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Getting into US Colleges for Chinese Students:Top 3 Tips
When I was a prospective college student, I knew I wanted to get away. Away for me was about 1,200 miles from my home town in Houston to a college in Pennsylvania. The differences between me and the people I met from the northeast were recognizable but not astonishing: generally, they were better at living in the cold and worse at cooking Tex-Mex, better at living in stressful environments and worse at holding the door open for the people behind them. They still spoke my language, our cultures weren’t too distinct, and we did similar things growing up that landed us at that particular college.

Even so, getting in to a college in the Northeast was an intimidating endeavor for me. For some Chinese international students travelling half way around the globe for a similar college experience, the process of admissions into a US college or university can be even more daunting. Thus, this formidable process requires some tips to help navigate the sea of applications and admittance boards.

TIP #1- Test scores really do matter.
From 7.0 grading scales, to 5.0 grading scales, to high schools that refuse to rank their students, it really is no wonder that colleges have a difficult time interpreting domestic student transcripts. Chances are, accordingly, not in the favor of international students when it comes to translating a transcript from an overseas grading scale. With so much variance, it can be near impossible for a college admissions board who read an average of 600 applications each year. Thus, these admissions officers pay more attention to the test scores of international applicants. SAT scores become incredibly important in interpreting how hard a student worked for the grade they earned. Similarly, the International English Language Test System (IELTS) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) are very important. Colleges and Universities want a guaranteed score, proving that admitted international students will be able to communicate efficiently in English, both written and verbal, in the classroom and in their classwork.

TIP #2- There are more schools than just the Ivy League Universities.
Most international students apply to the big name schools (Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc.), and ignore the possibility of leaving the northeast and/or attending a liberal art school. Many Ivy League schools have an acceptance rate that sits consistently below ten percent, but other traditional top schools and big name universities are either adding more seats to their undergraduate classes or being added to the list of high ranking colleges and universities. According to Scott Farber, a Harvard graduate and the founder of A-List Education, “there are 55 percent more seats at top colleges than there were 30 years ago.” This opens up more seats for international students in the undergraduate classes who meet the standards of admissions, thus allowing more international students to study in the US even if they don’t get accepted into Ivy League schools.

TIP #3- This is your time to gloat.
Write about your extracurricular activities, the instruments or sport you play, a job you had, your leadership positions in school and out, community service, or volunteer work. Stacey Kostell, director of admissions, University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign, suggests including “a program of study that qualifies you for admission to selective universities in your home country.” This should prove your college readiness to attend a top US college or university, and could help prove your proficiency in English. Make sure your admissions essay(s) follow the same train of thought: a college wants to admit you and wants you to be happy there, and you have 500 words to prove to them how you will do so and how you will be an asset to their campus. Triple proofread your essay and give it to five other people to proofread. It’s all about the gloating.

Ultimately, the admissions process might be a scary path to walk down, especially for international students fighting a shark tank of systems and tests. However, knowing the purpose of this system makes the tests feel more meaningful, especially when success means a four year achievement to a life time goal.

Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski

lrngo users in over 190 countries

Baskin Robbins Ice Cream over textbook book
I am an International Student Living in the US
The first time I ordered a meal here, I realized that life as I knew it was going to be different. Vastly different. I mean, when you come from a place where a burger is simply a burger and not an entity larger than your face, the latter comes with a bit of a shock factor. And it wasn’t just the American Stacked Burger that galvanized my revelation, it was accompanied by the ‘large’ Dr. Pepper, which in truth was not merely ‘large,’ but more like gallon-sized. It might sound silly to the average American, but to an international student moving to the land of the free, portions are only the beginning of a series of gasps and adjustments that, even as time passes, keep reminding me and many in the international student community of the unfamiliarity we sometimes experience. Living in the US is all good fun, though it is kind of annoying when you can’t share the fun with your parents and friends who are currently snoring it up half-way across the world.

Up to the second when I received my diploma and graduated high school back in 2014, I had not panicked the slightest bit when thinking of my nearing transition into college. But when I got that diploma, the smile I’d been practicing for the pictures nearly failed me as I thought: ‘Oh no, what now?’ I know now that the feeling I was feeling was also being simultaneously felt by the people next to me. Anxiety stricken and thought-filled, we all managed to walk down the aisle and finally obtain the liberty we’d all been craving. Except now, we almost wanted our principal to take it back. What do we do now?

The U S of A. How would people treat me there? Would they be nice? How about food? Would I ever find a place with food as good as my mom’s? These were just some of the thoughts racing through my mind and that of my 120 peers, many of whom were embarking onto the university experience in the same new country in which I would. At least that was comforting.

Now that I’ve been here for a while, it’s a little easier for me not to scream out native slang, or get annoyed with people that seem suspicious towards my lack-of-accent English. The everlasting pain of having to fill out visa paperwork and constant worry of a sudden (yet reasonless) deportation, however, are a bit harder to get rid of. I’m not gonna lie, adapting isn’t easy. You don’t just move here and suddenly feel at home; for months I still secretly wished that every restaurant suddenly underwent a transformation and became a Malaysian Mamak stand. I kicked and screamed in frustration every time the Skype call to my mom went by unanswered because she was currently in her fifth sleep cycle. It was a struggle. But after getting over certain things (like the food) that I was holding against it, the US became my home. I don’t think twice about portion sizes anymore, and there’s even room for ice cream after dinner.

Photo Credit: Mooss

lrngo users in over 190 countries

Malaysia's flag flying
My Language Exchange: Malay for English
A lot of times I have been asked how I got started learning through language exchange, so I decided to write my story. After receiving my TEFL certification, I had no idea where I wanted to work. I knew I wanted to teach and travel, which is why I took this job, but I didn’t know where. After doing some online research, working in Malaysia began to really spark my interest.

