International Student – Interview

Hello everyone! For today’s post I decided to interview my friend and classmate, Sara Alkayali Alalam. Sara was an international student who grew up in Saudi Arabia and now works in technology consulting. I hope her perspective provides information as well as inspiration to any of you that are either looking to pursue your Master’s degree in the US or are looking for job opportunities as an international student!

1. When did you move to the US and from where?

I moved to the United States in August 2014 after completing a Bachelors in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.

2. Why did you pick UT and your specific Master’s degree?

I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering, specifically Construction Engineering and Project Management, in the University of Texas at Austin (UT) primarily because I believed that graduating from a top school would open up opportunities for me and will be essential for my future plans, and I was right. When I was in the program, I applied for the Impact KAEC Challenge in Saudi Arabia, and had the opportunity to visit KAEC (the King Abdullah Economic City) and present at CityQuest’14 (where Dirk Ahlborn, Hyperloop Technologies CEO, presented as well!). After graduating from UT, I started working for a great company (more on that later). The UT Civil Engineering Master’s program also allowed a level of flexibility in course choices, so I was able to tailor my classes to fit my interests. For example, I was able to take a few operations research classes as well.

3. What challenges did you face while settling into the American lifestyle when you first moved here?

Everything closes so early here! In the Middle East, it is perfectly fine to start dinner at 10pm. However, to my surprise, the first week I came to the United States, I found out most restaurants close around 10pm. I had to sleep on empty stomach several times. With time, I adjusted my eating schedule (I now have dinner at 7pm), and I found out what restaurants are open late. Time in general was a difficulty, there is a 7 to 9 hour difference between Austin, Texas and where my family and friends live in the Middle East, which was hard to navigate at first. After a few weeks, I figured out the best times to call home (early in the morning or late at night).

4. What made you want to live in the US after graduation?

The United States offers many opportunities, professionally and academically, for people who work hard, and that is the type of culture I wanted to grow my career in. Unfortunately, in the Middle East, it is still difficult (though not impossible) for women to pursue high-powered careers.

5. Where do you work and do you enjoy it? Does it relate to your Master’s degree?

I currently work as a Business Technology Analyst for Deloitte Consulting LLP in Austin, Texas. I love my job! Although my day to day activities do not relate directly to my Master’s degree, my Master’s degree provided me with the analytical, problem solving, and organizational skills I need for my consulting position. In addition, since I work in technology consulting, rather than consulting in general, being an engineer has helped me navigate the technical aspects of my job.

6. What advice do you have for women across the world that are hoping to pursue their Master’s degree in the US?

a. Look into whether the program you are applying to is course work intensive or research intensive, or if there are several options (examples: MS vs. ME) before applying, and pick the program that fits you and your goals.
b. Contact students who are currently in the program before accepting the offer. You would be surprised at the amount of insight they will give you. As an added bonus, you can make a friend before you move to the new city and ask about other things like housing.
c. If you already know what company or industry you want to work in, try to attend a university close to or in an area where that company or industry is thriving. It is often easier to find jobs when you are in the same area.

7. What advice do you have for international students that want to find jobs in the US?

a. If you plan on approaching a company in a career fair, do your research – sometimes, it is better not to go to the booth at all than to go unprepared.
b. If there is an info session for a company you are interested in, arrive early and chat with the presenters. They are more likely to remember you that way than if you join the endless line of people with questions at the end of the info session.
c. Connections are a great way to find opportunities. That’s why it is a good idea to do your masters in a place where you have access to industry. If you meet someone from a company you are interested in working for, invite them for coffee!
d. Start applying for jobs one semester before you graduate. i.e. if you graduate in May, start your job search in September. Many careers, consulting for example, have early recruiting cycles, and you may miss out on opportunities if you start your job search the semester you are graduating.

8. What are your future plans?

I will (hopefully) start pursuing a PhD in Civil Engineering next Fall. I had just finished completing my applications before the New Year, and I am waiting for answers. I hope to eventually become a professor at a top tier university!

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Plan Ahead for the Spring Semester

Hi everyone! Happy holidays!

If you’re an international student, this is probably the month that you travel back home for some much needed R&R. While I encourage you to spend this time with family and friends, here are a few things to think about before the start of the Spring semester to help you be more productive once you’re back:

  • Plan Your Classes: This is a no-brainer, but be as proactive as you can about planning what classes you want to take during the Spring and ask former students for advice on whether those classes are appropriate for your career path
  • Establish Your Minor: If you’re a new international student and you’ve successfully completed one semester at grad school, you probably have a much better idea about your interests now as opposed to when you first signed up for classes in the Fall. Use this experience to branch out and take classes outside your major area of study if possible. For eg: I was in the construction & project management program but I took a couple classes from the MBA & BBA programs that added value to my areas of interest
  • It’s Never Too Late to Find Funding: If you weren’t lucky finding a teaching / research assistantship during your first semester, stay proactive, positive and alert – email the network you build during your first semester and show them your interest in seeking funding opportunities for the Spring
  • Get Involved: The first semester as an international student can be tricky in terms of finding your bearings, managing classes and cultural differences. But now that you’ve had some time to straighten things out on that front, get involved with organizations within your University – be it sports, cultural, educational, GradSWE, etc. Not only does it add bonus points to your resume, but in my experience, building leadership skills in a new country will also build self-confidence and help you perform better during interviews
  • Lessons Learned Checklist: This is something I wish I’d kept track of, but make a note of all the things you wish you’d done differently during your first semester (if you’d known better – which you do now!) – and actively CHANGE once Spring rolls around!

