Graduating from James Madison University

 

Graduating from University is a tremendous accomplishment. It has been 4 years since the time I first walked in the doors of JMU. I can proudly say that I accomplished successfully my Undergrad education as a Duke. On May 10th I walked with other science majors (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Geology etc…)

I have to say that this was one of the most beautiful days of my life. I had some family members over who made the trip from Maryland. Parents, professors and friends made of this day the most memorable day for me. I graduated with Magna Cum Laude and I was also recognized for being part of Phi Beta Kappa, the most prestigious honor society in the US. Even though this is not it for me yet, I want to congratulate myself for making it through. For me and my fellow international students, coming to a prestigious university and studying in a foreign language is not an easy task. All it takes is dedication, courage. I also think what helped me during my undergrad career is having a goal in life. My goal is to make it into medical school save lives. I believe having a goal in life makes one have a driving force that pushes him/her forward.

Graduation is a special moment in one’s lifetime. From the day you graduate you enter a different phase of life. Becoming a person with a degree does not only mean having your name on a piece of paper, it means that you are now equipped to make a change in the world and make a difference in people’s life. About one third of the American population holds a bachelor degree. My freshman year, I had doubts about being able to make it through and I’m sure any international student would say that too. At some point in my freshman year I even thought of just going back to a French institution and have an education in my native tongue (French) which would be easier for me. I’m so glad I stayed. Otherwise none of this wouldn’t have happened. That also showed me that in life we do not have to step down when we encounter an obstacle. We have to fight to have our dreams come true. Having ambitions and dreams make one have a purpose in life. At my graduation ceremony I remember the speaker talked about a quote that I still remember. The quote was something like that: “In life, successful people are the way they are because they stood on shoulders of giants”. This is a powerful quote and I believe is the key to success.

I also have to admit that I was a little sad. This is finally the end of my chapter in James Madison University. I am so thankful for the friends I’ve made here, the professors who guided me, the beautiful campus we have and so much more. This may be the end of my Undergrad career but I still have a bigger one ahead of me. I am now in the application for medical school and also preparing to take my MCAT (test of medical school admission). To me education never ends, I will get as much education as I can because I believe in a quote an old wise man (Ricky) told us while I went for my conference in Nashville (Tennessee): “PEACE stands for Pursuing Education Always Creates  Elevation.

Things international student should know about studying in the USA

Being aware from the beginning can save one from many things. There are many things international students don’t know about when they first come here and I think knowing these stuff would be really beneficial in the short and long run.


I wish I knew….

I wish i knew about Undergraduate Research opportunities earlier. It is better to start research earlier because professors want students who can stay many years and research gets more interesting as you stay longer.

I wish I knew about Rebtel phone service. At first it wasn’t easy to communicate with my family in Africa, because it was expensive to call there. But later on I found out about a cheap phone service for International calls (Rebtel) and since then I am hooked to it.
I wish i knew about scholarship opportunities. Before coming to the US, it would be really wise to look for scholarships especially private scholarships (see link for different types of scholarships http://jmuiscblog.com/how-to-get-a-scholarship-as-an-international-student-in-america/). At first I didn’t know international students could apply for scholarships but if i knew that i would have spent more time looking for it before coming here.

I wish I had brought more stuff from back home (bracelet, snacks, food, clothes etc…). “You don’t know how much you love something until you lose it” . Before coming to the US for a long stay, it would be nice to bring a lot of souvenirs from back home especially when we can’t go home during breaks.

I wish i knew about more job opportunities on campus.It’s true that international students cannot work outside of campus but on campus we are all in the same boat. Moreover getting a job allows us to get a social security card which opens even more doors in America.
I wish i knew about the importance of on campus organizations. Joining an organization is not a waste of time. On the contrary, it’s a way to have access to some information that we wouldn’t know where to look. It’s a way to get involved in the community.


Things that one should know…

Freshman year we usually live on campus so we are not concerned about the struggle to find a place yet. Many students complain about their off campus place during sophomore year because they were in a rush and had to make a quick decision. If we plan to live off campus, we should look for places 9 months in advance because apartments fill up really fast.

