How to get the most out of your study abroad experience as an international student in the US

I recently applied for the H1B visa and as I am awaiting my fate, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the great experiences that I have had which have and how each of them led me to this moment today. United States of America is one of the top nations for undergraduate and graduate programs in the world; Don’t take my word for it, do you own research and then come back to read this article. A record 900,000 students studied in the US during 2013-14.

In my time here, I have come across a lot of the international students who are so focused on getting a degree that they often times overlook the other things that these universities might have to offer. If you are currently an international student in the US or aspiring to be one, here are some things that (I did and) you can do to have an awesome college experience:

  1. Join/Start a Student Organization: One of the best things you can do. Every US university has tons and you can easily find 2-3 that are based on your hobbies, likes or interests. Don’t find one that you think is the right fit? You can always start one. At a micro level, there are learnings from this that you can take and use if you intend to start your own company in the future.
  2. Volunteer: Find causes you care about and sign up to volunteer. This will help you meet like-minded individuals and give back at the same time. Moreover, this allows you to quickly grasp the accent of the place as well as the local lingo that everyone around you uses since you will be interacting with people a through volunteering. This way, when next time someone says something like ‘My Bad’, you know they are apologizing.

    Want more reasons to volunteer? Read this article by University of California San Diego

  3. Participate/Attend college events: College events are a big part of your college experience especially here in the US. By attending/participating in one, you become a part of those traditions and the history of the university. Additionally, you always take back with you plenty of stories to tell.

    Here is a list of some crazy college traditions.

  4. Seek out locals/diversity: This seems obvious in retrospect but what I am talking about is not just befriending classmates for working together on assignments. We have a tendency to find and stick around with people from our own countries even when we go abroad, which is the worst thing you can do. If you want to look at things from a different perspective, build relationships with a diverse group of people for it will enrich the way you look at things. This is the single best way to challenge your biases.
  5. Become a campus tour guide: if you love your college, you will love this job. You can become as creative as you want and by convincing prospective students to join your college, you can make a real impact on the college bottom line and the student.

Use the time between you getting your acceptance letter to you starting your first semester wisely. Research and make a list of things you would like to try out or experiences you want to be a part of or the places you want to see while you are pursuing your studies. Then go out and try them. I can bet you will have one hell of a college experience.

If you are a college student in the US reading this, what would you add to this list?

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Why you should start or join student organizations in College

Q: What is something you wish you had known when starting college?

A: The importance and benefits of joining/being a part of a student organization

I am not going to state the obvious (I totally will: Your degree will not guarantee you a job) but what I am going to tell you is that the more involved you are with student organizations on campus, the better your chances of landing a job out of college or in the case of international students even getting sponsored by a company for your H1B visa (if that is your ultimate goal as an international student). My only regret about college was that I didn’t join student organizations right from year one!

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*(image credit: http://www.wordwritepr.com)*

Here are 9 more benefits of joining student organizations

  • Gets you out there: Every student organization usually ends up having a faculty advisor. These advisors see 100’s of students every day but if they see your face 2-3 times in a week and work with you closely, they are bound to remember you, which will help you with #2
  • Letters of Recommendation for grad school/jobs: Having worked closely with you, these advisors are then very comfortable writing letters of recommendation for you whether it is for a job or for a masters/Ph.D program.
  • Practical experience in teamwork, leadership, events management or other soft skills: Reading a Harvard Business Review article (or any other article for that matter) won’t teach you as much about this as real life application will. When we were recruiting new members for our student organization, we would ask everyone who would come one question: ‘Where did you hear about us’. The answer to this one question made us realize that we were wasting money putting posters around campus as most of our audience came through class presentations, social media promotions and word of mouth. Working with a tight budget, it also saved us a lot of money next time.

