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Advice and Announcements for VSU Students

Being A Supportive Friend

by Rebecca Smith on July 1, 2014 in Being Positive, Break Ups, Friendship, Grief

When a friend is going through a break up or a hard time it can be hard to know what to say or do.  Most people mean well when they say certain things, but it can end up sounding more hurtful than helpful.  Here are a few statements that can really miss the mark:

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1.  “It’s for the best”

2.  “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone else”

3.  “Just try not to think about it”

4.  “He/she wasn’t good enough for you anyway”

5.  “Why would you want to stay with someone who did this to you?”

I know these sound good in theory, and most of them are probably true statements.  However, they don’t work because our emotions are stronger than our intellect during a breakup.  We know something in our head, but don’t feel it in our heart.  For example after watching a scary movie I KNOW there isn’t a serial killer in my shower, but I FEEL like there is because now I’m scared.  So, I pull back the shower curtain to double check.  My emotions win, not my mind.

The same thing happens during a break up.  Even if your friend KNOWS the breakup is for the best, they aren’t going to FEEL like it yet.  They still feel extremely hurt and upset.  It is hard for friends and family to watch someone they love be so sad.  Most people want to cheer someone up or just make them feel better.  The intentions are good, but only time will help your friend’s heart get on the same page with their brain.  Trust me, no one wants to get over this break up faster than your friend, but you can’t fast forward through time unfortunately.

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So what can you do when your friend is still in love with someone and has been hurt?  Sometimes you just have to let your friend feel sad.  Things don’t always have to be “alright”.  They mostly need you to listen and give them a hug.   Yes, they will need to talk about it, and most of the time they will feel guilty about needing to talk about it so much.  Processing their feelings will help them.  They also need to cry.  It can be hard to watch someone cry, but being there during that time to offer emotional support without giving any suggestions will be valuable to them beyond belief.   Your friend can’t be rational at this point.  Let them know it is okay for them to be sad and again, give them a hug.

It may be helpful to remind them that it is healthy to balance a break up by feeling sad for awhile and then trying to find a distraction to give the brain and heart a little break.   Encourage your friend to vent, and then try to distract them by going out and doing something fun.  People going through a hard time need both time to feel the reality of the situation and time to pretend they’re fine and that everything is okay.

Remember, your friend didn’t choose to go through this break up.  Most likely it was forced upon them.  They still see good qualities in this person, and for an undefined widow of time they will jump to take this person back.  It is easier for you to see how this person has hurt your friend and to hold on to that anger.  Your friend will be irrational about the negative and want to cling to the positive things they miss about their ex.  It is hard to listen to, but realize they will start to get better with time.  Like I said earlier, break ups take time to get over.  Try to be patient.  If you feel they need to talk to a counselor because they are having trouble moving on, then encourage them to go.  It does help a lot of people to talk to someone who is a neutral to the situation and a counselor will keep what is said confidential.

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The reality is that emotions can take a long time to heal and that is okay.  Also know that your friend can move forward and still feel sad at the same time.  They may start to move on and still feel “love” for their ex.  It is normal to go back and forth for awhile, like 3 steps forward, 2 steps back.  Eventually their pain will lessen and finally their brain will kick into gear all those things you’ve been thinking from the beginning.  And if you say those phrases above months after the break up, they may finally hit the mark.

Saying Goodbye

by Rebecca Smith on May 8, 2014 in Anxiety, Being Positive, Friendship, Loss

May brings about mixed feelings in a lot of people.  Most students are happy to be done with classes and finals or even happy to be finally graduating.  However, being done means you’ve completed one thing and you are moving onto the next.  Moving on means saying good-bye.  Some students are only saying good-bye for the summer.  Others may be saying good-bye forever.  Saying good-bye also makes this a very sad time of year.

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Transitions are hard.  College is constant transition.  It is hard to maintain relationships and friendships throughout the four years of college and beyond.  Sharing space, classes and experiences bring people together.  What happens when those things no longer exist?  Some relationships and friendships move on together but some pull apart.  The unknown can be scary.  Even with technology making it easier to stay in touch, it still can be hard to keep up with your friends once you are scattered again across the country.  Even if it is just for the summer.

