Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Things to do in winter - by Moshen Jafari

Things To Do In Winter
by Moshen Jafari

If you arrive in Ann Arbor in the wintertime, you might find that it is too cold to even open the trunk of your car to put in your suitcase! However, there are many fun things to do in Ann Arbor during the winter to beat the cold and keep those winter blues at bay. Let’s start with Ice-skating which is even being offered for free in some parks like: Burns, Allmendinger and Northside. Many people also enjoy sledding and cross country skiing around campus and in various Ann Arbor parks. If you are willing to venture outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan has many places to learn and practice alpine or “down hill” skiing. Luckily, the local ski areas offer equipment rental and lessons for a small fee. Even though, there are not many mountains here, you can ski resorts such as Alpine Valley Ski Area, Mt. Brighton and Mt. Holly.

Another, less expensive, winter activity that can be done in the Ann Arbor area is fishing. You only need a Michigan season pass license and a pole and you are all ready to go catch some if you are lucky. It might be a little tricky at first but, the odds are high that you will finally catch some Bass or Catfish.

If you are more inclined to spend the winter months indoors to escape the cold, many students spend their time browsing the University of Michigan’s many museums including the Museum of Natural History, the Planetarium, and the Museum of Art.  The UM museums contain exemplary collections and offer public programs, tours, workshops and other regular events.  Time flies by while taking a dinosaur tour at the Museum of Natural History or learning all about the different inhabitants of the ancient world at the Museum of Anthropology or the Museum of Archeology.  It is easy to get lost in the stars during the Planetarium’s frequent presentations. The Museum of Art is home to one of the largest university art museums in the United States with nearly 19,000 works of art collected over the last 150 years.

Of course Ann Arbor also offers all of the amenities of a regular city such as a shopping mall at Briarwood, movie theaters including the Michigan Theater located on E. Liberty, the State Theater located on State Street, and Goodrich Theater located on Jackson Avenue. There are also several bowling alleys where you can perfect your game, as well as a wide variety of restaurants and cafes in which to spend the winter months safely indoors reading a good book or catching up with friends.

There are plenty of great activities offered in and around Ann Arbor for both the outdoorsperson and the person who wants to stay in the warm indoors, but no matter what you choose to do, the most fun will be had sharing these experiences with friends.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Living with Roommates - by Gizem Yagci

Living with Roommates
by Gizem Yagci

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Basics of roommate interactions are built on respect, understanding and empathy. After the friendly dynamic is set, the relationship can evolve from people-who-live-together into actual friends.
It is crucial to keep in mind that we all have good and bad days and most times we do not have control over our lives. Lets say person A leaves the dishes in the sink for a day longer than usual due to what is going on in his/her life. Remaining roommates will have two routes to choose: they can be understanding or not. Then again it always comes back to the intentions of the person and most importantly CONTEXT!!!!!
Living with other people is a challenge on its own. Your roommates could be from a very different background with opposite views or they may be from the same town, but still different in their own way. I believe that there is no ‘perfect roommate’. In any match, some sort of conflict will resolve on its own. My advice is to be less concerned about choosing or having the ‘right’ roommate, and be more concerned about the approach that you take when you are interacting with your roommate or trying to resolve a conflict.
I’ve always preferred confrontation rather than ignoring the other person or situation. That being said, confrontation will not work miracles if you use an accusing language and a condescending tone. Just take a moment and try to step back: see the bigger picture. Maybe this moment will prevent you from doing something that you will regret later on. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would you feel? How is the ideal way to approach the problem? Maybe there are external factors in your roommate’s life that you do not know about. Maybe it is a misunderstanding. Maybe it is miscommunication due to all the passive aggressive nature of the communication. My point is you never know until you ask. Ignoring the issue only leads to bigger problems. Even if you think you are entirely right, try to remember there are two sides to every story and that no conflict arises from one side particularly.
Always keep in mind that everyone struggles to have healthy roommate relationships. Maybe some do more than the others. But it is all a part of the college experience. If you pay attention to actively listen and talk to each other, you will realize that things will start to go in a much better direction. Having someone there when you want or need to talk or socialize is just refreshing and calming. It all comes down to setting the dynamics of the relationship right as early as possible, or try to salvage the relationship no matter at what point it is at, because it is never too late. For all you know, your roommate will become your best friend who you will live with until the day you graduate!
I personally love living with roommates. I just finished my junior year University of Michigan and every single year I had brand new experiences, friends and crazy memories. I recommend it to anyone! I hope your experience will be as pleasant as mine.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

LGBTQ Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor is a small college town, but it has a relatively large LGBT population. According to some sources, Ann Arbor ranks as the second most gay-friendly and LGBT family friendly city in Michigan, behind East Lansing and ahead of Ferndale. Here are a few LGBT venues to explore in Ann Arbor.

