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Student to Student Discussion for New International Students

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate in an online discussion with current international students and a representative from the U-M International Center to discuss information and resources for new international students. The panel was facilitated by my colleague Paula Wishart (thanks, Paula!). We covered a lot of information in the hour and a half discussion. Summarized below are some of the topics we talked about, along with some links to resources that may be helpful to you. I’d like to say “thank you” to the following students and staff for sharing their experiences and getting my week started off on a very positive note!

  • Dishari Mukherjee, Ph.D. student, Microbiology and Immunology
  • Jialiu Ma, Ph.D. student, Chemistry
  • Wufan Jia, Master’s student, School of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Nebibe Mutlu, Ph.D. student, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology
  • Abhishek Goyal, Master’s student, Mechanical Engineering
  • Kate Zheng, Program Coordinator, International Center
  • Paula Wishart, Program Officer for Professional Development, Rackham Graduate School

Travel Tips

  • Make sure your phone works in the U.S. and have phone numbers of your airport transportation service handy in case you need to follow up.
  • Don’t pack immigration documents in your suitcase. Carry your immigration document, passport, housing contract on the plane with you.
  • Know in a general sense of how to get from the airport to Ann Arbor in case something unexpected happens.

Housing

  • If you already have found housing, locate the nearest bus route or if you haven’t found housing yet, try to find housing near a bus route. This is especially important if you don’t have a car, but you may still use the bus sometimes to get around campus or Ann Arbor.
  • If there is an information-sharing resource that is often used by students in your home country, it would be helpful to look into it to get advice from students from your home country about what areas they liked to live in.

Roommates

  • Try to find your roommate as early as possible.
  • Don’t feel like you have to find a roommate from your home country.
  • Roommates who are more advanced students can help your transition.

Furniture

  • Many apartments/homes are not furnished.
  • Second-hand stores/thrift stores, like the Salvation Army, offer used furniture at reasonable prices.
  • Discount stores like Ikea and Walmart offer inexpensive furniture.
  • Craiglist.org (a resource external to U-M) is a forum where people can list the things they would like to sell.
  • When you arrive, look around for yard sales.
  • U-M Property Disposition has inexpensive furniture that is no longer needed by U-M.
  • If you buy used furniture from an individual, you can ask if delivery is an option if you don’t have a way to get the furniture.
  • Yard sales/garage sales/moving sales are common in the U.S., which is when people don’t have use for something and will sell it for a deeply discounted price.
  • Online vendors like Walmart.com or Amazon.com can deliver to your home.
  • If possible, buy a new mattress.

Housing for Early Arrivals

  • If your lease starts on September 1, you will need to find temporary housing before your lease officially starts.
  • You can look for subleases/sublets, which is when you take over someone’s lease.
  • U-M’s Off-Campus Housing website includes information about sublets, forms, tenant rights and responsibilities, applicable laws, and renter’s insurance.
  • University Housing offers early-arrival housing on campus. More information will be available in about this in late July. Space is limited with this program.

Orientations

  • Make sure to attend the orientation offered by your school/college and/or department/program.
  • The International Center offers a 3 week Summer Orientation from August 11 to August 29. Workshops are repeated once per week during the orientation and there are also social events. The schedule is posted on the website and everything will be finalized in late July.
  • Rackham Fall Welcome and Information Fair for New Graduate Students is on Friday, August 29 from 8:45am-12:00pm, which features a resource fair with representatives from campus and community organizations.
  • There is a social event for all new and returning students on August 29 that is sponsored by Rackham and the Rackham Student Government.
  • There may be other orientations or trainings that you are expected to attend. Check with your department/program.

Mcard/Identification Card

  • Mcard: The Mcard is the official U-M identification card.
  • Your Mcard allows you to:
    • Access buildings after regular hours
    • Check out library books
  • Ride the Ann Arbor and U-M Blue Buses for free
  • Have access to student discounts on restaurants, movies, and performances
  • Most students will get their Mcard at orientation, but they are also available at ID issuing stations.
  • Check in is offered at some events, swipe the card and the information from the event can be e-mailed to you.

Transportation/Getting Around Campus

  • North Campus is home to the College of Engineering, the School of Music, Theatre, & Dance, the School of Art and Design, and the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.
  • Most other schools and colleges are on Central Campus and the Medical Campus, but if you need to take a course on either campus, you can take the U-M Blue Buses back and forth and it takes 10-15 minutes.
  • You can walk between the Medical, Central and South Campuses.
  • In your free time, use a map and walk around campus to locate buildings, since many events and activities are held all across campus (not just your department), so familiarizing yourself before you need to find a building will help you.
  • It can be difficult to go out on the weekends without a car because the Ann Arbor city bus service ends earlier than some establishments remain open, so plan ahead.
  • If you know someone who frequently helps you get around in his/her personal vehicle, you can offer to pay some money for gasoline.

