your mind every night before you can finally escape through sleep and dream, or the void and solitude that feel just like heartburn every time when you are confronted with the simple question, which is “do I really share anything with this group of people other than where I’m from?” Everyone praises your proficiency in English, except yourself. The only thing you need is a little bit of faith in yourself. 
I wasn’t aware of this simple fact until my third year as an international high school student from China. I was living on the same hall with another kid from Senegal, who, evident from our few times of interaction, barely spoke any English. Yet everyone at my school seemed to know him and like him. For a while, I was really perplexed by where his popularity came from, until one day when I actually had some real interaction with him. He said, kind of out of nowhere, “Zhehao you are the king. You are a very nice person.” And we ended up having a really good conversation, although I was leading for the most part. He sat there and listened, asking for clarification or commenting with really simple words now and then. By the end of that semester, it was obvious that he has significant progress from passively contributing to a conversation to expressing his own thoughts with clarity. That was when I finally realized it. He was not afraid to make mistakes and ask questions because he didn’t expect himself to speak well. He was the only Senegalese at my high school and didn’t have the option to bail with the easy way out like I did. The language itself is only a secondary factor for language barriers. It comes after self-doubt, pride, and laziness, which were both the cause and contributing factors by constantly holding one back from trying and practicing.  
It will be the sixth fall that I spend in the United States this September. I don’t know how many I will have left, and I surely hope that it was not too late for me to finally see it three years ago. It most certainly won’t be too late for you to see it now. Till today, I still find it difficult to verbalize in English the abstract idea that I have in my mind sometimes, not without frustration. I chose to be here. I am getting better and better. I am tired of the path of least resistance. If you also identify with these, but uncertain if you’re ready for a change, you might like this quote from Nietzsche:
“O my brothers, am I then cruel? But I say: that which is falling should also be pushed!”
Onward and forward!

Written by Zhehao Tong
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Undergraduate Student

Friday, August 9, 2019

How to Find Your Place in the University of Michigan as an International Student

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Personally speaking, it is hard to be an international student. People said that growing up is a process, but from my point of view, growing up starts from the moment that you get on the plane to US. Starting from that moment, almost everything that you were familiar with is getting unfamiliar. The time difference, homesickness, eating habits, languages, academic pressures and all the cultural differences - they are all going to become big challenges for international students to overcome. And besides those tasks, the most important issues that always occur for international students are loneliness and social insecurity. It is very common and happens to almost all of us. Most of my friends, including me, have had a hard time trying to figure out how to fit into this society and find our place at the University of Michigan (U-M). As a junior student, here is some advice that I want to give to incoming international students:

  1. Don’t be shy. Start to make friends from the orientation and classes. Orientation is the very first chance for freshmen to meet each other. Most of them are exactly like you – excited, anxious, don’t know a lot of people here, and hoping to make new friends. So, don’t be shy. Ask them their name and where they come from. They want to make friends as much as you do and it is going to be a great chance to form your squad at U-M. 
  2. Join student clubs that you are interested in. U-M has Festifall and Winterfest for students to get to know and join different student clubs. On those days, all the student clubs will be tabling at on campus, and you should definitely go with your friends to explore. It is going to be a fabulous chance to find a group of people who share your interests and help you to find your place there. Besides student clubs, you can also participate in student government or community services.  
  3. For undergraduate students, joining Fraternity and Sorority Life (formerly known as Greek Life) may also be a good way to get to know more people and make friends. Many international students probably don’t know much about Fraternity and Sorority Life. They are social organizations at colleges based on sexes. There are many chapters presented by different Greek letters. Every year, there will be at least 2 "rush" events for new students to join. It can offer you a closer relationship with brothers and sisters in Fraternity and Sorority Life. However, since it is a social-based organization, you have to consider your safety when some of activities involve with drinking, smoking, or other dangerous actions. 
  4. Most importantly, you need to find the right place and group that will always make you stay positive and happy. Always remember that social pressure could easily destroy a person. You are cool because the way you are. Don’t ever try to change things that you liked about yourself just to fit in a group or keep a relationship. Be loyal to yourself.
Written by Yuxin Li
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Undergraduate Student

