International students make up nearly a quarter of Boston University’s student population. But there are plenty of things no one tells them when they arrive, like how to apply for a driver’s license (and navigate the motor vehicle registry) or how the city’s rental cycles work.
However, it’s not just the logistical aspects that are confusing: there are also cultural differences to manage, such as learning to write cover letters, attending office hours and shopping in American supermarkets.
The uncertainty of how to do all of this is what prompted three international graduate students at BU to write and publish the BU International Graduate Student Guide, an introduction to life at BU and beyond, for other international Masters and PhD students.
“Our experiences are different from those of undergraduates, and even professors, who go through different processes,” says Gizem Kaftan (GRS’24), who grew up in Turkey and is earning his doctorate in political science. “I thought it would be a good idea to create something more targeted for graduate students.”
Yuandi Tang (COM’23), a Chinese research master’s student in marketing communication, is behind the guide. Frequent questions from other international classmates and friends about navigating American college life made him realize the need for a comprehensive document on how everything works.
“BU departments and centers have brilliant resources for international students, but I think there is a gap between students and services and resources for them,” says Tang. “People don’t always know they exist, it’s like having a key, but not knowing where the door is.”
The third member of the triumvirate, Abel Aruan (STH’23), is an Indonesian student who is earning a master’s degree in theological studies.
The 41-page guide was released in August. The Google doc covers a range of practical questions, from what you need to know about electrical outlets to applying for a BU ID and tips for finding a job after graduation with employer sponsorship. It also includes information on where to shop in Boston, resources for booking travel and general safety tips, as well as warnings about scams targeting international students, among other topics.
Then there is the academic content. The co-authors list BU academic resources, explain classroom vocabulary, like “schedule” and “due date,” provide tips on course auditing and selection, and more. In the section for doctoral students, written by Kaftan, the guide covers topics such as applying for grants, attending national and international conferences, and finding childcare for students with children.
The co-authors wrote the content as chronologically as possible, wishing to create an informal checklist for incoming students. It was also essential to disseminate the information in a simple format: “Having a simple layout and language was very important for this,” explains Kaftan. “I have been learning English for 25 years, and I still find that the language for visa applications, rental contracts, etc. is convoluted. For the guide, we tried to condense all the information learned into simple sentences with very explanatory titles.
This makes the guide research-friendly, says Aruan. “It’s not a guide you need to sit down and read for three hours,” he says. Bookmark it, “and if there’s any information you need or want, you can come back to this document and type in your keywords.”
Several BU Centers and Colleges provided support and feedback for the guide. Staff members from the Education Resource Center (ERC) assisted with proofreading and fact-checking, the International Office for Students and Scholars and the College of Communication, among others, promoted the guide online, and a program director at the Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center initially helped connect Yuandi and Arun. The Global Programs, Office of the Dean of Students, Center for Career Development, Professional Development and Postgraduate Affairs, and ERC are also prepared to link to the guide on their websites.
Feedback from other students has been overwhelmingly positive, say the authors. “That’s exactly what I needed!” reads a comment on an Instagram post from COM promoting the guide.
This is precisely why they wrote the document, all three say.
“I’ve been through the struggles of being an international graduate student who doesn’t have a massive support system like some undergraduates have,” says Arun. “I felt that maybe [helping with this project] would bring relief to those who may be disoriented during these months at the start of the semester.
They also hope it will help foster a greater sense of community among BU’s international students.
“International students are often divided according to their nationality,” Yuandi explains, partly due to factors such as “language barriers and dietary preferences. Our guide can really help show [our peers] that we belong to the same international student community and that we have the same kinds of questions and the same resources at our disposal.
“And, there is a group of people beyond [their] nationalities to help them.
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