As international students, our first year at Northwestern was like a tart filled with multiple flavors. As much as we cherished the sweet, there was bitterness as well. Having survived the inclement weather in Evanston, the taxing quarter system and perplexing social life, we want to offer incoming international Wildcats a breakdown of some of the ingredients.
Northwestern frequently prides itself on campus diversity and global perspective, but let’s be honest: the struggles faced by international students are real. One aspect we wish we had acknowledged beforehand was the rigorous academic atmosphere, featuring the “flash” quarter system. A lot of our American peers also found this difficult, yet the challenge seemed to double when we found ourselves acquiring the knowledge, the language, the culture all at once. This structure made the exams feel like quizzes and quizzes feel like lectures, but staying proactive and ahead of the schedule is the key to handle the pace. Yet we realized NU quarter system truly allowed us to widen our horizons, to try out a variety of fields that the schools in our countries would not offer over the course of a year.
In fact, we could have done better at selecting our classes for each quarter so that we didn’t end up dropping quite a few. The process would have involved more thorough research using CTECs or counseling with our academic advisors. We never had to pick among so many courses, as the curriculum is usually fixed back home; and frankly, it was overwhelming. We wish we had funneled more time and effort into our “class shopping cart,” simply by asking the upperclassmen or posting in our group chat for recommendations. Don’t shy away, because at the end of the day everyone would so love to help.
Another bump in the road must have been the cost of materials. It’s shocking to find out how much textbooks and other school supplies could add up in the U.S, since those back home are always incredibly cheap. This is where the Interlibrary loan jumps in. Thanks to numerous libraries and institutions Northwestern partners with, we were able to get the materials for most of the classes for free. We heard about Interlibrary service from an email the school sent out during the summer, so we do suggest keeping up with your mailbox.
In addition to nostalgia and language barriers about which have been so thoroughly discussed, another challenge we had spent so much time coping with is the division within the international community itself. While some students try to fit in the quintessential American narrative by devaluing their cultures, there are also students who close their friend groups and interact only with those from the same country.
Our advice to this dilemma is to find a balance between blending into the new society and preserving your cultural roots. Instead of judging you for owning a distinct culture, most of your fellow freshmen are eager to learn about the history and traditions of another country. Similarly, you have the inalienable right to go wild and socialize with other Wildcats if you are in a party mood on Friday night. Just let yourself be challenged by diverse experiences and trust us, you will grow and thrive.
A series of changes to visa policy has made 2018 a bittersweet year for students hoping to stay in the US after graduation: while the Trump administration tightened legal immigration, Economics was now classified as a STEM major for NU students. The uncertainty regarding employment prospects highlights the importance for international students to better utilize resources offered by NU, including career counseling and internship programs.
Consequently, we strongly recommend international students to talk to your academic advisor or Northwestern Career Advancement counselors and to draft a preliminary schedule that satisfies both your major requirement and leaves some wiggle room for internship and job searching. In addition, NU also provides an array of networking opportunities, such as the Northwestern Externship Program (NEXT), for students who want to explore a professional field by working alongside NU alums.
After all, there’s nothing we love more than a flavorful tart, and we hope you will too. Go Cats!
Email: [email protected]
Email: [email protected]
Read more from the 2018 Orientation Issue here.