In America people like to have their own space. Most people are not really touchy here. Having that in mind before coming here saves us from causing discomfort in people. In my culture people are really touchy when they talk so over there it is more common to see it happen.

In America people usually do not to talk about people’s appearance even as a joke in order to avoid offending or hurting the other person’s emotions because some people are really self conscious.

In America especially at JMU it is expected to hold doors for the person walking behind you. At JMU it is even impolite not to do it.

In Africa people have the tendency to say yes when they are asked about something even when they cant do it because they don’t want to be seen as weak. When you come to the US with that mentality you are going to suffer a lot because people will put their hope in you and give you more responsibilities than you can so you have to be realistic before engaging and consider his own capabilities when it comes to that.

Some helpful notes…

In America you always need to have money on you or money in your savings. You will always need money. There are always some expenses to make so it’s better to be ready.

One important thing about America is that from the day you step on the American soil, you have to take your initiatives and be autonomous because here everybody is busy and nobody has the time to guide you step by step so you have to look for it and be dynamic.

Freshman year is the year to knock yourself out getting the best GPA you can. It is the easiest semester so getting a 4.0 GPA isn’t unrealistic. Doing good during freshman year may give us the opportunity to get an invitation in the honors program or be eligible for some jobs on campus such as tutoring or Teaching Assistant.

I wish i was more cautious with the diet. We may not realize it until we see it on the scale. When we come to University we get so busy with school work and we stress so much that we gain a lot of weight. In JMU we are even more vulnerable to a weight gain because our on campus food is irresistible (#5 campus food in the Nation!)

Be really careful when you receive random emails or calls not to give away your information like that because identity thief does occur here.

Living in the US can be challenging for some people. Getting to know your environment first can bring a completely different experience and make your stay more enjoyable. I found out about most of these stuff my freshman year because i was curious and I reached people. That’s why i said it’s important to socialize freshman year otherwise we may miss a lot of opportunities.

Summer break in University

Summer for some people means having fun: beach, trips, family. For some other people summer is the time they finally got time to do real stuff like planning their career, doing internships, study abroad etc...

As a 3rd year student, I would say it’s imperative to do something productive during summer. The summer of junior year is basically the last summer of freedom we have because after that real stuff start: Summer of senior year, we will be too busy applying for jobs/internships so there is no time to put energy into something else and after that things get even busier. A lot students mistakenly think that after graduating from University life gets easier.

There are many different options that one can do in preparing the future or adding a new stuff to the resume:

-James Madison University and many other universities have a special 3 months research during summer (diverse fields), the REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates). Students get paid for it so it’s a great experience.

-For Medical schools, summer of Junior Year is the time to submit applications so right after graduating, one can just matriculate in a medical school, otherwise the person needs to take a year off.

-Start considering looking for jobs in advance and plan it because when school starts we will be too busy to look into it.

-Summer paid or unpaid internships. In the US it is really common to see students travel to different States during summer in order to do an internship. For international students like us, we can only work for the University we attend but we can volunteer almost anywhere.

It is not as obvious for us international students to stay in the USA during summer especially when our parents do not live in the States. During summer, programs that last the whole 3 months of summer are usually not our first choice because that’s the time we go home to visit parents. To make up for this, we can also work/intern at home because experience is experience no matter where and in America people who have experience in other countries are really appreciated.

Internship for Med school in MaliThis summer in Africa, while I am in vacation in Mali, I decided to do an internship in a public hospital. This time I work in the cardiology department. We do the general examination(blood pressure, temperature and  quick body examination) before having the doctor check the patient. It’s a great experience so far. I like the people that I work with and I learn a lot in the medical field.

The medical system is completely different: in America, a developped country people use top notch technology whereas in Mali, people still use old equipments and don’t have access yet to the new technology. I think knowing a little bit of both(modern equipment and the old way of doing things) is really beneficial and gives a more complete understanding  by making one a well rounded person.

Getting  to see my family and friends from childhood was what I needed. I have lot of friends who didn’t get the chance to have access to long education or are not successful and seeing them reminded me of the reality of life that everybody is vulnerable to failure. They were all really proud to know that I am doing well in the States and they made a lot of blessings for me.

