Tag: International Students

Guide to Resources for Incoming International Students

Heller’s commitment to our international students makes up a core part of our commitment to equity, inclusion and diversity, which recognizes a broad definition of diversity reflective of differences that include, but are not limited to, age, race, ethnicity, language, nationality, visa status, culture, economic status and background, gender and gender expression, sexual orientation and identity, religion, political views, academic background and interests, abilities, learning styles and pace, physical appearance, and individual personality. International students make up more than a third of Heller’s student population, hailing from 39 countries from all over the world. Because of that, we provide several resources to help international students transition to their new academic and personal environment in the near future.  Below, I’ve outlined several resources that international students can consult to help make this adjustment go as smoothly as possible.

Brandeis’ International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO)

The ISSO is undoubtedly going to be your biggest resource for all questions related to your visa, maintaining your student status within the U.S., and working during or after your program. Listed below are some pages that you might find especially helpful at this stage:

Pre-Arrival Information

Entering the U.S. 

Graduate Student Orientation – included on this page are links to register for virtual events, like F-1/J-1 Immigration Session: Maintaining Status in the U.S. and Accessing Healthcare at Brandeis: What You Need to Know

Brandeis’ Intercultural Center

The Brandeis Intercultural Center serves as the umbrella office for 17 diverse student clubs and organizations, and provides a welcoming space for international students across campus. The center includes a resource room equipped with computers and printers, a small lending library of cultural books and videos, and a diverse array of cultural publications, as well as  a conference room, multipurpose room, comfortable lounges, a patio and kitchen facilities, which students can reserve. They also host a number of events each year that are open to all students.

The University Writing Center

The University Writing Center is a place to talk about your writing and to get an extra pair of eyes on your paper. They offer support for writers of all levels in all subjects, pairing students with other graduate students to offer help ranging from understanding the writing assignment and getting started writing to making edits and revisions on your writing.

ESL Support and Professional Writing Support

Students in Heller’s fall semester  Professional Writing course have access to tutors who can support them in both professional writing (structure/clarity/use of evidence/strength of argument) as well as ESL related issues such as basic grammar and vocabulary. If you have ESL challenges or concerns, you can meet with Student Services staff who can help you design and implement a plan to improve your written English, sharpen your listening skills and build vocabulary.

Brandeis’ Counseling Center

This is, I think, the most important resource I’ve listed here. In my previous job, I worked with many international students who struggled with the transition to living and learning in the U.S., and it was sometimes very damaging to their mental health. If you aren’t doing well mentally and emotionally, succeeding academically, maintaining your visa status, and accomplishing your goals becomes infinitely more difficult: there’s a saying in the U.S., “You can’t pour from an empty cup”, that really applies to these situations. I would really suggest that you make use of this resources early and often; counselors can help you work through any feelings of homesickness or stress that you may be dealing with to make sure that you are set up to succeed in your program.

 

I’m Admitted, Now What?: A Guide for International Students (Part II)

Now that we’ve gotten all of the logistical stuff out of the way in I’m Admitted, Now What?: A Guide for International Students, let’s talk about the experience of coming to the United States for graduate school. I’m not an international student myself, but I previously worked in an International Students and Scholar’s Office, so I’ve heard first hand some of the problems that international students run into and have some tips on how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls.

Plan for homesickness. This isn’t limited to international students, of course (a lot of your classmates will be moving to the area from other states or cities), but it can be especially difficult when you’re moving from another country. It’s totally normal and natural to occasionally feel lonely or uncomfortable while you make this transition, but there are definitely things that you can do to combat it. You’ll want to strike a balance between old and new; maintaining your connections to your friends and family back home, while also establishing new bonds with your classmates and faculty. To maintain those connections, I would suggest: bringing a lot of photos of friends and family to decorate your new home, find a local restaurant that serves your favorite food or drink from back home, set a recurring skype or zoom date with someone back home once a week, maintain some of your old habits (if you always went for a jog before work, or had a cup of tea once you came home, keep doing that!). To establish new bonds, participate in a mentorship program, join a club or study group, participate in cultural events in your new city, and open yourself up to new experiences.

Prepare for academic culture shock. Many students make the mistake of thinking that because they’re familiar with American popular culture, they won’t experience culture shock. But even if you’ve grown up watching Friends, there will probably likely be many moments during your new life where American culture will seem strange, and particularly norms surrounding American educational systems. Especially in graduate school classes, professors expect students to participate by asking questions and offering their own thoughts, and many of your classes may even be discussion-based, rather than lecture style. Another difficulty that many international students run into is unintentional plagiarism; it’s essential that students learn to quote and cite other sources honestly and accurately, in the way that their professors expect.  Academic work in the United States depends on making absolutely clear which ideas and language are your own, and which come from someone else; if the lines get blurred, the credibility of your work is undermined. Luckily, the library at your school most likely offers a workshop or resources for avoiding plagiarism; I would recommend looking into those as soon as possible.