Friday, July 26, 2019

Adjusting to a New Cultural Environment

You just landed at DTW and got to Ann Arbor. You probably spent long hours thinking about this new chapter in your life; indeed, this was a life-changing decision – moving to a new country and spending a decent amount of years in this university as a graduate student. In preparation for this transition, you did your homework; exploring google maps, looking for recommended places to buy groceries, thinking about the best place to live, worrying about making new friendships and rebuilding your lost professional network. Your anxious mind knew no rest. You also know that this university has resources, oh, so many resources – nonstop emails from your department, Rackham, the International Center, and many other units whose existence was completely unbeknownst to you up until this point constantly urge you to join meetings, listen to a lecture, and attend a cultural event. They all sound great and you wish you could do them all, but right now, you really miss your family. Your friends. You miss the smell of the food you used to eat all the time when you were back home. You miss knowing where you are going and the ease of getting around. You miss the sound of the language you spoke your entire life.

Take a deep breath. You are not alone. So many international students like you have just joined the University of Michigan; they also do not have the slightest clue what they should do next. I mean, they do – they came here for a reason and they worked very hard to be able to become a part of this prestigious institution. This means that they are probably pretty good at what they are doing; this also means that you are probably pretty good at what you are doing too. Please know - you will figure it out. It might take a while, though. Based on my experience, it can take up to a year before you start feeling comfortable in your new environment. The first semester is particularly hard; you are not used to American academia – things are done differently here. You need to listen and express complex ideas in a language that is not yours. You miss home. People around you might be oblivious to these difficulties.

Talk to them – explain your difficulties. Seek out other international students in your department and elsewhere; you will probably find out that they are dealing with very similar problems and you will get their immediate empathy. Do not be hard on yourself. Yes, try to take advantage of some of the opportunities offered to you – both professional and social. But you do not have to do all of them and not even most of them. Choose one event every week that you find exciting and go explore; if you feel comfortable enough, try to talk to people. Gradually, you will build your confidence and make new friends. Maintain a balance between feeling comfortable and going outside of your comfort zone. True, you live in the U.S. now, which means that making friends with Americans will help you get a better sense of your new environment. But there is also nothing wrong about finding a community of students or professionals from your home country or from your religion with whom social interaction will probably be much easier, at least at the beginning.

And above all – make this experience work for you. Do not give in to imposter syndrome, remember that you are here for a reason. Be kind to yourself, and soon enough you will find your way to thrive.

Written by Yuval Katz
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Graduate Student

One at a Time

My name is Sarah Samberi and I am a transfer student from a community college. As of today, I am a rising senior eager to see what next semester has in line for me. It is an exciting experience, however, there are a lot of things I have not figure out yet. I am not going to sugar coat the life as a student here at the University of Michigan, but no matter how stressful things get, always take things one thing at a time; this is something I wish people told me about sooner.

My first few weeks as a transfer student were isolating. I fit neither as a freshman because I went to a community college previously nor as a junior because I did not have a full UofM’s experience. As a junior, people expected me to know my way around the works of the school such as: which classes to take or not to take, how to get involved in research, how to get a summer internship, and how to get a job. I didn’t have anything on the list. My classmates around me had those marked off already, and here I am, feeling clueless and overwhelmed.

With the outstanding pressure, I tried to do everything all at once.  I joined three clubs, applied to several psychology research labs and several  internships, looked for possible topics for my honors thesis and while trying to figure out whether I should do a double major or minor in something, all while struggling to keep up with my academics. I had all these plans but none of them worked out. I could not keep up with my attendance for my clubs, hence I quit one of them. I did not get into any research labs, despite applying to them for two semesters. My internship application got rejected. Double major or minor? That seemed like an absurd idea! At that moment, I was suffocating and I felt extremely alone, discouraged, and abandoned. I just watched the people and days passed by without being mentally present; it was a difficult process. I feared this cycle may continue and there was no way of stopping it--I was clouded by worries and it seemed to me at that moment, there was no way out. Or so I thought.

To break the ongoing cycle is to make it stop. I learned that instead of doing all those things at once, I tried to divide them by semesters, taking one thing at a time and making them my end goals for each semester. Believe it or not, I did not achieve any of my goals at the end of my first semester. I was so occupied with familiarizing myself with the grading system here and the reading materials that I had to read for every class, that thinking of matters other than academics was robust and unworthy. I remembered having to submit three 8-10 pages of paper in the same week and I admit, my time management skills are not the best. Nevertheless, these experiences have taught me that there is no gain if one has no pain. It took me almost a year to decode a simple formula to face overwhelmness and I hope you will not go through the same process as me in finding the similar solution: take one step at a time. It may sound easy and unbelievable, but after going through various pitfalls, I know what I am saying. Let my simple solution be accessible in the back of your mind, so you can always refer to it whenever you need it. Once again, let it sink in.