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*(image credit: https://chipsifraternity.files.wordpress.com)*

  • You get to apply the skills you learn and in doing so get better at it: I have seen this happen first hand. One of my very close friends joined the Student Alumni Association with me and started doing all the graphic design work for them. The more she practiced her craft, the better she became at it. Soon she had a good enough portfolio and a great story with it to get admission into the California College of Arts (one of the best art schools in the country)
  • You can also learn new skills: Consider this scenario – your student organization needs a website and none of the members know how to build one. What do you do? You go learn how to do it – that’s what you do.

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*(image credit: campus.albion.edu)*

  • Opportunities to strengthen your weaknesses: You can also use this to step out of your comfort zone. In my case, it was public speaking. I was scared to death of public speaking, but I knew this was a barrier I had to overcome if I wanted to succeed so I used this as an opportunity to improve on my public speaking skills. If I ever get second chance at this, I am definitely going to try work on my selling skills (I would have said dating but I don’t think that there are student organizations that permit you to do that yet).
  • The network and the relationships: If you don’t already know this: Who you know > what you know. Most of the people still get hired the informal way (that is through referrals from people who know the person) and that is why networking and forging relationships is such a big deal; Big enough that there are coaches who have made this into a career. A lot of my friends in college got their first jobs through those relationships that they forged in these student organizations.
  • Chances of getting an internship or a job increases: My only internship in college was due to the student organization I was a part of. My first job out of college was with a company that was owned by my friends dad. A friend who was a part of the same student organization in UGA that I was a part of at Georgia State University.
  • You get to try different things: You can be a part of the marketing team one semester and the recruiting team in the next. There really is no limit to what you can try if you are willing to jump in. In doing so, you might even end up discovering something you are naturally good at but never knew about it.

Lastly, don’t forget to have fun! Some of my best learnings and fun experiences came from participating in, organizing and volunteering in student organization activities. Consider this as your laboratory: Experiment, Learn, Fail, Build and Repeat.

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Soul Selfie: A millennial’s chronicle of his lessons learned

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

~Benjamin Franklin

Last year, I celebrated my 25th birthday and with this New Year as I reflect back, this is the one quote that holds true. I can spend hours reading, watching videos or listening to motivational speakers but it is by doing that I learn best.

This post is Part one of two part post where I will be sharing my learnings during the first two years of my corporate life. These learnings are based solely on my experiences and what holds true for me might not be the same for you.

I would also like to point out that being aware of your learnings is just 10% of your growth. It’s what you do with them after that counts. I will be the first to admit that of the ones I mention, I have been able to fully incorporate only a few of them while still working on the others.

So without further ado, here are my first 5 lessons on how to approach work

  1. Pay attention to detail: this is one of the biggest ones. There have been multiple instances where I have had to spend more time, energy as well as emails trying to complete something just because I kept missing parts of it. This is still something I am trying to make a habit out of.
  2. No information better than wrong information: This one has a direct effect on your credibility and is an indication that you don’t know your stuff. Do this enough times and you could end up being fired.
  3. Process only matters when it is not working – Since starting at my current assignment, I have helped create some processes while improving others and in doing so, realized that nobody questions a process unless it breaks down or has a lot of pain points. This is also true for our personal lives.
  4. Come to the table with solutions – It is good to bring problem to the attention of senior managers but what’s even better is to have at least one solution that you can propose also
  5. When in doubt, ask – More often than not, whatever you are doing affects the work that other people around you or in your team are doing. This means that a wrong step by you can easily derail the work done by the other team members. I have a good feeling you would probably not want to be that guy/girl…
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Where is Elvis?

If I were to ask you that question, depending on your personality your response could be:

  1. Staring at me with an expression that says ‘What kind of question is that? Heaven…’
  2. “Let me check my pockets..”
  3. Throw up your hands in the air and say “leave me alone”

If you have been in America long enough, you have probably at least once while you were here, dragged yourself to a 50’s diner only to find a statue of Elvis lurking on the property.

ElvisPresley

In fact, Elvis never left the building!

Try as hard as I might, i wasn’t able to find the history behind this phenomenon and like any other normal human being, I would like to take this moment to put all the blame on Google. This blog post, which was supposed to be written right before the new years was delayed because google refused to give me any answers.

