How To Network As An International Student

Happy Monday!

This post is meant to give you some tips on how to network with industry professionals and other students either at a conference, career fair or a social event. I was not very accustomed to doing this when I first moved to the US and I am most certainly not an expert at it now, but I’ve learned a few things over the past couple years:

  • Have a few brief lines about yourself prepared in advance so that you’re not fumbling when you first introduce yourself to someone. Being international already sets you up to be perceived as someone who may not be very fluent in *American* English, so do what you can to sound as prepared as possible.
  • If you’re a graduate researcher or have a significant student body position, it might be a good idea to get business cards printed to hand out at events. Leaving someone with a business card gives them the chance to look at your information in writing instead of second guessing your possibly very international name!
  • Speaking of names, if yours is extremely hard to pronounce outside of your native country, it might be a better option to come up with a clever acronym, or even an American version of your name (if you’re comfortable with it) so that recruiters spend less time trying to say your name and more focussing on your achievements. This also helps making new international friends easier.
  • Ask for clarification on a topic of discussion if what the other person said to you wasn’t clear (particularly because of their different accent). It is always better to reiterate than to pretend you understood them and not be able to respond appropriately.
  • Pay attention to what you say to someone from a culture that’s very different from your own. You might offend them without meaning to by simply not knowing what is considered offensive in their culture.
  • Try to steer away from controversial political matters unless it was the other person that brought it up. A lot of countries are less fortunate to have an unstable government and that could spark unwarranted conversations while networking.
  • Add the person you met on LinkedIn, Facebook or any other appropriate form of social network depending on the circumstances you met in. There is not point in networking if they aren’t eventually a part of your online network.
  • Smile! It is an internationally accepted symbol of friendship 🙂

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!

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 with any questions you might have 🙂

– Akshaya

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 Good luck!

    • 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
    • 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
    • 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
    • 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


3rd Global Grand Challenges Summit

Do you want to connect with international colleagues and tackle the world’s biggest engineering challenges? The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) is hosting a 2-day summit in Washington DC on the Grand Challenges in Engineering. Check it out!

Registration is now open for the 3rd Global Grand Challenges Summit, to be held July 18-20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Sponsored by the US National Academy of Engineering (NAE), the UK Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), and the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), the Summit will focus on the four themes of the NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering: Sustainability, Health, Security, and Joy of Living, as well as Education and Public Engagement related to the Grand Challenges.

We are expecting about 800 participants, evenly split between students and professionals. Free lodging is available for student attendees, and a travel allowance is available for students from US academic institutions (max 5 per institution). Based on past experience, US registration may close fairly early in order to preserve slots for overseas partners, so we urge you to register at your earliest convenience. For more information and to register please visit .

SWE Grad International: Liberia Edition

Greetings from Liberia!

Today’s blog post is about the international efforts of SWE and SWE members. Did you know that SWE has sixteen international affiliates? SWE’s international presence is growing every day. Here is a snapshot of where it stands.

SWE international by the numbers:
– 16 SWE international affiliates representing 10 countries
– 2 sister societies (in Japan and Korea)
– 2 annual international conferences (WeEurope and WeIndia)
– 8 SWE international champions

– 33% or 66% membership discounts based on country

– Free “Friend of SWE” membership for students outside of the United States.

As grad students, we have a unique perspective on SWE as a global society. Many of us regularly interact with peers who are from many different countries. As academics, we may go to conferences all around the world and collaborate with diverse people on research projects. As professionals, we may work on engineering teams with global remote employees. In either case, SWE is there for you.

As for me, SWE has broadened my view of the world. By being involved in SWE, I have been able to travel to Liberia in West Africa three times. In fact, I am here now!

I am in Liberia working with Africa’s future first SWE student affiliate – L-SWE. L-SWE started in 2013 the help of two graduate SWE members from the University of Michigan. The SWE at UM members introduced the idea of a global network of women engineers to the Liberian students and encouraged them to start their own student group. Three years later, L-SWE has over 40 members from three Liberian universities.

Last year, with the support of the SWE Professional Development Grant, 9 members of SWE at UM facilitated a two-week residential leadership camp for 30 female Liberian engineering students in Kakata, Liberia. The camp, L-SWE SUCCESS, covered academic, professional, and leadership development activities as well as engineering projects and student organization skills. It was a smashing SUCCESS!

Now, I am back in Liberia with a new team ready to facilitate a second camp. It started yesterday, Monday, 15 August 2016. You can learn more about last year’s activities and this year’s camp by following our social media.


Twitter: @GradSWEatUM
Instagram: @GradSWEatUM

Now, this is just my personal experience. SWE graduate student members are engaging with the global engineering community in many different ways.

How have you interacted with SWE globally? Please share in the comments below or email me at to be featured in a future blog post.

Until next time,
Elizabeth Dreyer
Grad Member Coordinator FY17

First Ever International Day of Women and Girls in Engineering


Today marks the first International Day of Women and Girls in Science!  Check out an article on the celebration here

“According to a study conducted in 14 countries, the probability for female students of graduating with a Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctor’s degree in science-related field are 18%, 8% and 2% respectively, while the percentages of male students are 37%, 18% and 6%. In light of this, the UN announced last year that the first ever International Day of Women and Girls in Science would take place on 11 February 2016, as an opportunity to celebrate women in the field, encourage others to become engaged with science and highlight issues women are facing.”