Spectrum Center might be a good place to start. Located on the third floor of the Michigan Union on S. State Street, at the heart of Central Campus, Spectrum Center will provide you with a bunch of useful LGBT resources on campus. Here you will learn about various LGBT-specific student organizations, workshops, grants and scholarships, and opportunities to volunteer.

Apart from Spectrum Center, the University of Michigan has more than 20 LGBT-specific student groups, ranging from TransForm, devoted to providing resources and activism for the trans community, to Asexual Support and Visibility Group. Ask for the list of LGBT student groups at the Spectrum Center.    

Department of Women's Studies, Lane Hall, 204 S. State

For those of you interested in LGBT and queer theory as an academic field of study or just want to explore how the questions of gender and sexuality are addressed in humanities and social sciences, the Department of Women's Studies (located at the Lane Hall at 204 S. State St on Central Campus) will be a real asset. The Department is home for some of the best contemporary scholars in the field of gender and sexuality studies and it runs numerous workshops and events through the academic year. The events are normally open to the public. For more information, stop by the Lane Hall or subscribe to newsletter online.  

Slightly away from campus, at the heart of downtown Ann Arbor (also known as Kerrytown), you will find Common Language, a local self-identified LGBT bookstore, one of a few in the nation.  

For those of you eager to explore nightlife in Ann Arbor, Aut Bar (centrally located in Kerrytown just next to Common Language bookstore) is an attractive space that functions both as a nightspot and a bistro-type restaurant. The Necto Dance Club hosts a Pride Night on Fridays and Live is a place for the LGBT community on Thursday nights. Have fun!  

K. Mishuris
PhD Student at the University of Michigan

Monday, August 1, 2016

Instagram Worthy Spots on Central Campus

I don’t know about you, but I am kind of an instagram freak which means that I am that type of person who would stop by a building or a tree even, just to take a picture of it! Personally, I think that Ann Arbor is a very beautiful city and of course, there are so many spots on and around campus that I think are must-visits and also, worthy to be uploaded on instagram! The pictures in this blogpost were taken by me, but I am not a professional photographer! (Which means, they all look very much more magnificent in real life)

The Nichols Arboretum is the perfect spot for you alone, with friends or significant other to have an either relaxing or active time. This picture was taken in spring when the peonies were blooming and it was just breathtaking at that time of the year! Worry not, the arb is still as stunning during other seasons.

Next up is the University of Michigan Law School and Quad. The Law building is definitely one of the most beautiful spots on campus as it features such beautiful design, in and outside of the building which makes this building a famous structure on campus! (Couldn’t count the number of times I brought my friends here!)
The Michigan Union is the go to place for students and staff as there are some food places and spaces to study in the building. If you happen to go by the building, (you most definitely will), don’t forget to take a few minutes taking a picture of this stunning building!
If you go to Michigan, you will surely go by the diag at least once a day (if you have classes on central campus that is). It would take a little bit of time to take a picture of the Diag with not many people on it but it will be worth it! That building in the picture is actually the Hatcher Graduate Library and it is also very beautiful!
I could go on for days talking about the many beautiful spots on campus but since I could only write so much, the list ends here. Ann Arbor is definitely the place to travel around and take the whole day to take pictures around campus. Bear in mind, there is also the south and north campus with more gorgeous buildings and sceneries. Don’t forget to go around Ann Arbor and take pictures (and of course, instagram it and share the beauty of our city with the internet).

