Hello from the other side of the world!

As the title of this blog suggests, I am currently on the other side of the world. Guess where? One of the smaller but developed countries in the entire world, formerly a British colony but now the Asian Tiger: SINGAPORE!

This semester, I am an exchange student at the National University of Singapore (NUS), one of the best universities in Asia. However, I will not be talking about how much fun I am having since it needs no explanation. Instead, I want to share with y’all how supportive Rice is for students like me who want to study abroad.

The reason I wanted to study abroad is that I have many AP credits with which I can graduate in 3 years. But if I want to graduate early (many Rice students graduate early, too!), my schedule will become very intense. Therefore, I asked myself: why not take a semester off and see the world by studying abroad?

My parents were not very supportive when I told them my idea. They worried that as an engineering major, I would not be able to get equivalent credits that could transfer back to Rice. They were worried about the language barrier, where I was going to live, who I was supposed to talk to when I ran into trouble. Their worries made me scared as well. However, with the caring environment at Rice, I was able to ask around and found many good resources about studying abroad. I want to share them with you all so that you will not be as confused as I was when you decide to study abroad.

First of all, let’s talk about the people. Rice has an amazing team of study abroad advisors. There is an adult team that can help you with administrative issues such as signing up for a program and keeping in touch with the staff at the programs/universities. You can also just ask about their studying abroad experiences! There is also an ambassador team that is made up of students who have completed their study abroad programs. They are from different residential colleges, majors, and went to different countries for different programs. They are very accessible and are willing to share their fun and valuable memories.

Then, there are two main types of programs: institution-based and university-based. The former one is usually held by an institution such as SIT. These programs focus on certain topics such as bio-diversity, so the people you meet may mostly be from the same major as you are. Some programs have instructors who will lead you to conduct research as well. The university based program is what we usually call the “exchange program.” You will be registered as a student of another university and get to know the local students and staff from various disciplines and with various interests. Fewer students participate in university-based programs since it is more challenging, but I do know students who are participating in exchange programs in Japan, China, Singapore, Spain, and Australia!

Interested in studying abroad but fearing that you don’t have the time? Fear not! There are several programs offered during the summer! The institution based programs offer a lot of summer programs with the same content as the semester program, so you are not missing out. Another option for you is the Rice in Country program, which is perfect for those who are interested in learning foreign languages. The program will assign you to a homestay family and a language partner so that you will be fully immersed in the language and learn more! There are programs in France, German, Japan, China, among others.

If you want to explore the world, studying abroad with help from the Rice community is the perfect option! Do not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and start your adventure!

The day when I finally got my NUS student card. Officially a student of NUS!

There’s Something about that Job, Job, Job, Job…

Want to gain a sense of financial independence? (Not really) Then getting a part time job on Rice’s campus might be the best choice for you!

When I first got into Rice, I was overwhelmed by all my new financial responsibilities as an undergraduate student. It was the first time I had to manage my own money and I was not good at it at all. Therefore, I decided to get a job. There are a lot of jobs available on campus: from working in Rice Coffeeshop to writing for the Rice newspaper and grading for your math class. There is also a website for Rice students to check out what jobs are available. So you are very likely to find something you are truly interested in. However, when I was applying, I did not know for sure what I really loved since I was only a freshmen with zero work experience. I tried to narrow it down to three or four jobs. After a few interviews, I was lucky enough to get a job offer from the Rice Geographic Information System Data Center (GDC) as a student assistant.

The GDC is located in the basement of Rice’s Fondren Library. It mainly helps students or faculty visualize their research on a map with Geographic Information System (GIS). I came in with zero experience with GIS, but the GDC head, Kim, and GDC specialist, Jean, offered me great resources to learn GIS and trained me on almost everything I needed to excel using this system.

After the training, my main responsibilities as a student assistant were threefold: 1) Help patrons in the GDC when they run into problems, 2) Help Jean with her courses, 3) Work on my own projects. I have helped students from the Architecture to the Earth Sciences departments with their projects. Every time I work with them, I learn a lot from their projects and of course, how to debug common GIS system errors. I still remember for the first couple of months, whenever I was asked a question, I would always ask Jean for additional help because I had no idea what to do. I was so glad that neither Jean nor the patron got annoyed for me not being able to help, and it motivated me to keep learning! The good news is that after working at the GDC for a year, I don’t need to ask Jean all the time to answer patron’s questions!