Student Organizations

  • International students can connect relevant student associations at U-M.
  • Some countries don’t have a formal student organization, but you can connect with your department and they have U.S. students and international students who can give you information.
  • There are many organizations listed on MaizePages for all types of activities, and you can find students with similar interests. MaizePages lists all official groups registered with U-M and you can search by keywords. Includes social, cultural, academic, service and religious organizations.
  • If you don’t find an existing organization around your interests, you can start your own.
  • Festifall is an event held on the Diag on Central Campus the second week of September, where you can sign up for student groups/organizations you are interested in.
  • There is a smaller version of Festifall on North Campus, called Go North! Fest, also held during the second week of September.
  • There may be more informal organizations in your department/program or at the school/college level (e.g., in the Mechanical Engineering department or in the College of Engineering).

Registering for Courses

  • Different departments have different timing for registering for courses.
  • Academic services/affairs offices in your are a good place to check to find out what the normal timing is for your department/program.
  • Some departments won’t allow you to register prior to orientation, so don’t be worried.
  • For international students, there is an enrollment requirement. If your personal circumstances allow and your department/program agrees, you should focus on taking the basic requirements and foundation courses in the first semester and don’t overload your schedule in the fall semester. Once you adjust to the environment, you can increase your course load.

Academic Information

  • Your department/program website is a good source of information.
  • In most cases, there will be a student handbook that summarizes the rules that apply to students in the particular department/program.
  • More advanced students in you program can be a good resource as well.
  • The Rackham Graduate School website has general policies and procedures that apply to all Rackham students.

Connecting With Your Peers and Learning About Your Department

  • Some schools/colleges have programs to assist new students by matching them with more advanced students.
  • Even if activities offered by your department/program are not mandatory, you should try to attend because you can meet others in your program, make connections, find out which courses to take, and informally learn more about the department/program.
  • When you look at faculty websites, what is listed is previous published work. Since current work may not have been published yet, so you may need to find out what a faculty members is working on now.
  • If you are interested in a certain lab, visit the lab and talk to graduate students there. You can ask them what their experience has been like in the lab.
  • You can direct questions to the student services office in your department/program and if the staff member doesn’t know the answer to your question, he or she can likely direct you to another person.
  • Visit the webpages of labs you might be interested in joining to get more information.
  • You can send e-mails to senior students from your home country to get advice because they have already gone through the process.
  • Once you join a lab, you can make connections with your labmates.

Academic Websites

  • CTools: Professors will upload their materials (e.g., slides, readings) to this website.
  • You may be asked to upload your homework or assignments electronically to this site.
  • Bookmark this site in your web browser, since you will likely use it frequently.
  • Wolverine Access: This is the central administrative gateway, which is where you will search for and register for your classes, view your paycheck, update your personal information, and other helpful information.

Academic Culture

  • Most professors and teaching assistants (referred to as “Graduate Student Instructors/GSIs” at U-M) offer office hours, which is time set aside each week for the professors/GSIs to meet with students to help answer questions.
  • Take advantage of time with your professor, and be proactive in seeking out help when you need it.
  • If you would like to meet with a professor, e-mail him/her and set up a time to meet.
  • You should ask what ways the professor prefers to communicate, since each professor has his/her own preferences.
  • Make sure that you are prepared to ask questions.
  • Be respectful of the professor’s time and don’t be late for appointments. Most meeting times do NOT follow “Michigan time.” (see below)
  • Start off your communications with a professor more formally at first until the professor gives you a sense of if using his/her first name is acceptable.
  • In some countries, authority isn’t supposed to be questioned, but in general, it is expected that you ask questions if you don’t understand.
  • Especially for graduate students, there is more of a peer relationship between professors and students.
  • You may find that professors take an interest in the wellbeing of students they work with.
  • Professors may invite members from their department/program/lab to their home for celebrations and informal gatherings.
  • “Michigan time”: Classes start 10 minutes after the advertised time (e.g., a class offered from 10:00-11:30am will start at 10:10am). This passing time allows for students to get from one part of campus to another.

American Culture

  • Getting used to cultural differences in the U.S. can be difficult.
  • Some international students find that American culture is very encouraging. Hearing “Good job” is pretty common, so don’t read too much into very positive feedback.
  • There is a culture of self-service, such as “self-check out” at grocery store, where you choose the items you wish to purchase and scan them and process the payment at a kiosk.
  • You can do a lot of things without having to interact with other people.
  • There is a different sense of personal space in the U.S. than in some cultures. In general, try to be respectful of the personal space of others.
  • Try not to interrupt someone until they have completed their thought.
  • Making eye contact is crucial to show that you are listening and paying attention and it can take some time to get used to making eye contact.
  • Americans can use humor quite a lot and it seems to be valued.
  • America is a friendly place. It is common for people to smile and ask you how you are doing.