Most of  us have a hard time saying good-bye.  A lot of people will start pulling away a few weeks or months earlier to make the actual separation time easier.  When that day comes they like to either sneak away or leave with a very quick good-bye.  They don’t like the emotions of good-byes and try to avoid them at all possible.  If you used to watch the Office you know that Steve Carell left the show before the last season.  His character, Michael Scott, was leaving his job to move to Colorado with his fiancee.  He told everyone in the office that he was leaving on a certain day, so everyone planned to say good-bye to him on that day.  However, he started to say good bye the day before he said he was leaving.  No one really knew this was their last chance to talk to him, so they didn’t make it a big deal.  Michael left the office at 4pm that day knowing he wasn’t coming back on his “final” day.  He sneaks away instead of letting everyone really say good-bye because it was just too hard to deal with all those sad emotions.

This may seem like a good way to handle things, but it doesn’t allow the other people to express their emotions.  Some people may feel like they don’t have any closure.  It may be easier on the one leaving, but it doesn’t make it easier on the person or people who are being left.

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Some people will cause a fight before they have to say good-bye.  They purposefully try to push the other person away believing it will make the separation easier.  This person may believe their friend or friends won’t stay in touch.  Rather than risk that rejection, they reject them first by causing a conflict.  This may cause the relationship or friendship to really end.  While maintaining a relationship or friendship long distance isn’t easy, it is possible.  It isn’t always necessary to end a relationship in order to deal with a separation.  If it is what both people want, that is fine.  However, if it is just one person making the decision, they risk losing great friendships to avoid possible future pain.

Some people become more clingy in the months or weeks leading up to a separation.  They want to spend every waking moment with the person or people before they leave.  They want to relive a lot of memories by talking about or doing things that they’ve done with their friends in the past.  When they do say good-bye they become very emotional and end up saying good-bye several times before they actually leave.  This is a lot of pressure to put on a relationship or friendship before a separation.  Everyone has a lot going on before school ends.  It can be hard to balance your friends with having to study or get work done before you leave.  The added pressure of making too much time for your friends can cause conflict.

There is no best way to say good-bye.  We all tend to handle it awkwardly.  As this time of mixed emotions is looming before you, just do your best to be yourself.  Let your friends know in your own way that you will miss them.  Then remember that time has a way of working things out.  You will either be able to maintain the relationship or friendship across the miles or other things will fill up your time and you won’t miss that person as much anymore.  Some people are meant to be in our lives just a short time.  Other people tend to be life long friends that no distance seems to be able to change.  The end of the school year is a bittersweet time for everyone.  Cherish your memories and be thankful to Facebook for keeping you somewhat connected either through the summer or through your lifetime.

Ways To Share Some Sunshine

by Rebecca Smith on April 30, 2014 in Being Positive, Friendship, Respect, Stress

We all have those days when we feel down or negative.  The crazy thing is, one of best ways to feel better is to do something nice for yourself or someone else.  If you scatter some sunshine, you can’t help but get some on yourself!!

“It took us so long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” — Kurt Vonnegut.