It’s a good mental preparation before Senior Year!

Getting a US degree: James Madison University

James Madison University is more than an institution, it’s a community. Some people identify themselves as part of an organization, a country, a group… In America, university is such a big of a deal that it defines one’s identity: the university that you attend is going to define who you are and will shape your vision and way of thinking in a lot of domains.

When one sees another person from his country in a foreign country, the connection between them is easily made because they know that they are from the same background therefore the likelihood of them getting along is really high.

It is the same way for Universities especially James Madison University where people live in a friendly environment, where there is not too many and also not too few students ( around 28 000 undergrads) which is good because while you see some faces everyday you also meet a lot of new people.

When i wear a JMU shirt or hat, outside of school a lot of people notice that and that makes me feel like I’m part of the JMU community for life. When you walk with a JMU shirt somewhere this is the type of conversation starter you will get: ”Oh my God do you go to JMU?“; that shows already how famous James Madison University is.
While we are here, we should get as many souvenirs (tee-shirts,mugs,hats, sweaters) from the University because this experience is going to be one of our best memories and we could only reminisce about it because after getting a US degree that would be it.

At JMU in a small town (Harrisonburg) we are a little bit far from the city so we don’t really get to see the reality of how hard it is out there. I think that’s a good thing because it allows us to stay focused and there is not much distraction.I stayed in Washington DC for a while and getting to explore the town, seeing people at the metro station, hearing people yelling at work, overhearing sad stories while I’m on the bus and seeing the street reminded me of the harshness and difficulty of life and how hard it is out there after we finish with University.

Some people work really hard to make ends meet. One of the biggest regrets of people who do manual jobs is to not have gone to College. That’s why people who have that opportunity should grab it with both hands and take full advantage of it. I believe if getting access to education is a right then finishing successfully is a must for those who have access to it and are in reasonably good conditions.

Especially for us international students, we are not allowed to fail. Sometimes I think about some little obvious observations that makes sense to me and motivates me to succeed:

  1. We represent a small percentage of people in our country who got to go to University
  2. Some Americans themselves don’t get to make it to University so studying in an American University makes me proud
  3. Prestigious Universities such as James Madison University are hard to get in even for Americans let alone international students

So given that we are some potential elites of our country, we have to give our best shots in University here and get the most out of it so if we have to be a leader we would not be a ordinary leader but an instructed, trustworthy, credible and hard working one. Part of the reason we got accepted to University is because they believe in us that we can change something and make the difference. What we can do in return is to show them that they made the right decision. I feel proud of being a Duke when I hear that well renown companies like Rosetta Stone’s co-founder or some famous people are JMU alumni.

Go Dukes!

13 cultural differences between America and Overseas

A lot of international students feel the culture shock when they come to the USA. Here is a list of some cultural differences that usually hit us international students.

Coming to the USA as an international student does not only mean to deal with the language barrier but also to adjust to the Culture which is sometimes rough for foreigners. In America there are certain things that are seen as taboo but these same things are common in foreign countries. When I came to the US, I was confronted to this change. It sure took me some time to adapt. Here is my subjective list of the things that I thought were really different.

  1. In some African countries, saying that a person is old is a sign of respect because by being old comes the wisdom but here in America it’s offending and disrespectful to refer to someone as old.
  2. In Africa I notice that many people do their daily activities without caring about the notion of time but here in America people stare at their watch all the time.
  3. In Africa there is no secret, everybody knows each other’s business because of the community-type way of living but here in America people are more private.
  4. In Africa men usually don’t talk about their feelings and emotions but in America people are more open about it.
  5. Overseas people don’t really smile at strangers unless they like that person but here in America, especially at JMU you get smiled at a lot!
  6. Overseas, especially in Africa (and I’ve heard from my friends, Asia) parents or professors are never wrong, even when they are, it is kept on the low and it’s really impolite to tell them they are wrong but here in America students argue with teachers sometimes and children argue with their parents.
  7. In Africa, speaking many languages is common due to the difference in ethnicity but in America speaking many languages makes one feel really special.
  8. In America most people spend much of their time working and working whereas in Africa people give more time to their family which they consider to be the most important pillar.
  9. Compared to Africa people here in America are more straight forward.
  10. In America eating outside is more common whereas in Africa people rarely eat meals outside
  11. In America, celebration in family is really big. Birthdays, anniversaries and other types of events are huge here.
  12. One thing that I was shocked with is that a lot of people when they become elderly they go to retirement homes. In Africa most a lot of people do not even know what retirement home is.
  13. As a want-to-be doctor I have to add an input about health. Here in America most people use modern medicine as a first resort for treatment whereas in Africa or Asia people usually use traditional medicine. Modern medicine is used as a fast remedy or when traditional medicine is ineffective.
Being an international student in the USA has been an eye-opener for me in so many ways!

