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

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Three Tips to Eat Health as a Busy Student - Yiwei Yin

Three Tips to Eat Healthy as a Busy Student
By Yiwei Yin

Many new students sneeze at the weight gain rumor at the very beginning of their college lives. However, the “freshman 15”, which refers to the approximate 15 pounds’ weight gain after students’ first year of college, turns out to be a real situation that almost everyone has to face. Healthy eating habits are important especially for international students, who may need dietary habits change when they move to a brand new country. Here are three tips to help you find a balance between busy school life and healthy eating habits.

1. Cook for yourself

If you have a kitchen in your apartment, you could stay with your traditional eating habits when you cook for yourself. Raw material for cooking could be accessed easily in Ann Arbor. Big supermarkets like Kroger and Meijer provide tremendous food choices as well as daily necessities for their customers. Food markets like whole food, trader joes and plum market are also excellent places if you are looking for fresh vegetables and meat nearby. On Saturday, you could also visit the farmers market in Kerrytown, a place near central campus, to buy the local fresh product directly from Farmers with reasonable price. Ann Arbor also has featured supermarket if you have special needs, like Chinese supermarket (Way one) near north campus, Indiana supermarket(OM market) near north campus and Korean supermarket(Manna International Foods & Gifts) between north campus and central campus. Don’t forget to ask your mom for the easy cooking recipes before you go to the airport and you could also find recipes on google!

If you do not have a kitchen or live in the dorm, don’t worry! Small household applicants could help you. You could use the microwave to cook frozen vegetables and meat , a small refrigerator is enough to store your food. Rice cooker is also useful if you want extra carbohydrate. Do not let frozen pizza and meal plan to fill your life just because of you do not have a real kitchen!

2. Count your calories intake and survive through meal plan    
When you find yourself stuck on the meal plan. It does not mean that you could not live on the healthy lifestyle. Every dish would have a label indicates the calories contained in the food. Normally, a male needs 2200-3000 calories per day, while a female needs 1800-2800 calories depended on his/hers daily activity. Separate it into your three meals and you could also rely on salad and fruit bar for more vitamins and fiber. Have ice water rather than soft drink would be a great way for you to become hydrated and healthy. Also, do not hesitate to ask servers for the partial item to get rid of food with high fat and calories, servers are really friendly and always ready to help!

3. Cut the calories down when extra food is necessary

Students become nervous when they are under high-intensity school work.  Eating is a great way for people to release the pressure. When you have to eat during late night study, choose your snacks wisely would help you to stay healthy. You could always find low calories food on the market, Diet Coke and low-fat potato chips would be a better option than normal snacks and you could order pizza with half cheese and bacon. You could also purchase healthy snacks like fruit and yogurt in advance. Also, you could ask for half sugar and low-fat milk when you order coffee. With these methods, you could enjoy your favorite food and eat healthily!