1. Send a hand-written thank you card to someone.

2. Give a compliment about your waiter/waitress to his or her manager.

3. Hold open a door for someone.

4. Have a conversation with a homeless person.

5. Compliment someone.

6. Pay for the person behind you in the Starbucks drive-thru.

7. Clean out your clothes and donate to a local non-profit.

8. Send flowers to someone anonymously.

9. Leave an encouraging note in a library book.

10. Ask an elderly person about their childhood.

11. Be a courteous driver.

12. Mentor an at-risk child.

13. Mow a neighbor’s lawn.

14. Donate blood.

15. Introduce yourself to a new coworker/classmate/church member.

16. Share inspirational quotes.

17. Write letters of appreciation to organizations that serve your community.

18. Leave happy post-its for strangers to find.

19. Smile.

20. Appreciate the people who support you.

21. Treat everyone the same– from your best friend to your mom to postal worker.

22. Release your expectations of other people. Allow them to be who they are.

23. Be genuine.

24. Forget yourself.

25. Delight in every day.

26. Flatter people.

27. Tell people how much you like them.

28. Share your lunch.

29. Fill a parking meter.

30. Volunteer somewhere. Anywhere.

31. Seek forgiveness.

32. Do your best.

33. Love yourself.

34. Dream big.

35. Tell someone why you love them.

36. Check in on someone who is lonely.

37. Stay curious.

38. Adopt a pet from the humane society.

39. Tell your boss that he/she does a great job.

40. Renew an old friendship.

41. Donate toys/books to a hospital.

42. Give someone a sheet of brightly colored stickers.

43. Make eye contact.

44. Take someone’s picture and send it to them.

45. Don’t think about other people’s definitions of success, beauty or happiness.

46. Create spaces for others to enjoy.

47. Make beautiful art.

48. Send unexpected gifts.

49. Be enthusiastic.

50. Love your life and everyone in it.

Losing a Loved One

by Rebecca Smith on April 24, 2014 in Friendship, Grief, Loss

Loss is hard.  Fortunately, most college students who are dating don’t have to deal with their boyfriend or girlfriend dying.  It does happen, but it is a lot more rare than a typical break up.  However, many students do lose grandparents, a parent, brothers or sisters and even friends.  It makes you think about how fragile life really is.  It can make you stop and evaluate your choices in life.  There are so many things people take for granted when it comes to the people they love.

It is easy in the every day stresses of life to believe that the people you count on the most will always be there for you.  I have met with a lot of students who really can’t imagine losing their boyfriend or girlfriend or even their close friends to death.  It is easier to imagine losing a grandparent or distant relative.  It is a little harder to comprehend the loss of a parent, a sibling or a friend who still has so much life to live.

That is usually why it can be harder to accept.  No matter how a person dies, when it happens to someone you love, it can be hard to understand and accept.  So, how do you move forward after losing a loved one?  You’ve probably heard it takes some time.  It isn’t easy, no matter what anyone tells you.  Your mind, your heart and your soul are going to go through a long process.  The grief process has five steps.  1. Denial  2. Anger  3. Bargaining  4. Depression  5. Acceptance

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You notice that acceptance comes after a lot of other emotions cycle through.  No person grieves the same either.  That is why it is hard to know what to say to someone who is grieving.  Some people want to talk about the person and feel better when they open up.  For others, they don’t want to talk about it.  They do better when they stay busy and distract themselves a little more.  For most people, you can’t go wrong with giving the person who is grieving a hug and asking if there is anything you can do for them.  Sometimes just bringing them a home cooked meal is enough.  Just knowing that you care and you want to help is better than nothing.

If you are the one grieving, be patient with yourself.  Some days you’ll wake up feeling better only to crash back into depression or anger a few hours later.  It is a long grueling process, but time does eventually help.  The days and weeks pass and your brain will start to adjust.  At first, you may be resistant to letting go of your pain.  You don’t want your loved one to feel that you’ve forgotten them.  I remind people who are grieving that you can still remember them without feeling so much pain.  You can start to remember them with a smile and actually feel happy in your memories instead of feeling so lost or sad.

Life has a way of marching on whether we like it or not.  Days, weeks, months and then even years pass.  New people come into our life.  They don’t replace the people we lost, but they fill in the gaps that are still there in our lives that need to be filled.  The only positive thing about loss is being able to empathize and understand what other people are going through when they experience it.  You will be able to relate and give encouragement to those people because you’ve been their yourself.  This may help you, in a way, deal with your own loss.  Giving to others has a way of healing your own heart from the pain.

Even though we are all different, all of us at one point or another are going to experience a loss of some kind.  I hope you never have to experience what the people of Aurora, Colorado are experiencing.  I also hope as a college student you don’t have to go through the death of parent, sibling, friend, boyfriend or girlfriend.  It is hard enough to get through the stresses of college.  Going through a major loss can make it a lot more complicated.  If it does happen to you, know that you have choices.  You can withdraw from classes for the semester and take a leave of absence.  This will allow you to focus on your family or getting help for yourself without having to stress about papers and tests.  Many students have had to do this and come back to school after a few months feeling a lot more prepared to deal with class.  Other students need the distraction and choose to stay in school at this time.  There really is no right answer on how to best deal with situations like this.  Do what you think is best for yourself and your situation, and try not to compare yourself to others students.

