By Chika Abanobi
Education USA, the U.S. Department of State network of over 400 international student advising centres in more than 170 countries, that, under the Office of Global Educational Programs in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), fosters mutual understanding between the United States and other countries by promoting personal, professional, and institutional ties between private citizens and organizations in the United States and abroad, recently organised a pre-departure orientation and procedures for 150 overseas-bound Nigerian students who secured scholarship admissions into various universities in USA to, in the words of the moderator of the day’s programme, get them “acculturised so that they will be able to fit in.”
To achieve that goal, the department deployed wide array of technical and human resources during the one-day ceremony held at the US Consulate, Lagos. They included video clips and pep talks by different resource persons that include the Consulate General, Mr. John Bray, who urged the departing students to do all they can while they are in US to disabuse the minds of Americans that Nigeria is not all about Boko Haram and 419 (social network fraudusters).
“Life is all about building relationships,” he advised. “So, take your time to talk to Americans. Make us proud and good luck.”
A Nigerian professor’s experience
Felix Famoye, Professor of Statistics, Central Michigan University, Michigan, USA, known worldwide for his generalized binomial regression model which is used to predict a count response variable affected by one or more explanatory variables, and who had his first degree in mathematics from University of Ibadan before traveling to USA for further studies on scholarship, also addressed the departing students.
He told them that the first time he arrived America he couldn’t cope with the American accent of English language in some of the courses. Although he spoke English and understood it when spoken to, he had to rely on the notes copied by a Lebanese friend to be able to make meanings of what the white American lecturers were saying. But he told a funny story of how the Lebanese guy stopped giving him his notes to copy from when, after their first test-exam, he scored over 90 while the good Samaritan guy scored 60-something.
Famoye who is, at the moment, on sabbatical at University of Lagos (UNILAG), under Fullbright Fellowship, noted that unlike the students who are being given pre-departure briefing and training to prepare them, nothing was done to prepare him for the cultural shock that he faced when he arrived America.
He said that although he had taken the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) test and passed very well in it while in Nigeria, on arrival in America, he found out that it was not of much use to him as he discovered that he needed to learn to listen very hard to American way of speaking before he could properly fit in.
He warned the students not to drink if they must drive in America. When one of them raised hands, during the question-and-answer session, to ask what amount of alcohol is permissible in America while driving, Prof. Famoye said that since it is sometimes difficult to know when one would exceed the limit, his best advice to those who want to stay out of trouble would be to stay out of alcohol-intake if they can help it. “God forgives sin,” he says, “but America keeps records.” Here is the summary of the words of advice given by all the resource persons that spoke at the event:
• Before leaving Nigeria, confirm that your passport and non-immigrant visa are still valid for entry into United States. The passport should be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your expected stay.
ν Your visa should accurately reflect your correct visa classification. If the visa states the name of the institution you will attend or identifies the exchange programme in which you are participating, verify that this information is accurate as well. If your review indicates any discrepancies or potential problems, visit the US Embassy or Consulate to obtain a new visa.
• Make sure all your important documents such as visa, passport, airline tickets, school acceptance letter, credit cards, important phone numbers and addresses are in safe place. We strongly advise you make copies of these important documents and keep them separate from the original ones, in case any of the items are lost or stolen. It is much easier to replace them when they have copies. Carry these documents in your carry-on luggage; do not check them in.
• Be sure to carry letters in English providing evidence of your immunization history. Make copies of these documents; they will normally be requested by the government of the state where you live as well as your school. It is also a good idea to scan these documents and save them in your computer. You should also email a copy to yourself so that you will always have an electronic copy.
• Confirm all flight arrangements with the airlines at least 72 hours before departure. For your international flight, you are advised to arrive at the airline counter at the airport three hours before departure. If you have any dietary restrictions, advise the airlines at least one week before departure so that they can prepare a special meal for you.
• Most universities provide accommodation for a period of time with the length varying from campus to campus. The student accommodation will usually include meal options which is included in their accommodation fee. If your university of choice offers on-campus accommodations, you should consider living on-campus, at least for the first-year if it is your first trip to US and your first time living alone, on-campus, as this will help to cushion the transition to life in the United States. Later, when you are more familiar with the neighbourhood, you can consider living off-campus.
Studying in U.S.
• Many international students find American university classrooms very different from those of their home country, particularly in the way students interact with their lecturers or teachers. Often class lectures will include interactive discussions and group activities, as well as hands-on projects and presentations. Students are required to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject and assigned readings by participating meaningfully in class discussions.
• Students are expected to be active learners, sharing their own opinions and ideas and asking questions when they do not understand. When a lecturer opens a topic for discussion, he or she is genuinely interested in knowing what students think. You should feel comfortable stating your views, even if they differ from the professor’s as long as you remain polite and respectful.
• Participation in class lectures and discussion groups is a key feature of American education. Most lecturers will change your grades depending on how much you participate in class discussions. In fact, participation in discussions accounts up to 40 percent of your final grade, so it is very important that you participate.
• Another important feature of American education is that lecturers are available to meet with students in their offices outside classrooms to listen to their complaints and to answer their questions, at certain pre-designated time. This makes for excellent opportunity to ask certain questions or discuss certain topics you didn’t understand while in class. It also provides a good opportunity for your lecturer to get to know you more closely.
• Each student will be assigned an academic adviser to help him or her with picking, deciding or switching courses, adjusting to college life and even helping to find lecturers or tutors for any course a student may be having problem with. In addition, many universities have an office dedicated to helping students adjust to college life in America.
Changing your course or school
• If you are thinking of changing course or school, try different types of classes or courses so that you have a pretty good idea of which you want to switch to and why. The same thing applies if you are thinking of changing school or college. Research different schools and talk to people or your academic adviser about which of the schools might suit you best.