When she first came to the United States from Turkey, Asya was planning to stay for only six months. She wanted to improve her English quickly. Now, seven years later, Asya obtained a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from University of Arkansas.
Two years ago, Asya agreed to share with us her experience studying in the Rice University Intensive English program and how developing her English skills impacted her academic career.
(Interview first published in the Study in the USA website, “Student Experiences” section, on June 13, 2019.)
Why did you decide to study in the USA?
My first reason for wanting to come to the USA was to enhance my English skills. I was a Ph.D. student in Turkey, and my English skills were limited when it came to academic reading and writing. I firmly believed that English skills could open many doors in my career. I enrolled in an English program in Turkey, but then I realized that my speaking and listening skills were developing very slowly compared to my grammar skills. Therefore, I decided to go abroad to advance my language skills. At the time, I had friends who were studying in England, Malta, and the USA. After talking to them and doing extensive web research, I decided to come to the USA. First, the USA offers a variety of language schools, so I could choose the option that best fit my budget. Second, in my eyes, the USA is one of the best places to gain comprehensive multidisciplinary academic experience.
How did you choose your intensive English program?
One of my close friends, who was living in Houston, helped me explore language schools in the Houston area. The ESL Program at Rice University was one of the most recommended language schools in the USA. After considering its education quality and previous students’ experience, I decided to enroll in the ESL program at Rice University.
What do you like best about studying here?
The education system here helps you to develop a more in-depth understanding of a subject, and it encourages you to link your prior knowledge to new information. Also, it allows you to create innovative ideas and provide opportunities for collaborative research. Additionally, most of the academic resources are readily available, which helped me a lot in achieving my goals.
What do you miss most about home?
I miss spending time with my family and friends. Also, I miss the food, a lot!
How long have you been studying here? How has your English improved? How has this program helped you to handle future study at a U.S. university?
I have been studying in graduate school for six and a half years. My English skills have improved dramatically, because I have been a teaching assistant for the past six years, and I have taken courses, written papers, and trained a lot of undergraduate and graduate students in research.
I was fortunate that I had outstanding instructors in the Rice University ESL program who encouraged, prepared, and guided me in the U.S. university system. They trained me on email etiquette, resume building, interview preparation, and many other vital aspects of professional life. Additionally, my instructors in the ESL program provided very detailed and constructive feedback on my essays, and this has helped me incredibly to write better academic papers in the university.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
It was a little surprising to see how personal relationships are more distant, compared to how they are in my country. When it comes to the education system, classes are more interactive and student-oriented in the U.S.
… your biggest disappointment?
I think the expensive health care system was one of my biggest disappointments.
How have you handled:
… language differences?
I would say with patience, self-encouragement, and practice. My listening and speaking skills were minimal when I first came to the USA. Then, I made friends and encouraged myself to talk with them even though it was very challenging to express myself. Besides, listening to news and watching TV series have speeded up my learning curve.
I sought out teaching assistantship positions since the department or advisor pays your tuition once you have a TA position. This helps you to save thousands of dollars per semester. Additionally, you can stay at an affordable apartment and may consider having a roommate. To further reduce your expenses, you can shop at low-cost grocery stores.
You may need to purchase a car since public transportation in most U.S. cities is not well developed. The good news is that used cars are much more affordable here than they are in our country. It is also important to note that gas prices are very reasonable.
The health care system in the U.S. is costly. In addition, dental and vision insurance are not provided by most companies or institutions insurance plan. Even if you have health insurance, you may still need to pay a significant part of the cost.
… adjusting to a different educational system?
It wasn’t difficult to adjust to the U.S. educational system for me. In the U.S., students are more involved in class discussions, and they also contribute more in class by making presentations and asking questions. In brief, I would say the education system in the U.S. is more student-oriented, and it has helped me a lot in my personal growth.
What are your activities (clubs, sports, student associations, travel, homestay programs, special activities or trips sponsored by your Intensive English Program)?
I like hiking, biking, and canoeing. I try to exercise regularly. Also, going to music festivals is one of my favorite activities.
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
It is very easy to make friends in the USA, especially in the university environment, since universities provide many activities that encourage students to form friendships.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
Improving my self-confidence, gaining critical thinking skills, and becoming a more open-minded person have been my personal life goals.
Experiencing the U.S. education system has allowed me to learn about different cultures from all over the world. Seeing people freely present their thoughts regardless of their age, race, and sex encouraged me to express myself more freely than before. I also become more aware of the importance of critical thinking.
I would say my country needs more entrepreneurs and an environment that better encourages entrepreneurial activities. Students in U.S. universities are more motivated to become entrepreneurs, since there are numerous entrepreneurial programs provided related to their field of study. As a result, these activities help the U.S. economy to grow steadily.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering studying English in the USA?
I recommend they do extensive research about the city and the program they plan to go to. The living cost, the quality of the program, and transportation availability should be evaluated in detail while choosing the language school. There are numerous resources available on the internet. I also recommend them to use any opportunities to meet and talk with native speakers. Besides, when students don’t catch what is said the first time, they should not hesitate to ask people to repeat themselves. Every country has its own distinct culture, and I suggest students respect all of them.