Zero.

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Zilch.

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Nada.

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Since there is nothing on google, I have taken the liberty to make my own reasons…

  1. Medusa is real and Elvis, being the hero he is decided to take on Medusa.
  2. Elvis was naïve enough to ask from god, the ability to be at multiple places at once…
  3. Irate fans who are having trouble letting go of the fact that they could come nowhere close to Elvis in his lifetime decided to take their revenge
  4. These statues are enslaved Elvis impersonators whom god is punishing for plagiarizing…
  5. Elvis was big back in the 50’s, so were the diners…
  6. This is Elvis suffering for his sins
  7. He has all this money and nothing better to do with it
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A Wave of Hair and Eggs

The (Mexican) wave

I recently saw Manchester United take on LA Galaxy in Pasadena and having brought tickets for the game, I got to relive and participate in the Mexican wave. If you watch or attend games, you are familiar with what it is. For those of you who have no idea, here is a YouTube clip of the biggest wave ever recorded

During the game I heard the person behind me tell his friend that it’s actually called the Mexican wave because it was invented in Mexico. Only, the Americans like to call it a Wave. That didn’t come as a surprise considering America likes doing things differently (Soccer instead of Football, Not using the Metric System) just because they are America.

The origins/discovery of the wave is highly disputed and cannot be pointed to a single person. It is known as Mexican wave to the rest of the world because the rest of the world first got exposed to it during the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico.

What’s in the hair?

A lot to begin with, depending on who you ask how you ask. Never and let me emphasize this NEVER ask a woman if she is having a bad hair day directly. Especially if she is trying out something new with her hair. I figured that out this past Wednesday…the hard way!

For the latter half of that day, it felt like I was transported into the ‘Peter’ from the movie ‘Office Space.’

If only they gave out memos regarding this. This whole episode was in Mr. Neil Armstrong’s own words, ‘One step for me but one giant leap for my character’ or to put it simply, let’s just say that I climbed a step towards becoming a ‘Gentle’ man.

The hen that lays the golden eggs

Whenever I am buying eggs, I have a hard time deciding whether to buy brown eggs or the white ones. Just by virtue of being brown, you would think it should be easy but then you look at the price…

So I decided to ask my best friend (aka ‘Google’) about the difference between the two. Before I tell you, I want you to take a guess….

….

….

….

….

….

….

And the answer is:

Brown eggs are brown. White eggs are white.

Don’t worry, I am as surprised as you are. Classic example of over thinking something, although you might not be alone. The general belief is that because brown eggs are higher priced, they are healthier.

Waiting for the day when people start believing that red hens taste better or are healthier than white ones…

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Of Columbus and Potato Salads…

It’s been a while, wordpress!

You can blame it on the 2014 Soccer World Cup which had more drama than the Indian saas-bahu soaps (do they even exist these days?) this time around! But I have not been sitting idle! I learned plenty of new things during the last month, some of which I am going to blurb on…

Columbusing

Christopher Columbus didn’t just discover America but rather through the discovery, created a phenomena which is now known as ‘Columbusing’

Columbusing is discovering something that has existed long before you were aware of it. Miley Cyrus columbused twerking. I columbused ‘Columbusing.’

A term originally coined by College Humor that did a funny skit (columbusing’ which went viral! Also, the word hasn’t made its way to the Merriam Webster’s online dictionary but you can surely find it all over the internet.

Most Expensive Potato Salad!

Well not really. But it surely was the most ridiculous kickstarter campaign that I have ever come across. After this, Zach Danger Brown is going down in the Kickstarter Hall of Fame as the best salesman ever period.