Ili Anuar
Undergradaute Student from Malaysia

Monday, July 25, 2016

Top Things You Need to Survive Fall in Michigan - by Tochi Nwogu

Top Things You Need to Survive Fall in Michigan
by Tochi Nwogu

Michigan weather is incredibly indecisive about what season it wants to be – especially between fall and winter. You could be faced with anything from a slight flurry when you walk out of your dorm room at 8:00 a.m. to a heat wave when you make that walk back to your room. There are some essentials things to have in order to stay ahead of the weather and beat it at its own game.
1. Layers. It is best to leave your room either wearing a sweater/jacket or have one packed in your bag. Another option is to wear flannels. They are very comfortable and can be worn in so many ways. In colder weather, button them up or for warmer days tie them around your waist. You can also pack a pair of athletic shorts to change into if it becomes too hot for jeans.
2. Scarves. Great for layering, and can switch up any outfit. They can add a little warmth on a chilly day or a vibrant color to a plain t-shirt and jeans look.
3. Invest in rain boots. Rain will come out of nowhere. It is a fact. If you really want to keep your feet dry, rain boots are a Michigan must-have. They keep your feet free from water and also keep them warm during the colder months with the help of some thick socks. You can get them from somewhere as simple as Target to as nice as Hunter.
4. Never forget your umbrella. I recommend always checking the weather forecast at the start of your day and permanently leaving your umbrella or foldable raincoat in your backpack. This will leave you always prepared for a surprise shower.
5. Sunscreen. Don’t skip on the sunscreen ever. If the rest of your body is bundled up, use sunscreen on your face and hands no matter the season to protect yourself. Even on overcast days – clouds can magnify UV rays, resulting in a greater risk of sunburn than on a sunny day.
6. Fuzzy blanket. We all need something warm enough for those fall nights!
7. Boots/booties are a must-have. From short to tall, heel to no heel, leather to suede, there are a lot of styles to choose from. They will also keep your toes nice and toasty as on those chilly evenings.

Between winter, summer spring and fall…fall is ideally the best. Despite the volatility of the weather, Michigan is beautiful in the fall. Now, make sure you have all the things you need and you should be comfortable on campus.

Monday, July 18, 2016

How to develop a great relationship with your professors - Pradeep Moon Gunasekaran

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How to develop a great relationship with your professors
by Pradeep Moon Gunasekaran, PhD, Chemical Biology
In the 1999 David Fincher movie ‘Fight Club’, Brad Pitt’s character Tyler Durden said “The first rule of fight club is: You do not talk about Fight Club”. A quote so famous that people who have never seen the movie are still familiar with it. Similar to Mr Durden’s simplistic directive, in my opinion graduate school too has one main rule: Always try talking to your professors.
I have been a graduate student at the University of Michigan for well over a year now. Apart from the initial culture shock, change in time zone and acclimatizing to the weather, I found it was very easy to adjust to living in the United States of America. But as far as graduate school itself is concerned, I initially struggled. I come from a part of the world where you do not speak to your professors unless they address you first or unless you have to pass some information onto them. Being from such a conservative background, I initially struggled in my new environment which is quite dynamic in nature. The classes are very lively with professors asking stimulating questions and students bouncing innovative ideas amongst each other. This can be a lot of fun, but can take some getting used to. As a graduate student, you are expected to be able to handle the academic responsibilities placed upon you, but in order for you to do so you must have the cooperation of your professors. Professors at the University of Michigan are brilliant and are the pioneers in their respective fields. This makes them your primary resource for knowledge and innovation. Hence it is in your best interest to have a good relationship with them. After experiencing two full terms of graduate school, I have understood quite a lot about the academic culture here at the University of Michigan as well as graduate school in the US in general. The following are the key points that I feel are essential to not only establish a good relationship with your professors, but to maintain them as well:
  • Professors at the University of Michigan are very outgoing and expect their students to be willing to return the favour as well. This does not mean you have to be extroverted, it just means that you should be willing to initiate conversations.
  • If you meet your professor in the hallway or in the lounge, do not hesitate to greet them and ask them how they are. Not all conversations with your professors have to be formal. Outside the classroom or lab, they could very well be your friends.
  • Another thing I learnt after coming here is the way to address your professors. In my earlier education, we were always said to address our professors with honorifics such as Sir or Madam. This is not the case in the US. Here they prefer to be addressed by their name and not Sir/Madam. This also applies to when you communicate with them through email as well.
  • Now with respect to graduate students who intend to perform research during their time at the University of Michigan, it is of great importance to frequently meet your principal investigator or PI and to maintain a practice of meeting them at least once a week. The PI themselves might organize weekly office hours in most cases, but in case they don’t do so, it is best to take the initiative yourself.
  • If you are like me a person who is shy and is afraid to initiate conversations, you should try and ease into this transition. The prospect of initiating a conversation can be overwhelming at first, but once you make it a habit it become very easy to do on a day to day basis.
When people talk about graduate school and college in general, they tend to focus more on the educational aspect. But I believe that it provides you with lessons in life and not just lessons in your respective fields. And professors can be one of the main sources of these life lessons since they’re main goal is to pass on as much knowledge and experience they can onto you. Others may see you for who you are, but a professor is one who sees you for who you can become. To quote the American historian Henry Adams, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops”. Make the most of your time at the University of Michigan and as always, Go Blue!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Getting a Driver's License in the U.S. - Sahil Chhabra

Getting a Driver’s License in the U.S.
by Sahil Chhabra

Getting a Driver’s License (DL) in the U.S. may not be on the top of everyone’s priority list just after arriving here, but it was mine as I love travelling and needed a DL to travel within states. Nonetheless after reading this, you will have an idea of the process and documents required to obtain a driver’s license in the US, so that you can keep an eye out for them.