English Language

  • Understanding accents (and having others understand your accent) can take time. If you are accustomed to speaking quickly, try to slow down (and you can ask the other person to slow down, too)
  • You might find that you may understand the words someone is saying, but don’t understand the cultural references.
  • You may want to watch American programs on TV to pick up on some of the cultural references you may hear.
  • The English Language Institute (ELI) offers a summer GSI training course for graduate students from non-English-medium undergraduate universities who will be GSIs during the academic year.
  • ELI provides courses during the fall and winter term to improve your writing, listening and speaking skills.
  • ELI also offers Conversation Circles, which are groups of people including a native speaker who interact casually for an hour each week. The Conversation Circles require registration and fill up quickly.
  • There are other formal opportunities to practice speaking English in the Ann Arbor community.
  • There are more informal opportunities to practice English speaking skills when you interact with others who share a common interest.
  • The International Center has a coffee hour for new international students.
  • There are also ways to informally connect with Americans by asking them to be your conversation partner.

Rackham Graduate School

  • Rackham offers social events for all students (often in partnership with Rackham Student Government), activities for special-interest groups of students, including international students and students with children.
  • Rackham offers professional development opportunities, including workshops on job search, career development, and core competencies.
  • Rackham collaborates with many units on campus to offer information and resources of interest to graduate students.
  • Rackham sends an e-mail newsletter to all Rackham students each week during the academic year, which includes information about workshops and social events, fellowships, and other announcements.

International Center

  • The International Center hosts workshops all year round about employment rules and regulations, and works with other offices on workshops on particular topics, such as finding an internship. They also offer workshops on social and cultural aspects.
  • The International Center will send e-mails to international students, but don’t delete them before reading them, because the communications may include information specific to your immigration situation, or reminders about travel signatures or expiring documents.
  • For international students who have to file federal tax forms, free tax software is offered through the International Center, as long as you are a non-resident alien for tax purposes.
  • The International Center also offers information about filing Michigan taxes.

U-M Buildings

  • There is a Campus Information Center in the Michigan Union on Central Campus and Pierpont Commons on North Campus where you can find campus maps, city maps, and bus schedules.
  • Michigan Union, referred to as “the Union,” includes offices, shops, and several campus resources including the Campus Information Center, the Center for Campus Involvement, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), as well as food vendors, and study spaces.
  • Pierpont Commons on North Campus (“Pierpont”), also offers many of the same amenities as the Michigan Union.
  • “Rackham” refers to the Graduate School but also to the Rackham Building, which features study spaces and rooms for hosting events.
  • The Duderstadt Center on North Campus hosts Art, Architecture, and Engineering Library, CAEN computers with access to engineering software, 500 computers, study space, and a café.
  • The Hatcher Graduate Library and Shapiro Undergraduate Library are good places to study, but also host exhibits and events.
  • The International Center Summer Orientation includes tours of the libraries.
  • The Student Activities Building (“SAB”) houses the International Center, the Mcard Office, Housing, The Career Center, Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR), Financial Aid, the Student Employment Office, and Undergraduate Admissions.

Phrases/Acronyms

  • “Ugli”—the nickname of the Undergraduate Library.
  • “Big House”—the Michigan football stadium.
  • “Maize and Blue”—Michigan’s school colors.
  • “BTC”—Blake Transit Center, a hub for AATA buses, which is walkable from Central Campus.

Eating/Dining/Groceries

  • Ann Arbor and the surrounding community offer good restaurants from a variety of cultures.
  • Yelp.com is a good starting point to find out if a restaurant gets high ratings.
  • You can ask your classmates or labmates for good places to try.
  • There are many markets to purchase food:
    • Kroger
    • Whole Foods for organic food
    • Ann Arbor Farmers Market, which is an outdoor market that offers fresh fruit and vegetables
    • There are quite a few Indian groceries and Chinese markets in the area.
    • There is an event in Ann Arbor called Restaurant Week which takes place twice a year, where restaurants offer fixed price menu offerings. This event allows you to try out different restaurants at a good price.
    • The Ann Arbor Observer has a listing of restaurants that is searchable by type of cuisine.
    • Some grocery stores are further away from campus, so you may need to drive or take a bus.
    • If you come from a vegetarian background, there may be a perception that you have to be non-vegetarian in America, but in Ann Arbor there are many vegetarian options.

Ann Arbor

  • There is an Ann Arbor Observer City Guide, which features information about Ann Arbor.
  • From May to October is a great time to be in Ann Arbor, so take advantage of the outdoors when you arrive.
  • The weather for Michigan can be cold in the late fall/early winter, so you will need warm clothing for the colder months. Local stores carry clothing and accessories for cold weather months. The International Center also offers shopping trips to purchase colder weather gear.
  • The weather in Ann Arbor can change throughout the day, so you should check the weather when you leave the house in the morning.
  • The city of Ann Arbor and the U-M campus are intertwined.

Good things to know

  • There is a University of Michigan smartphone app available, which includes information about courses, buses, campus maps, Mirlyn (the library catalog), and document printing.
  • You will receive e-mails from many sources (school/college, department/program, Rackham, International Center). Try to read the e-mails quickly before deleting them, since you don’t want to miss important information.