 

Summertime at James Madison University

Enjoying the natural beauty of Shenandoah Valley with friends from James Madison University

Enjoying the view in Shenandoah Valley

James Madison University with its particular location near the Shenandoah Valley, gives its students a wonderful view and a wide range of outdoor activities to enjoy during free time, and especially in the summer.

Even though it is not officially summer yet in the US, the weather sure feels like summertime: every day we get to enjoy some 80 degrees and the leaves started to turn green. A good sunny weather here in America means having fun, stay outside whenever it’s sunny and do some outdoor stuff. In West Africa where I’m from, it get so hot that when I came here to America, being under the sun was the last thing I wanted to do. But my Freshman Year when winter started (that was my first time to see snow) that’s when I have come to same conclusion as most people here in America: I was eager for summer to come back!

After a successful semester, it was time to take a break and not think about school for a while. My friends and I, we’ve been taking full advantage of the resources around Harrisonburg. The recreation center of JMU has many types of equipment for outdoor activities. As a student one can rent canoes, sleeping bags, tents etc…basically all that is needed for having fun in the mountains. As JMU students we feel spoiled if outdoor activity is one’s favorite thing to do: there is the Shenandoah National Park for camping and Skyland camp not too far.

Learning to roller skate at JMU

During summer some students also prefer the indoor stuff. People usually play bowling, go to the movies and go to the shopping mall. As for me, the highlight of my indoor activities so far is Roller Skating. I just did roller skating for the first time ever. I learnt a life lesson from that. At the beginning I fell a lot but I did not give up, I kept trying and trying. With a little aid and advices from the pros, I learnt the basics and from that I was finally able to roll smoothly. The lesson is that you don’t have the choice when it comes to fall from an experience but the choice that is yours is if you want to give up and remain down or if you want to get back up and try again. I felt that way when I first came to the US; studying in English was hard and time consuming, sometimes it did not go as well as I wanted. I was even thinking of just transferring to France where I wouldn’t have that language barrier issue but my friend kept telling me that I already made it far and not to run away from difficulty. I listened to him, I took advantage of the resources and the help that was offered to us international students through the International Study Center programs and I made it. That is to say sometimes in life things may not be colorful but at the end of the day we have the choice to make it better: like they say in America “No pain, No gain.”

 

Experiencing a 4-Year University in America

Going to a 4-year University in America is a promising and predominantly an unforgettable experience that one can have.

In the USA, there are two major types of Universities: there are 2-year colleges (also referred to as Community Colleges) and the 4-year universities like James Madison University.

Some people prefer to start with community college. One of the reasons for that is because community college is way cheaper than university. The typical path for them is to start with community college for the first 2 years, taking some General education requirements and then transfer to a 4-year University and take their major courses. JMU made that path possible because it accepts credits from many community colleges especially the ones in Virginia. The good thing about JMU is that there are community colleges not too far from campus so one can be taking classes at JMU and also take classes in community colleges in the vicinity at the same time. That’s one good way to save money. In the US, it can be really easy to save money, you just have to know the system and look for the information.