Also, find trusted family and friends to talk to and gain support from.  You may also decide counseling is something you would like to try.  It can be helpful because you are able to open up without feeling like your burdening your family or friends who may be dealing with their own grief.  Many people have stated that counseling has been helpful, but it isn’t for everyone.  You can do some research to find out what ways of grieving will work best for you.  Just remember it is a process.  It is okay to be angry, upset and sad.  However, if you feel you’ve been stuck in one part of the grieving cycle too long, it is time to do something to be able to move forward.  One step at a time is the best way to approach the grieving process.  Feel free to look into any of the websites listed below that may be helpful.

Coping with Grief and Loss

Understanding Grief

5 Stages of Grief

Fear of Rejection

by Rebecca Smith on April 9, 2014 in Being Positive, Friendship, Healthy Relationships, Single LIfe

It’s not easy to put yourself out there.  Some people live to meet new people and have no fear going up and starting a conversation with a perfect stranger.  Other people struggle with their fear of rejection.  They are interested in new people around them, but it can be scary to start something with someone new.  Especially if you’ve recently gone through a bad break up or you’ve been single for awhile.

If you have fear, the only way to get over it is to face it.  Outgoing people will tell you they are less worried about how they feel and more concerned with making others feel good.  If your goal is go out and meet new people, try to take your focus off your fear and focus on making just one person you meet smile.  Realize that not everyone you meet is going to be interested in talking to you.  That doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or with something you said.  Some people just won’t be in a good mood or be interested in any type of conversation.  Don’t let those people set you back.

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Look for people who seem more open or friendly.  Dare yourself to give them a compliment.  Try to learn something from what they are wearing or how they are interacting with others.  Use your observation skills to give you something to start a conversation with.  If you’ve ever noticed, shoes will tell you a lot about a person.  Shoes can give you clues into hobbies someone has or what type of job they do.  Their shoes can tell you if they are more laid back or more stylish with fashion.  Their clothes will also give you other clues as well.  Finally, look at their face and their body language.  Do they gesture or show a lot of expression?  Or do they seem more closed off because their arms or crossed and their face seems blank?

Also, realize that you are giving off vibes as well.  What does your appearance say about you?  Non-verbal cues give off a lot of information to others to let them know if you are more open or closed to being approached.  Are you smiling and interacting with others?  Or are you sitting alone hunched over your drink at the bar?  You don’t have to be super fit and all GQ to get attention.  Your appearance does matter, but how you are projecting yourself to others matters even more.  You want to seem approachable instead of giving off a vibe that says, “Please leave me alone”.

It is okay to be nervous, but try to be aware if you are sending off desperation signals.  Sometimes you can try TOO hard and make the initial approach very awkward.  Remember to think positive and tell yourself positive things to keep your anxiety at bay.  Every person has great qualities, but not all people are aware or acknowledge their positive traits.  Try to focus on those qualities and realize you have a lot to offer other people.  When people get nervous they can focus too much on the negative and think of everything that can go wrong.  Instead, try to stop yourself from going down that path and try to be more positive about yourself and others around you.  Confidence will carry you a long way.

Even if you don’t feel all that confident, you can fake it a little until you get more comfortable initiating conversations.  Practicing will make it easier.  I often tell some of my shyer students to start conversations in less intimidating places.  For example, smile and ask how the gas station attendant’s day is going.  Talk to the cashier at Wal-Mart or the grocery store.  Go to places where you don’t know anyone and take a few risks without too much pressure.  The more you risk facing rejection, the easier it will become.  You will become used to the fact that not everyone responds positively, but that a lot of people will.

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The key to remember is that you aren’t trying to make yourself feel better, you are trying to make someone else feel better that day.  Not every person you interact with has soul mate potential or even one night stand potential, but you never know when you may interact with the right person who ends up becoming someone significant in your life.  Just don’t give up and remember that nothing in life worth having is ever easy.

“Whether you think you can or you can’t- you are right”  Henry Ford

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”  Eleanor Roosevelt

“This time, like all times is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Fall seven times, stand up eight”  Japanese Proverb

Race and Relationships

by Rebecca Smith on April 7, 2014 in Friendship, Healthy Relationships, Interracial Relationships, Respect

Ryan Knapick and Josh Baker have been best friends since fifth grade. Colette Gregory entered the picture in high school. She and Josh are dating now. Knapick is white, Gregory is black and Baker is half-Hispanic. To them, race doesn’t matter.