Have a wonderful holiday season and a successful Spring semester! Feel free to email the GradSWE international team at gradsweinternational@gmail.com with any questions you might have 🙂

– Akshaya

Ten Tips to Prep for Your First Career Fair in America

Hello international students (and others!). If you moved to the US for Fall 2017, I hope your transition was easy and you’ve settled into the American university lifestyle well. Feel free to reach out to the international team with any questions by emailing gradsweinternational@gmail.com.

Today’s post is going to cover a topic that might be a bit too late for some of you but could still help you for the Spring career fair. So here are the top ten tips to help you prepare for your first career fair in America:

  • Refresh your resume to include the most relevant information to the job you’re applying for
  • Know your resume inside out, down to the details such as names of managers on previous jobs
  • Print multiple copies of your resume on good quality paper and have it ready to hand out when you’re at a stall
  • Prepare a short 1-2 minute introduction that tells the employer who you are, what skills you have, and why you’re interested in the position
  • Scout for employers that sponsor international students if you’re on an F1 visa looking to apply for an H1B. Do not waste time standing in long lines of employers that are not interested in hiring internationals
  • If you have work experience, refer to it as international project experience if you see fit as that could be a point that sets you apart from others
  • Have a notepad to make notes of the order in which you speak to employers and if there are any follow-up items specific to them
  • Take a business card from everyone you speak to and write a thank you email to them the same day
  • Make sure the folder you’re carrying around at the career fair looks clean and presentable
  • Dress in comfortable formal clothes and wear shoes that let you hustle in and out of stalls fast

 

GradSWE International Student Toolkit

Hi everyone! And welcome to all the international students that have made the move to the US this past week to start graduate school in Fall 2017 🙂 . This post is designed to help you gain some knowledge on crucial aspects of moving to America. If you have any questions or would like to receive advice on any of these topics, feel free to email me at gradsweinternational@gmail.com. Good luck!

  1. HOUSING
    • Proximity to campus is one of the most important factors while picking your new home, whether it be by walk or by public transport
    • Make use of realtors – many of them provide services that are free for students and they know great places near campus
    • Pick roommates wisely – nothing is more disrupting to your education than a hostile environment in your new home
    • If you need your personal space, choose to share an apartment but have your own room and bathroom
    • Choose an apartment that has a good amount of natural lighting – studying under artificial light can cause more strain to your eyes
  2. UNIVERSITY
    • Universities are huge and can be overwhelming to navigate, so make sure you mark important campus spots on Google Maps – library, places to eat, computer center, your classroom buildings, etc.
    • Research your university resources and make use of them – the international office, career center, free resume reviews, etc.
    • Reach out to your subject librarian, learn how to order books for inter library loans and how to access library resources using a remote login from home for papers, journals, etc.
    • Follow your university on Facebook and participate in events, both social and educational and start networking
    • Find your preferred on-campus study spots and save them for when you need some time to study alone
    • Go to every orientation you can despite how overwhelming and monotonous they may seem – they add value to your international learning experience
    • Get involved with graduate student organizations like SWE – even ones that are only within your university
  3. HEALTH AND WELLNESS
    • Use on-campus facilities such as your gym, yoga sessions, sports centers, etc.
    • Take care of your mental health – research your campus for free counseling resources
    • Do not hesitate to reach out for help if you’re stressed or overwhelmed
  4. BANKING
    • Open a bank account with your university’s recommended bank
    • International students don’t typically have a credit history in the US, so find a credit union that will give you a credit card even with no credit score
    • If you plan on staying in the US long term, it is important to start building your credit history as early as possible
    • Do not fall for fraudulent calls targeting international students claiming to be the IRS asking for your social security number
  5. GRADSWE RESOURCES

 

Top Ten Apps Every International Student Should Have

Hi everyone!

I’m so excited for the first official blog post from the GradSWE international team. As the International Graduate Team Lead, a position that was created this year, I strive to improve our international engagement efforts and to help international graduate students with their transition to a new country! As a former international grad student myself, I’ve experienced dealing with the social and cultural changes that are normal when transitioning to a new country.

I’d like each of my blog posts to be as beneficial as possible, targeting one topic each time. If you’re an international student that has either been in the US or is planning on moving here for grad school, feel free to email me at gradsweinternational@gmail.com with any topics you’d like to be covered, or any other questions you may have! For today’s post, I want to share the top ten smartphone applications you should download before moving to the US:

  1. Google Translate – if you’re not perfectly fluent in English, Google Translate can save you time when you’re in a tough spot in a foreign country.
  2. Google Maps – this one might be obvious but I wanted to include it because it’s so easy to lose your bearings in a new country!
  3. Google Drive – this post is not sponsored by Google I promise, but a Master’s degree without Google Drive is like going to an 8 AM class without coffee 😐
  4. Transit – I used this app to navigate the bus system, but definitely research for any other public transportation apps that might be more relevant to the city you’re moving to.
  5. Uber / Lyft – it might be tempting to save money and use public transport all the time, but when you’re out late at night, having a ride share app is key.
  6. University Specific App – research your University’s smartphone app as it could have useful information like campus events, campus maps, where to eat, etc.
  7. TasteBud – speaking of food, TasteBud offers great discounts on restaurants near campus.
  8. UberEats / Postmates / Favor – for those days when you have too much work and can’t cook a meal or go out to a restaurant, use these apps to get your food delivered to you. Don’t skip your meal – you need energy to work!
  9. Ibotta – if you’re big on saving money, this app is a good one that helps you with rebates on your grocery bills.
  10. Indeed – this is a great app to get a head start on your job / internship search.

A lot of these apps offer great discounts when you’re a first time user or you refer your friends, so keep that in mind and save those dollars! Good luck if you’re moving to a new country this Fall! You’ve got this girl 🙂

Akshaya