However, attending a 4-year University since the beginning, I think would be good for several reasons:

  1. after a 2 years community college, we have to transfer to a 4 years University anyway.
  2. by being in a place for a longer time we get more familiar with the environment, with the people and we also learn more about that university’s system. It is harder to make yourself a name by building a good academic record and a social “crew” when you are new somewhere, but if you are there since the beginning that for sure makes it easier.
graduation at James Madison University

Purple and gold - graduation at James Madison University

Talking about 4 years University, at JMU a week ago we just had a graduation ceremony. Saying good bye to people I met since freshman year was a little hard but that was a wakeup call for me. That wakeup call was to take advantage of every single moment while I’m here at University because after all, these 4 years pass by really fast. These four years may not be the longest in our lives but they certainly can be the most memorable four years of our lives. I’m saying that because I am one year away from graduation and I feel sad already about it.

We have to use these 4 years very wisely and make it become if not the best four years of our life, the most profitable for our future. I’ve known people who used these 4 years to improve themselves or to make friends and party or to figure themselves out or to get ready for a longer path of study just like myself and my goals of going to medical school.

One thing is sure, when we become degree holders, we are not the same person who first walked in the gates of the University with a thirst to discover to learn and to adventure. I have learned so much and grown in so many ways – LIFE, here I come!

 

Why join an honor society at university?

Joining an honor society has countless of benefits. On campus, there are different organizations that one can join. There are different types of organizations ranging from social organizations (fraternities) to academic ones (honor organizations) so one will find one where he/she fits the most.

Despite being involved in many activities on campus, I recently decided to join an honor society. At first I was hesitating but after doing some research I realized that there is no reason for not joining one.

The honor society that I joined is called Golden Key International Honour Society. On campus there are other honor societies such as Phi Beta Kappa(the oldest honor society) or Phi Kappa Phi. They have some points in common such as they only recruit the top 10% or 15% students of the University and usually one can join only by invitation. So in order to be guaranteed a place there, we got to study hard and get a good GPA so we can be spotted and be offered a membership. There is a onetime fee at the beginning but once a member, it lasts for a lifetime!

My 'Golden Key Honour Society' pin

Being a member of an Honor Society gives one the opportunity to meet people. When I became a member of Golden Key International Honour society, there were 150 other students also joining with me. With such a big number of people, one can broaden his network and meet people who may have the same goals in the future so it’s a great way to build a friendly and professional network.

Golden Key and other Honor Societies also have many partners such as insurance companies, phone companies, restaurant etc… so once a member you can get reduction from all the partners. On the long run, the accumulation of reductions we get from the partners pays up for the membership fee.

Golden Key International Honour Society unlike many others is globally recognized. Golden key has chapters in different countries. Another asset of Golden Key is that it offers its members some leadership positions and helps them improve their communication skills. That was one of the reasons I joined and once I joined I decided to run for the Vice president position and I got it!!! The aim of most of the Honor Societies is to have a positive impact on the community with volunteer works.

Honor societies also offer some academic and professional benefits to its members. They have their own scholarships (Undergrad and sometimes for even Grad school) that only the members can apply to. With a limited number of people the odds of winning are much greater than University scholarships where more people apply to. Concerning the preparation of a career, some Honor Societies for example Golden Key, have career fairs held only for the members. It’s a great way to meet employers and maybe an easier access to the dream job. Golden Key International Honour Society also has internships for its members.

The other good part about being a member of an honor society is that with that on your resume, in a job interview or interview for grad school or medical school, the interviewer already knows that he is dealing with the top 10% of the school and that is already a plus.

With all that in mind, when you receive an invitation to join an Honor Society there is no reason not to join

Academic advising at University in USA

 

When studying at University in the US, students should really take advantage of the resources that are offered by going to see their advisor or professor on a regular basis. Academic advising is offered at all universities and is a student’s right.

 I noticed that many students, especially international students don’t go see their advisors or professors for help – they are a very important academic resource for us! I spoke with some of them and many of them think that it’s a sort of shame to seek for help. Others are even frightened about the idea of going to see a professor. They are worried of being seen as an unintelligent person. I think if that’s the major concern then it shouldn’t be one anymore:

  1. because being in a huge class, if we go see the professor for help, the chances of him/her remembering us are really slim,
  2. we are students; we are supposed to learn and ask questions. Making mistakes and not getting it sometimes is normal. We then have to ask those who can help us.