Identify support systems. Speaking from someone in the admissions office, I can attest that the goal of everyone at your university is making sure that students succeed. That starts with admissions, making sure that incoming students have all the advice to make the right decision for them and have all the information they need to ensure their transition to campus is smooth. As a student, you’ll find that in addition to your professors, the Office of International Students, the library, the Health Center, and your program’s administrators are all eager to help you succeed. Don’t wait until you’re in over your head to reach out to ask for help: that’s what we’re here for! I can’t tell you how many times, as an international student advisor, I wished that a student had reached out for help even a week or two before. And remember, life happens and it can be messy. Though I certainly hope your journey is a smooth one, if a major life event happens to you while in school, please please please let the people around you know as soon as possible.

Remember that deciding to attend graduate school abroad is a big step, and will likely not be without its challenges. However, adopting the mindset that challenges are an opportunity for growth (rather than proof of inadequacy) will take you a long way. You likely have a clear reason for why you’ve chosen to make this major change, whether it’s to experience a new culture, broaden your career opportunities, achieve a new level of academic excellence: whatever your reason is, keep that in the front of your mind as you navigate through your new adventure.

I’m Admitted, Now What?: A Guide for International Students

Now that the final deadline for international students has passed for Heller’s master’s programs, I thought it would be a good time to resume the “I’m Admitted, Now What?” series with a post just for international students. If you haven’t read the previous posts in this series, I recommend reviewing these:

I’d also like to issue a quick disclaimer: this is meant as general advice and primarily focuses on F-1 students and their experiences. However, this should not be considered definitive or all-encompassing; visa regulations and travel guidance is subject to change, so for more information, make sure to check out Heller’s Visa Process page, Pre-Enrollment Checklist, or contact Brandeis’ International Student and Scholars Office.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s get started! Say you’re an international student who’s just been admitted… what should you do first (other than celebrate)? Consider this your checklist:

⬜  After you’ve accepted your offer of admission and paid your tuition deposit, you’ll gain access to your Visa Information and Declaration of Finances (VIDOF) Form in March. To complete your VIDOF form, you’ll need to submit a  clear picture current valid passport including photo, expiration date, name, and passport number, as well as proof of your ability to pay for one year of your program (tuition + fees + living expenses). Generally speaking, any proof for funds you’ll be contributing needs to be 1. dated within a year of your start date (so there needs to be a date on the bank statement), 2. include a specific amount of funds (in other words, saying “the account holder is in good standing” is not sufficient), and 3. funds need to be liquid at the time of your program start date (meaning that they need to be funds that are immediately available, so for example, a mortgage, funds that have a maturity date after your program start, etc. would not be acceptable). If you’d like to bring dependents under an F-2 visa, you’ll need their passport and proof of funds for them as well.  Make sure to follow the instructions on your VIDOF form carefully.

⬜  After you receive your I-20 or DS-2019, check to make sure that all of the information on the I-20 or DS-2019 is correct. You’ll use your SEVIS number to make your visa appointment; make sure you bring the same documents you used to apply for your I-20/DS-2019 to your visa appointment (and don’t forget your I-20 or DS-2019!). I recommend applying for your I-20/DS-2019 as soon as possible because visa appointments can fill up quickly! You can find a full guide to preparing for your visa interview on Brandeis’ ISSO website.

⬜ Make sure you’re up to date on relevant travel information or advisories well before your flight. You can find an updated list of travel proclamations related to COVID-19 that are currently in effect on Brandeis’ ISSO website.

⬜ When you enter the US, you’ll be issued an I-94 form that should read either “F-1 D/S” or “J-1 D/S” (depending on whether you’re an F-1 or J-1 student). Make sure you check your I-94 carefully to make sure it says one of those two, and that your notation on the I-94 matches your visa. If you notice a mistake on your Form I-94 (paper or electronic) or passport stamp, please try to request a correction while you are at the airport. If you do not notice the mistake until after you depart the airport, please bring it to the ISSO as soon as possible so that they can advise you on how to request a correction.

⬜  Find housing (see information in a previous post, linked above!). Brandeis does not provide housing for graduate students, so you’ll want to make sure you have a plan for where you’ll be staying prior to your arrival.

⬜ All new and returning international students in the United States are automatically enrolled in the Student Health Plan (SHP), but if you will be in the U.S. and have an insurance policy that meets the waiver requirements can waive the university SHP by contacting our general customer service (800-437-6448 or info@univhealthplans.com) to request the paper (PDF format) international student waiver form. If you have health insurance that meets these requirements, make sure you waive your coverage, but if you do not, no action is needed.

⬜  When you arrive, you will need cash in US currency or a credit or debit card to which you can charge expenses. You should aim to bring $200-$500 in US currency to cover expenses in the first few days of your stay here. Bring enough small bills ($1s, $5s, and $10s) so that you can buy any snacks/food or anything else that you may need upon arrival. You may also bring travelers’ checks, but keep in mind that they may not be accepted everywhere. Make sure to check with your credit card company and/or your bank to ensure that you will be able to use your card(s) here in the US upon arrival. You may want to open a US bank account once you arrive; there are a number of local banks around Brandeis where you can get help to open an account.

Again, this is just a primer on things to be thinking about as you prepare to make your big move to the US; for more information or clarification make sure you contact Brandeis’ International Student and Scholar’s Office!

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