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“People are finding people with common interests and common perspectives and are putting race aside,” says Knapick, 22, a May graduate of Indiana University who works at a machine shop and lives with his parents in Munster, Ind.

He and his friends are among an estimated 46.3 million Americans ages 14 to 24 — the older segment of the most diverse generation in American society. (Most demographers say this “Millennial” generation began in the early 1980s, after Generation X.) These young people have friends of different races and also may date someone of another race.

This age group is more tolerant and open-minded than previous generations, according to an analysis of studies released last year by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, part of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. The center focuses on ages 15 to 25.

Another study by Teenage Research Unlimited in Northbrook, Ill., found six of 10 teens say their friends include members of diverse racial backgrounds.

Unlike their parents and grandparents, today’s teens and twentysomethings grew up with “diversity,” “multicultural” and “inclusion” as buzzwords. Many were required to take college courses in cultural diversity. Now the media fuel this colorblindness as movies, TV and advertising portray interracial friendship and romance.

Some attitudinal changes are based in demographics. About 33% of those under 18 are racial or ethnic minorities, and about 20% of elementary- and high school-age students are immigrants or children of immigrants, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Racial diversity is especially common in college friendships because that age group is exposed to a wider range of people, and college students have more opportunities to become friends with peers of other races, says Anthony Lising Antonio, an associate professor of education at Stanford University, who has conducted research on friendship diversity.

It’s not that young people are specifically seeking out friendships with other races, kids say.

“It goes beyond that to who you get along with,” says Karina Anglada, 17, a high school senior in Chicago whose parents are from Puerto Rico.

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The ‘color-mute’ syndrome

Rebecca Bigler, 42, a psychology professor who directs the Gender and Racial Attitudes Lab at the University of Texas-Austin, traces such attitudes to baby boomer parents who may have set a tone for raising colorblind kids.

“It makes us feel racist if we acknowledge race, so we try not to, and we end up being color-mute,” she says. “Children learn from their parents that you don’t talk about race.”

Bigler is white. Her former husband, the father of her teenage son, is black. People talked about race when she was a child in the ’70s, she says, but now the younger generation — especially white kids — believe that racial injustice is “a thing of the past.”

“Society is still marked by racial inequality, and my worry is that it won’t get addressed,” she says.

Evidence of inequity is ubiquitous: A Department of Justice study released last year shows that blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to be searched, arrested and subjected to police use of force. And last month, the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University issued a report about inequality in American schools, even as the system becomes increasingly multiracial.

Where students go to school depends on where they live, which is dependent upon family wealth. The Harvard study found that segregation isn’t simply a black/white divide but a multiracial one, in which whites remain the most isolated group and the least likely to attend multiracial schools. California schools are the nation’s most segregated, the study found.

‘Common interests, not color’

Gregory, 24, knows that firsthand. She was born in Gary, Ind., and grew up in Los Angeles; she was the only black person in a private school in her Bel Air neighborhood. She returned to Indiana for high school, the same Catholic school Knapick and Baker attended.

“It’s more natural to me to be in a diverse setting and to be attracted to people because of common interests and not because of common color,” says Gregory, who works in fundraising at a Chicago theater company. She earned two degrees from Northwestern University.

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Baker, 23, who graduated from Loyola University in Chicago and is an accounts manager for a Chicago consulting firm, says his high school’s diversity allowed him to be friends with whites, blacks and Hispanics. He says he’s Hispanic, like his mother. His father is white but is unsure of his heritage because he was adopted, Baker says.

Knapick, who is seeking work in his college major of criminal justice, bonded with Baker playing basketball, running track and as Boy Scouts. Both are Eagle Scouts and earned their honors at the same ceremony.

Some of the mixing is a result of record numbers of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, totaling more than 35 million over the past two decades and representing the largest wave of immigration in American history, says Marcelo Surez-Orozco, founder of the Harvard Immigration Project, now known as Immigration Studies @ NYU. He is a professor of globalization and education at New York University.

“We have more groups coming at a faster rate and changing our society with a speed we’ve never seen before,” he says.

In addition to immigrant families, the number of children from other countries adopted by U.S. parents has tripled from 1990 to 2005.  The fact that white parents are adopting babies from China, Guatemala or South Korea who don’t look like them reinforces the idea that race matters less. So does the fact that interracial marriages, though still not common, have increased from less than 1% of U.S. marriages in 1970 to almost 6% of marriages in the 2000 Census.