I talked to a recruiter at a teacher placement agency and it turned out that TEFL teachers are needed over there, and the agency found a Malaysian school with a position open. After what seemed like endless amounts of paperwork (really), within weeks I finally had set a departure date for Alor Setar about three months out.

I decided that these three months would be a great time to learn more about Malaysia. I bought travel books, searched endlessly about all things Malaysian online, and dove into the Malaysian culture as much as a young woman living in the USA with an internet connection could. Through my studies, I decided that I should probably take the time to learn Malay.

Malay is Malaysia’s official language, so I figured if I am going to live and teach over there for quite some time, I better at least familiarize myself with the basics. The problem was I had no idea where to start, and I didn’t have any Malaysian friends. In fact, I had never known anyone who could speak Malay, and I hadn’t heard of any “Malay classes” being held anywhere close by. I didn’t even know how to say, “How are you?” in Malay.

So I began where anyone else with a million questions would begin: Google. After endless searching, Google let me down. I did not find classes around my area teaching Malay. There were plenty of Spanish, French, and Chinese classes, but none for Malay, and I had no luck finding any private tutors either.

On the other hand, there were some useful English to Malay websites. I finally learned how to say “How are you?” in Malay which is “Apa khabar?” I learned other basic phrases from reading websites and watching YouTube videos, but I honestly wasn’t sure if I was pronouncing or even using the words right. I wrote down what I learned, but I knew it was a crap shoot and I was far from satisfied.

At one point I was talking to a friend about my language learning troubles, and she recommended that I try something I never heard of before at the time: a language exchange. She said, “You know, language exchange occurs between two people who are fluent speakers in a language and they trade. It is a process of teaching the language you know and learning a language you want to know.”

After she was done explaining all of this, I told her, “That sounds great. I would love to do something like that, but the problem is I don’t know anyone who knows the language who I could trade with.”

She said to try some language exchange sites, and then told me about where they even trade other subjects too. That intrigued me, and she said she had found a partner there, so I picked that one to start.

She told me how she made a friend through Lrngo who occasionally tutors her in Spanish in exchange for lessons in Chemistry. Of course, I had no idea what she was talking about until I searched Lrngo and made a profile for myself, and now here I am. So I learned that Lrngo was a social website where you could meet people interested not only in language exchange but learning exchange as well, and yada, yada, yada.

I made my profile fairly quickly with “Teaches: English and Wants to Learn: Malay” in my description, although I had some trouble uploading my picture. (I finally emailed it in.) After a couple of days, I got a message from Alvira in Singapore saying, “Would love to trade my Malay for yours English.”

From there, we hit it off. We agreed to meet up on Skype at least 2 days a week (which we usually stuck to) for lessons in English and Malay. Our first meeting on Skype was surprisingly not awkward at all. It was like meeting someone you never met before, but who you knew was friendly, and it was all done online. Every once in a while there was a hiccup, but overall the connection was good and not an issue, and I was actually impressed being that she was so far away.

Alvira, as it turned out, was a college student. She was very friendly and nervous about doing a language exchange. (I told her it was my first time doing something like this too.) She told me she wanted to improve her English skills because she wanted to pursue a job in business, and I told her about moving to Malaysia for my teaching job.

The language exchange itself was pretty interesting. There were no formalities to it really; not the way regular classroom lessons are. She would talk to me in Malay and I would try my best to speak Malay back to her. She corrected my pronunciations, taught me common sayings, and told me what words meant when I asked. She was always nice and helpful, and usually asked if I wanted her to suggest or correct me.

In exchange, I helped Alvira with her English. Mainly, I helped her out a lot with pronunciation since she was self-conscious about her accent. I also explained to her the meanings of a lot of English phrases, which is a lot trickier than I thought. We would have conversations in English, and when she wanted me to, I would correct her when she said a sentence wrong.

This continued on for weeks leading up to my departure. The most challenging aspect was finding the right time for both of us to Skype, because of the time difference. Usually, it would be morning in the United States and night in Malaysia or vice versa when we talked. But after a while, we developed and found a schedule that worked for the both of us.

After a couple of weeks, I learned how to carry on a simple but normal conversation in Malay. I learned standard greetings such as “Selamat pagi” (good morning) and “Selamat malam” (good night) which I used interchangeably depending what time of day it was over there. (That was usually how we started a session with a giggle, since it was clearly the opposite of day and night time for each of us.) After teaching me, “Saya tidak faham” (I don’t understand), I would use it frequently, and she laughed every time.

Throughout the three months, I became comfortable with speaking Malay and she told me she was becoming more confident in English, and after a while our Skype sessions felt like I was talking to an old friend. Alvira taught me a lot about the Singaporean culture and what Malaysia was like since she visited often. She had a lot of questions about the American culture as well, and I was happy to tell her all about it. (It’s funny some of the things we don’t think about until we have to explain them. I won’t go into detail here, but if you’ve ever done a language exchange you probably know what I mean.)

Once I reached Malaysia, I felt comfortable enough to practice my Malay skills with the locals and even, my students. It became easier to Skype with Alvira since we were on the same time zone. We plan to meet each other in person one day. Hopefully, when she comes to Malaysia or when I get the chance to visit Singapore.

Language exchange is an experience that I’ve truly enjoyed and that I have to thank for the new friend I made. For anyone looking to learn a new language, I strongly encourage trying out a language exchange, and even signing up on Lrngo or a similar site to meet new people. Language exchange doesn’t always have to be done in person; it can be done online as well. (Although as I’m finding now, in person can be really addictive too, especially after you get a good base going.) Thanks to technology, meeting new people and learning has never been easier. That’s it! ☺

Photo Credit: Eric Teoh

lrngo users in over 190 countries

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