Luckily, I had my DL from India, which was valid for 1 year in the U.S., but it is always advisable to get the local state’s DL. A word of caution - your home country DL might not be valid in the U.S., you can check with the secretary of state’s office. I do know of another way, which I will mention later in this blog. Also if the DL is not in English, you will need a translation of the same.

The general process of getting a DL is as follows. Normally one needs to apply for a learning permit first, and then after a month of practice, one is eligible to apply for the written and the road test. Since I had my home country license, I was exempted from this first step, and I just needed to take the written test followed by a road test. After passing all the tests, I had to submit the certificate to receive my DL. The International Center hosts the DL written test here at U-M, and the schedule for this years can be found on the International Center’s website.

Gathering the required documents is always a hassle. Here I will talk about the tricky ones. The most important document apart from the immigration documents (I-20/DS-2019, visa, passport, I-94) is the Social Security number (SSN) or the letter of ineligibility, which normally one does not have just after arriving here. The SSN takes a couple of weeks to arrive, but the letter of ineligibility is granted on the spot. Also, you need to wait for a few days after your mandatory check-in at the University before applying for any of the two, so that your records are in the system. You will only need either of the two for the written test. The International Center also holds a workshop where representatives from the Ann Arbor Social Security office arrive at the university, and one can apply for the SSN or the letter of ineligibility there. The schedule is again on the center’s webpage and is generally one day before the DL written test. Since the university employed me, I needed a SSN.  For those who will be employed, would need to apply for the SSN first, wait for a couple of weeks, and then go to the secretary of state’s office to apply for a DL. If you do not want to do that, there is a way around that.  You can apply for the letter of ineligibility, and the workshop for that is just one day before the written test and is granted on the spot. You can use that the next day to take the written test. Later you can apply for the SSN, as you will need one if you are employed. One also needs 2 documents showing proof of residence. Bank statements, utility bills, lease agreements, paystubs are few valid examples.

Collecting all the documents was still easy but the next step is passing the written test. I failed in my first attempt. You may be allowed to take it twice on the same day given the time constraints as the state’s staff is here only for few hours. But, you can surely give the second attempt on the same day if you are applying at the branch. I learnt through my mistakes in the first attempt and passed in the second attempt on the same day. Then, I had a month to take the road test and passing that would mean I would have my license the next day! But then I got busy with my semester and was unable to give the road test within a month. Since the one-month limit had expired, I had to retake the written test to become eligible to take the road test.

In India, driving is on the left side of the road opposite of what is applied here in the U.S. Therefore, I needed some practice before taking the road test. So, I applied for a Zipcar membership by which one can rent cars on an hourly basis to drive around. I am about to tell you a secret, which a lot of my friends here are not aware of. Gas and insurance is included with the cost of the zipcar, which is around $8.50 per hour. The U-M has a contract with the zipcar, which lowers the membership fee for a student to only $15 as compared to $60 normally. There are plenty of zipcars available around the central and the north campus. Also the cost reduces to $4.50 per hours if you rent in late at night. Zipcar also has a referral program by which both people get $25 driving credit. So, you should find someone who has a zipcar membership or just message me. Zipcar was a lot of help to me as I practiced by myself. Also, this is another way to check if your DL is valid or not in the U.S. - if you can get a zipcar with your home country DL, you are good to hit the road!

After some practice, I went to retake the written test and told the Secretary of State’s staff that I was unable to give the road test in a month because I needed more practice.  This time, I passed the written test in the first attempt. The person there gave me a waiver for the one-month time restriction and said now I have enough time to practice, citing that I already had a DL from my home country so I could take the road test before it expired, which was 1 year after arriving in the U.S.

I took the road test within the next week, which cost around $60. The cost varies from the location of where you take the test. There are 4 locations around the Ann Arbor area available on the secretary of state’s website, and they also provide you with their contact details after you pass the written test. I will advise you to be confident with your driving before giving the road test, because the fee is non-refundable. My roommate who is from here failed the road test in his first attempt, and he made a bet that I would fail mine too. Well, guess what, he lost his bet as I passed the road test in my first attempt! I went the next day to submit my passing certificate, they took my photo, and the DL came in the mail a week later!

I hope this was helpful. Drive safe and good luck with the tests!

Written by Sahil Chhabra
International Center Summer Orientation Peer Adviser
Country of Origin: India

Pursuing Ph.D. in Chemistry