The tide began turning when the Supreme Court in 1967 struck down laws in 16 states forbidding marriage between blacks and whites.

No pressure to ‘choose sides’

A Gallup Poll on interracial dating in June found that 95% of 18- to 29-year-olds approve of blacks and whites dating. About 60% of that age group said they have dated someone of a different race.

Olivia Lin, 18, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is Asian; she’s dating someone who is Puerto Rican and says her family is “pretty open to it.” Lin, who will graduate in the spring with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, in the fall will attend Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., the only non-sectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university in the country.

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High school freshman Aliya Whitaker, 14, of Montclair, N.J., says her mother is Jamaican and her father is African-American. Her mother encourages her to make friends with those of other races.

“She’s never told me to stick with my own people or choose sides,” Whitaker says. “When my friends have quinceaeras (Hispanic girls’ 15th-birthday celebrations) or bar mitzvahs (a Jewish coming-of-age ceremony for 13-year-olds), she encourages me to go.

“But she says: ‘Remember where you come from.’ “

This post was originally written by Sharon Jayson in USA Today.   Click here to read the entire article.

How to Help Your International Student Friend

by Rebecca Smith on March 26, 2014 in Anxiety, Friendship, International Students, Stress
This is a repost from the blog, Quarter Life Crisis.                         

As the immigration reforms debate is going on, many international students struggle to plan their life.  As a graduate international student, now an international “alien” defined by the U.S. Government, I am now working in a company that is sponsoring my H1B visa. What does it mean?  It means I can work for this company for up to 6 years (renewal every 3 years) and maybe… just maybe they ‘ll agree to sponsor my H1B visa green card.  Again, what does it mean?

Let me tell you a story, the life and the emotional roller coaster of an international student, maybe you will feel worse for your friend who is an international student, or maybe you can decide to help and do something or at least, try not to unintentionally picking on the same old wound that we, international students, all try to cover up with pretty American made products like bandages, shoes, chocolate molten cakes,  etc.

12 years ago I came to this wonderful country on a J1 visa.  What is a J1 visa?  Great question.  It is an “exchange visitor visa.”  Which means, you come to this country as an exchange student based on an exchange program between 2 countries (your country and the other country).  The exchange program typically works this way, the schools between 2 countries work together, they send students between the schools back and forth during the countries for cultural experiences.  No, this is not a mail order bride program, though, if you really think about it, it might be a good cover up for such a program.

Most of the time, the exchange program is embedded in the school fee you pay, but if you are from a third world country trying to do an “exchange” program to the US, the fee is extremely crazy.  My family didn’t have that much money, but for my future, my mother sold everything we had to send me to the US and she sent me to this strange and foreign country when I was 14.  14, alone in a place half way around the world from my home, living in strangers’ home and knowing noone, my first year in the US was much better than it sounded.

 

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I landed in Chicago O’Hare airport, and was met by my “host parents” assigned by this exchange program.  Did I mention, I could not find the place in any maps (this was before Google became popular) before I left my country?  But, oh well, ”it’s the US, no one would do anything bad,” I thought.   So, why not get on the plane, meet someone you have never met and live in a town you could not find on any map?  My ”host parents” met me with an upside down name board with my full legal name carefully written.  That was the first time in my entire life I have seen my name written in full in such a mega scale, it was a bit unsettling.

 

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I lived with my host parents for 1 year in a smallest town, I met wonderful people, made many mistakes and gained 20 pounds within the first 2 months snacking on onion-sour cream potato chips dipped in sour cream.  I drove my first tractor, mowed my first lawn, ate my first McDonald’s hamburger and fries, and many more.  I lived on $500 for that entire year. I got lost to class the first day.  All the girls and boys looked the same to me with their blonde hair and blue eyes and pale skin. Oh, also, I broke my first bone ice skating and had my first dance.

I fell asleep crying for the first 3 months, and my mother spent at least $200 every month paying for phone cards.  Every conversation was filled with silent cries and tears.  Until one day, my uncle picked up the phone, and he said to me “if you keep crying, it does not help anyone.  Stop crying and be strong.”  That was the end of my weeping and mourning period.