As of today, I am part of the creative team in the Malaysian Student Association, an Alto in my choir club (or known as Arts Chorale), doing a minor in Asian Language and Culture (Mandarin), a member of the Michigan Neurogenetics and Developmental Psychopathology (MiND) Lab, and maintaining a satisfactory CGPA.  There is still a long way for me to go, even though I only have a year left of my undergrad education. It is essential for you, my readers, to know that taking things one at a time does not make your pace slower. What it does instead is making you stop and think about the decisions that you are going to make, consciously. If things start to seem overwhelming, take a break. Have a coffee, watch a TV show, or even take a nap. Come back to the problem with a fresh mind and you will see a different perspective to it, hence a solution. Be it a math or chemistry problem, or which labs to apply for, you find your own pace in controlling the matter, and never let the matter control your pace.

Written by Sarah Samberi

Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Undergraduate Student

Friday, July 19, 2019

Discovering Yourself and Finding Happiness at Michigan

College life at Michigan is so unique and the perfect opportunity to explore yourself, who you think you are, and what will truly make you happy. Michigan offers so many opportunities to try new things, and there are so many ways to get out there and see what’s possible this coming semester! Just one of the many ways to get involved is by attending Festifall and Northfest right at the start of the year. There are hundreds of student orgs that are always looking for new members, from a capella groups to law fraternities to Game of Thrones watching clubs!

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Now there is no doubt about it, studying at Michigan is hard. There are periods where you will be inside for weeks with your head fuzzy from caffeine-fueled study sessions until 3 a.m. and the endless assigned readings that keep piling up. The winters are cold, and at times you may feel down by the lack of excitement in your routine. It is so important to make sure you are doing something for yourself each week that brings you happiness and teaches you something about yourself. I myself have struggled at times, feeling down, lost, tired and cold, but what got me out of those times was doing activities for me that made me happy. Through these activities I have discovered new passions, new career opportunities and learn new skills.

A recent discovery of mine is doing yoga! There are so many yoga places in Ann Arbor that all offer a different experience. Yoga is a great activity that gets you active and can bring peace to your mind!

There are some amazing yoga studios in Ann Arbor, but a few of my favorites are:
  • Red Yoga uses therapeutic, infrared heat to help with your flexibility and detoxification. It’s also super dark during each session which adds to the atmosphere and allows you to really focus on your own practice!
  • AUM Yoga Ann Arbor has been voted best Yoga Studio in Ann Arbor the past four years and offers some unique sessions such as Aerial Yoga and my personal favorite, Chakra Yoga.
  • If you’re looking for variety in styles and instructors, Tiny Buddha Yoga may be the studio for you. It also offers some of the most challenging Hot Vinyasa sessions I’ve ever been to, so if you’re someone who enjoys pushing yourself, go along to a session at Tiny Buddha Yoga!

Another activity I love is fostering animals! I miss my pets at home a lot and animals are something that have always made me happy. I wanted to be able to have animals in my life without the commitment of owning one, and this is a perfect option with the schedule that I have during school time and gives me my dosage of animals before I go home to my pets in Australia. I foster cats, dogs, kittens and puppies and each animal are so different are bring new joy to my life. I volunteer at the Humane Society of Huron Valley and also foster for Baby Bottle Rescue just outside of Ann Arbor.

Both of these organisations are great activities that take my mind off school and bring me a lot of happiness. If fostering is not for you but you also enjoy animals, there is a cat café by the Humane Society of Huron Valley called Tiny Lions Cat Café.  It offers a great space to study and play with some cats that you can also choose to adopt later on! If you’re looking for a quick fix of cuteness, you can also visit Hawkeye the Wellness Dog at UHS.

There are so many different activities at Michigan and around Ann Arbor that can give you an outlet and add some happiness to your life. Your time at Michigan will fly by so get out there and enjoy what there is offered all around town, try something new, and learn something about yourself. It could be taking a fun class, joining an intramural (IM) sport, visiting all the amazing restaurants in Ann Arbor, joining a club, or reaching out to the community. Whatever you like you will be able to find it in Ann Arbor. Don’t be afraid to try different things this semester and have some fun!

Written by Bec Joyce
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Undergraduate Student

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?).
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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