From Known to Unknown

I was really amazed by all the papers you need fill out just to graduate in the United States. Back in my country it is as simple as can be.

To say a bit about educational system in Russia, it is way different than here. First of all, all of our classes are mandatory. We could not arrange our schedule, or choose to take class in one semester or in another. Our schedule is made by our department and you must attend every class.

Secondly, you can attend classes from different departments (if you have time in your schedule), but you will not get any credits for that. Basically, you only do it out of personal interest.

What’s more, we have two examination periods at the end of the semester. For the first one, you pass exams for classes that are not so important for your major at the end of December (fall semester). Your second exam period is throughout January; you can have 1-6 classes for this exam and they are really important for your major.

If you do not pass the exam, you have three more strikes. If you do not pass the exam after these times, you will be expelled.

Moreover, at the end of university (it does not matter if it is undergrad or grad school) you have both final exams (comprehensive, which you could not choose) and writing a thesis.

So, for example, my major in undergrad was environmental studies. I had four classes every day, six days a week throughout the entire four years. In the end, I had two comprehensive exams: language and all the ecology we studied during these four years.

Here, the situation is totally different. I could not say if I like this system more or less, but it absolutely has its pros and cons. I like the ability to arrange your own schedule — especially, if you are working — but I do not like how, in some cases, you have to choose one out of two or even three classes, because all of them are held at the same time.

However one problem I faced was all the documentation you have to fill out, apply, pay and so on just for graduation. Firstly, why would you make it so complicated? Also, nobody even explains to you what to do and how to do it, unless you have good graduate advisor. Secondly, where does the money I pay for graduation go? Why do I pay for finishing the university, if I already had to pay for being in it?

But my favorite is the whole process of applying to write a thesis. I chose a thesis, because I always struggled in exams and I wanted to do some real research. Yet during the whole paper process, as I was running here and there trying to get papers signed, it almost made me change my mind. It seemed like applying for a thesis is a more complicated process than writing it.

I did not know that I needed to complete all this paperwork, so I barely had two weeks to apply without being late. My chair told me that I should go to Graduate Affairs to find out what I needed. When I got the paper to fill out, I had to find three members of committee for it; two from my department and one outside of school. This was not hard to find in my department, because we do not have so many professors, and the third one, thanks to connections, I also found successfully.

However, I had to get a letter from Human Research to say that I did not use any data collected by other person. The website they sent me to was not working (it still isn’t). I wrote them an email about this issue, but I did not get any reply.

On Jan. 30, I went to Graduate Affairs to ask my next step, because I could not reach Human Research. They told me, fortunately, that I did not need a letter from them, but I was already late scheduling. I needed to fill out the petition for this and enclose letters from me and my chair with the explanation of why I should get this class.

During these two weeks of running here and there, I got two emotional breakdowns, just because it was too complicated and nobody could just tell me what I really needed to do from the beginning. I was just getting bits and pieces of information here and there.

It was really hard time, but I finally got this class in my schedule.

So here’s my advice to international students: If you want to do something different academically and are nervous about it, take some time a month beforehand to find out what you really need.

With love,


Anastasia Mysina is an international student from Russia. She is a city planning graduate student at SDSU.

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