1 year goes by, and the fear started to creep.  I wanted to go home.  However, a J1 visa required the student to not come back to the US for 2 years after the exchange year (why? I have no idea).  In addition, the year of exchange in the US would not count toward your education back in your home country.  In another word, I would have to retake my freshman year in high school.  I refused to do that, but I missed my family.  My mother kept promising me, “you will come home…. SOON….,” and I kept that word “Soon” in my heart for the next 7 years until I decided to go home all by myself.

After the J1, you will never be able to get another J1.  It’s a once in a life time visa type.  Thus, in order for me to stay in the US, I have to change my visa status from J1 to F1 (independent international student) and have to change school ( by law, you cannot attend the same school with different visa type….why? Again, I have no idea… maybe non-citizen aliens like us might get too attached.  So the journey began to change my visa status from a J1-F1 and to look for another stranger to take me in to live with them with no conditions….. and yet, God is on my side again.

According to the immigration rules, I could not change my visa unless I left the US and either go home or go to a third party country and reapply for the visa.  Which meant, there was a big chance my visa would get rejected and I would never be able to enter the US.  So, after my mother found a friend of a friend of a friend who knew a friend who lived close to a friend in Denver to take me in as their host daughter and helped me with my visa, I finally got my visa status changed from J1-F1.

Then college time came, not many schools offer scholarships for international students, not to mention, international students never get in-state tuition benefit, so you always pay the highest cost.  I found a school with full scholarships and everything I wanted in a state where -20F is a normal thing (not Alaska, thank God), and consider this, I am from a country where 100F is a normal thing.

When you attend a college or university as an international student, you cannot work for more than 20 hours a week, and you cannot work off campus unless it’s an approved CPT (CURRICULAR PRACTICAL TRAINING VS OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING).  You can work part time as long as you are in school with your CPT which will have to follow your curriculum in school (your major), approved by the school department, signed by your international student advisor and approved by the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services).

In your years in school, you are also allowed 1 full year of full time CPT, and then after graduation, you are also allowed 1 full year of full time OPT (OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING), the time frame is longer for you if you are in the STEM program (science fields).  The purpose of this OPT is to find an employer who loves you so much that he/she will sponsor your H1B visa (I don’t even want to go over the requirement for the H1B visa approval) and eventually sponsor your green card.

This sounds great, but, consider this, one of the condition for the green card H1B visa is that the employer has to prove that there is no or very limited candidates in the US that can do the job and you can… out of all the people in the US, you are THE ONE!  I believe, this condition comes out of the fear of international students who have to study extremely hard to be top of their schools with the highest grades and the most extra curricular activities would take away American jobs. This topic calls for another long and complicated blog!

Long story short, your international student friend who you see everyday or once in a while worries about all these letters everyday, J, H, O, C, T, P, U, S, C, I, S, 1, B, D, E, P, O, R, T, E, D…. and many more… so don’t mind them when they freak out in front of the alphabet place mat.  When they go to bed at night, they have to worry if tomorrow they will be back and continue another day or they will have to pack and start a new life in another country or go back home.  Every meal is like the last meal, and every party is the best party.  Every relationship is extremely precious, and every mistake is a grave chance of being deported. When they plan their future, they have to have plan A: staying in the US and getting green card or plan B: staying in the US for 3-6 years and getting married, or plan C: leave it all and just restart.  And the easiest choice always is: go back to school and get a PHD.

 

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So be nice to your international student friend, feed them the best American dish (90% of the time, they already tried all the food you considered “exotic” yet never touched a hot dog before), invite them over for Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, etc. because those holidays are the most terrifyingly lonely time for them.  Talk to your friends who might know people who are executives (only the executives can be so unrealistic enough to make the decision of going through the pain of hiring 1 non-citizen individual).  Pack their clothes and give them a giant party when they can’t find a job, not because they are not qualified, but because no one even want to try to look at their resume due to the inherit invisible flash on their forehead saying : sponsorship.  They will have to go home.

 

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Believe In Yourself

by Rebecca Smith on March 19, 2014 in Being Positive, Friendship, Stress

As you reach the middle of the semester, you can be so stressed that it can be hard to focus on the positive side of life.  If you’ve had a crazy semester, you’re not alone.  Here are some inspirational quotes to get you through the end of the semester!  (all images via weheartit)