For seniors graduating in May, our path to graduation is converging into a new road of uncertainty.
Fear. Reminiscence. Excitement. These are all emotions many of us are experiencing as we write the final words within the college chapter of our lives.
For international students, the four years we spend in the U.S. and San Diego can bring an abundance of opportunities. The key however, is whether or not we take advantage of the opportunities. To gain work experience, there’s fear and uncertainty as to how we navigate the work authorization process. To make new friends, there’s alarm in stepping out of our cultural bubble. To participate in class, there’s discouragement in wondering how people will interpret our accents or any element of our foreignness.
While I harbor some regrets about college, I feel that I am now both culturally and academically very different from the star-struck, nervous and eager freshman I was.
For students on the beginning of their path to graduation, here are five pieces of advice I’ve learned from my time at SDSU:
1. Embrace your Independence
The turning point of my time in college was when it dawned on me that no one but myself was in charge of my career, social life, and overall happiness. I strolled along the first two years of college having changed my major, relied on an allowance and mindlessly passed my classes with B’s. While I can attribute this to simply growing up, I began to realize that time and money were finite resources. With time ticking, I found that I was running out of time to improve my GPA and that I needed to work and earn my own wages as a growing adult.
By my junior year, however, I luckily worked a part-time job related to my major, grew increasingly financially independent and spent days and nights diligently at my studies. I also got a public library card, picked up books of my personal interest and read voraciously. I loved it.
Instead of looking at school and work as laborious tasks to be done out of necessity, I now saw them as opportunities to grow my individuality. That made all the difference. If you want to make the most out of college, you should embrace its incredible uniqueness.
It is a time in your life dedicated solely to individual and personal growth — if you choose to make it so.
2. Get Work Experience
I often attribute my work experiences as a game-changer in my maturity in college. Not only did working teach me how to act as a professional, it taught me responsibility. Looking to stay up late at a party? Work starts at 8 a.m. Want to buy yourself new Nikes? Allowance is running short.
Getting work experience is scary at first. Explaining to your employer what the work authorization process is daunting itself. But it’s worth it. And if you are looking to stay in the United States beyond graduation, getting major-related work experience not only strengthens your resume and job application, but it teaches you how to build and grow your network — a crucial aspect in career success.
While my past two work experiences in the public and private sector have been nothing short of phenomenal, I experienced more than a handful of rejections to get to where I am. During my sophomore year, I had three in-person interviews and three rejections in a span of two weeks. In retrospect, I’m very grateful for the experience. It taught me that nothing is given and that getting a good job requires research, practice and valiant effort.
If you are looking to graduate with confidence in your ability to adapt in a new environment and excel in the workforce, getting work experience in college is vital.
3. Study Abroad
I first thought that the study abroad requirement for my major did not make sense. Why am I required to study abroad if I’m already studying abroad? I was frustrated with the costs and didn’t want to travel again.
I was wrong.
I enrolled in a two-week, faculty-led Criminal Justice program and spent two weeks during the summer of 2018 in China. I made some life-long friends, ate fried rice on plastic stools, scurried through the luminous streets of Shanghai, labored the steps of the thousand-year-old Great Wall in Beijing and studied in the gorgeous city of Xiamen. Even as we are studying abroad in the U.S., the options the world has to offer are too great to decline.
I learned that cultural self-exploration is a never-ending process. And rarely do we gain opportunities to study abroad in countries across the world beyond college.
4. Immerse Yourself in your Passion
Throughout out high school and up to my junior year at SDSU, I never considered myself an avid reader, much less a writer.
During the fall 2018 semester, I came across the SDSU International Student Essay writing contest with the theme, “In My Shoes.” I decided to enter the online contest. I wrote about my experiences growing up as a Filipino in Taiwan, my college transition in the U.S., and the identity crises that I stumbled upon along the way.
I was recognized for my essay and fell in love with the practice of putting words onto paper.
I became an avid reader, devoured books during breaks and, thanks to an Asian Studies class essay, my professor recommended that my article to be published in a newspaper. I now have my own column at a local San Diego newspaper, where I get to write about social and cultural issues close to my heart.
If you don’t where your passions lay, be open-minded. Enroll in an interesting class. Join a contest. Seize opportunities.
Once you find out; nurture it, own it, and let the world know of your voice. It’s what makes you unique.
5. Get Involved in the Community
Whether it is joining student organizations, fraternities, sororities or a local book club, gaining a sense of community can greatly enhance your college experience.
In my case, I joined a student organization on campus and eventually took on leadership opportunities. I learned how to manage a chapter of an international nonprofit organization, gained a sense of family in San Diego and grew exponentially as a person. I soon realized however, that something else was lacking — a community within my cultural heritage. With perseverance, I now contribute to my homeland through my current job and get to attend community and political events throughout San Diego.
Gaining a sense of community takes effort. Overcoming the nervousness of stepping into rooms filled with strangers is nerve-wracking but always worthwhile in the long run.
If you want to make a community your home, make the effort to show people why you belong.
Own Your Experience
To conclude, the four years you spend in a new environment flies by with a blink of an eye. For international students especially, having the will and courage to adapt and excel in college is incumbent upon small decisions that prove to be largely consequential through time. Say yes more. Don’t give up. Own your college experience.
Sooner or later, you’ll find that nervousness turn into confidence, hesitance turns into assertiveness and failure turns into success.
All because you chose to make this journey thousands of miles into the unknown one worth sharing.
Marjon Saulon is a fourth-year comparative international studies major. He is originally from the Philippines and spent 12 years in Taiwan prior to his arrival at SDSU.