The GDC offers many courses to help Rice students and faculty learn how to use GIS. If the class size is larger than around 10 people, one of the GDC student workers are there to assist Jean in the class and help answer any questions. Some student workers even offer their own courses, and that is a valuable experience for them!

My favorite part of working in the GDC is having my own projects to work on. Jean and Kim respect my own interests when assigning the projects. They worked with me on a GIS tutorial for a Civil Engineering class because I am a Civil Engineering major. They introduced me to a professor working on oil spills when they heard that I am interested in energy and environment. What I appreciate the most about my projects is that I am not alone. even when I am working on projects not related to the GDC itself. Jean and Kim are both willing to help and brainstorm with me when I have no idea where I am going. The GDC for me is truly like a family.

Besides job opportunities, the GDC also has really cool events going on. All GDC workers have a pizza party at the end of each semester. Each worker also gets a survival pack for finals – with my favorite snacks! Last semester, a few student workers went bowling with Jean and Kim (though I was unable to go 🙁 ) Recently, we have been busy decorating the place for the holiday season.

The GDC family board!

Working in the GDC and on Rice’s campus is a lot of fun. My experience is only a small portion of part time student workers’ lives. So if you want to work on campus and maybe learn something useful while earning money, Rice offers students lots of opportunities!

Every Student Has a Say: Being Part of Student Association

Athena with committee head from Academic Committee, Komal(currently SA internal vice president)

Athena with the committee head from the Academic Committee, Komal (currently SA internal vice president) at the SA recognition retreat.

I have been in Student Government throughout my three years in high school. So when I got into Rice, I knew that I would keep doing it.

There are two types of Student Governments at Rice: Rice-based and residential college-based. For Rice-based government, which we call Student Association (SA), the SA president, vice president, college presidents, senators and new student reps (NSRs) all have to attend our weekly meetings. I was an NSR for my residential college, Martel, when I was a freshman. And it was the most valuable experience I have ever had. I was able to participate in most of the important decisions made in Rice – for example, adding CCTV (closed-circuit television monitoring) at the university’s main entrance, and bike racks to prevent bikes from being stolen. I was encouraged to speak up about my personal opinions even as a freshman, because SA believes that every student has a say.

Besides attending weekly meetings, NSRs are also required to join a standing committee and work on their projects. There are five committees in total. Their names and visions can be found on http://sa.rice.edu/people/scc.php. I was in an academic committee and helped start a program called Meeting Your Professors. It was a monthly event that invited professors to have snacks with us and talk about their life before and after Rice. I really enjoyed doing it and helping build bonds between students and professors in a casual setting. I was also amazed by how much power I had as a freshman. Although the committee chairs did help me with planning and getting food to the event, I was given a lot of autonomy. I could decide how I wanted to advertise for it, which professors I wanted to invite, and how often I wanted to host the events. It was totally different from my experience with student government in high school. It was at Rice’s SA that I started to feel like I was given full responsibilities as an adult.

If you are not interested in Rice-based government, there is another choice: our residential colleges’ governments. For residential college-based government, class reps from each year (another way for freshman to get involved!), the residential college president, vice president, prime minister, senator and standing committee heads are also meeting weekly. But it mostly focuses on specific residential college-related topics. For my college, Martel, we would talk about topics such as how much money we will give to a special event held in our college and suggestions we have for renovating our kitchen. The residential college president and senator will also bring important topics that the SA is considering up to discussion within the college so that they can give feedback to the SA representing their college’s opinions.

Being part of Student Government was one of the most valuable experiences I had during my freshman year. It was quite different from high school, but I did enjoy it. I loved having my opinions respected and treated equally as those of upperclassmen, and I loved the freedom and support I was able to get when I was working on my project. I cannot think of another place that can offer me, a 19-year-old girl, such freedom and respect.