In University, if we think about it from this point of view, we spend thousands of dollars in order to get the best education. If we need help in one of the classes, going to see the professor for help is one of the most normal and expected things to do. Advisors and professors are here for us. They are not just the persons who grade our papers. If approaching them for the first time is one’s concern, that shouldn’t be a barrier because besides teaching classes professors wish to know their students more personally. Especially here at JMU some faculty members (professors, advisors…) are pretty friendly. Some even have lunch with students in order to get to know them better.

One thing that we also need to consider about Universities is that the classrooms are way too big for the professor to be the one reaching out to students. That’s why we have to put our 2nd thoughts (shame, fear etc…) aside and be the one reaching out to them by going see them whenever we can.

As an international student, I am aware of this barrier caused by cultural beliefs. In my country for example some people think that seeking for help is a sign of weakness. Having grown up in this environment, I used to not go seek for help when I needed to, at first. Now, I seek help when I need it!

One cool thing is that professors and other staff members have connections. So they may be aware of some scholarships or anything that one may be eligible for. So going to see them first makes them spot you and they may offer you some stuff that you would have never known about.

If reaching professors when needed is still a major barrier to overcome then looking for help among friends is another option. Getting the information is key. Reaching professors and advisors is not a waste of their time or a waste of our time but on the other hand remaining silent when we don’t understand something is a waste of money and opportunities. Seeking for help is a “must-do” not a shame.

Why James Madison University?

 

Why did I choose James Madison University? It’s been almost 3 years now that I am studying at James Madison University, I so am excited to graduate next year but I do not want to leave JMU. Most of my friends who are graduating this May also have the same thought: they do not want to leave “JMU-Land”. Everybody that comes here at JMU feels the need to come back again. What is so special about JMU that makes people so attracted like that?

Inauguration ceremony at James Madison University

Inauguration ceremony at James Madison University

Two weeks ago, we just had the inauguration of our new president Jonathan Alger. He gave such a wonderful speech about “WHY MADISON”, presenting some of the countless assets of JMU. Some of the things that he said were that James Madison University offers a really nice education and at a lower cost than private universities in the USA. I completely agree with that. As a student of JMU I can testify about the positive aura that JMU has on people. By talking to some random people at the mall in Maryland, their recognition of JMU made me feel so proud of going to JMU.

Besides the good food we provide (top 5 best campus food in the Nation!) and the friendly campus we have, JMU is a renowned University for the quality of education it provides. Even this summer while I was in Uganda (East Africa), some people asked me what University I go to and I told them I go to JMU (not expecting them to know anything about it since it doesn’t have the fame of Harvard for example) and I was impressed  about how much they knew about JMU already. That made me feel so proud about being a duke.

As I progress in my studies at JMU, I got to know more about how things work. I get amazed about how influential JMU is in the country and how well-ranked among US universities. Many of our teachers are on the top 300 best professors of the Nation according to the Princeton Review (http://www.princetonreview.com/uploadedFiles/Sitemap/Home_Page/Rankings/Best_Professors/BestProfessors_Name.pdf) . JMU also carries out some cutting edge researches that are published in respected journals.

International students holding flags at university in the USA

Representing my country at James Madison University

The new president also talked about some other aspects of JMU that are attractive to many people. He pointed out the international students’ community at JMU. At the beginning of the ceremony, us international students carried the flags of our country. It was such a great and meaningful moment walking with our nation’s flag. That shows that international students have their place at JMU.

This year, just like I did last year, I went to the portfolio presentation of the International Study Center students that will be matriculating to become full-time JMU students just like me. I was impressed about how ambitious they are and I really support this way of thinking. I believe that in life one must set himself some goals and work as hard as he can to achieve those goals. More about my ambitions can be found on the following link, an article I wrote for JMU (http://jmubethechange.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/with-a-little-help-from-friends/ ). I also believe that nothing has to come between somebody and his big ambitions. Sometimes in life some people or some experience will make us feel like we can’t achieve something but we have to look at those bad experience as a motivation to go forward instead of a cause to holding us back.