This is what I learned from the potato salad guy…

  1. Never judge a book by its cover: Zach Danger Brown, a name that suits a gang member more than a potato salad maker but if only potato salads could kill…
  2. Ridiculous? What’s that? – Never discard an idea without giving it a try. Just by the sound of it, the idea to use Kickstarter to raise just 10$ for a potato salad is as ridiculous as it gets but that didn’t stop Zach Brown from doing it.
  3. The 3H Principle: Honesty, Humor and Humbleness – Zach not only does a really good job of being honest (“We’re really tearing through these stretch goals. I honestly don’t know what is realistic anymore”) and humble (“It’s my first potato salad so it might not be very good”)in his campaign but he also uses Humor brilliantly to engage his audience.
  4. 2 words: Constant Communication. I have been following this campaign since I first heard about it and the creator of the campaign has been posting updates on his campaign as well as participating in other media platforms to answer questions and give updates regarding his plans with the funds he has raised.
  5. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication: I am already aware of this one but just wanted to point it out. Keeping it simple and to the point helps raise 50,000$ when you only asked for 10.

Why 9-1-1?

To understand why, you will have to first picture the old school landline telephones that had dials in the center to dial the numbers.

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This was what I played telephone-telephone with as a kid when I visited my grandparents (those were the days…).

For starters, I am not quite convinced with the reason: ‘It was easy to dial’ when you consider the fact that 1 is on the other end of the spectrum and you had to roll it down all the way to the bottom (not once but twice!), therefore not the quickest and the easiest number to dial. Why not 9-9-8? Or 9-9-9?

Digging further, apparently 9-1-1 was the best fit for all parties/stakeholders involved: It was easily recognizable and at that time had never been used as an office code, area code or service code.

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Five novelties from last week

Doing a post everyday was becoming challenging, so I decided to take a new approach and write a short summary of different things I learnt about over the week. Here is what I stumbled upon over this past week:

  1. dis·com·bob·u·late

A mouthful of a word. Not sure if I would ever use it, except it might be useful when I am arguing with someone to confuse them for the word itself means ‘to upset and confuse’. What better place to use it than in an argument eh?

  1. 52 countries and counting?

Probably the best thing I came across this week. I love to travel and I was totally unaware that as an Indian citizen, there are actually countries that I could visit without worry about getting a visa! Thanks to this infographic, which led me to a quest for the list of the 52 countries. It might not be an impressive list, but there are some really cool places we can go to as Indians without requiring a pre-issued visa. If you are ever interested and want to know which countries you can visit visa-free, search for ‘visamapper’, a website that lets you see a visual of where you do and don’t need a visa. I am hoping this list not just grows but grows rapidly,

VisaMapper

  1. Estonian E-citizenship

Here is why I am hopeful about the list above growing rapidly: Taavi Kafka, the man behind e-citizenship idea. Talk about transcending boundaries. What this man and the Estonian government is about to do is so radical that it turns the idea of nations as a physical space on its head. On a side note, I had no idea nations had CIO’s (more research needed on this). No pun intended but this idea knows no boundaries and might usher us into a new era if successfully pulled off by Estonia. Talk about technology making the world a smaller place!

  1. White Toilet Paper

As I was trying to stock up on toilet paper, I couldn’t help but notice that they are all white. Which, surprisingly enough I had never noticed before this past week. Off all colors why white? So that you can vividly see what you produced? Ugghh! So I decided to do some ‘dunging’

Everything has a reason behind it and so does this. It wasn’t very hard to find out why ‘White’ is the preferred color. I know this has probably created a flurry many more questions and doubts in your mind so I am just going to redirect you to this self-proclaimed ultimate guide on toilet paper. You possibly couldn’t have anything more interesting to do than this….

  1. American Flag History

FunWithFlags

With this weekend being Independence Day weekend for Americans all around the world, it was almost impossible to avoid coming across all things American. Having lived in this country for a few years now, it was only fair that I knew some of its history and what better way than to start with the history of its flag. Plus, now I can actually wear a pair of shorts with the American flag on it and not feel guilty about it.

America! Fuck Yeah!!

 

P.S. Yes, I know what novelty means. English can be a funny language sometimes…

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