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!

O-Week 2017: Get Hype?

Here’s a timely topic for you: Orientation Week (aka O-Week) 2017!!! This is the first week new students have on campus: a week of fun social events and academic planning and sessions meant to orient you to important aspects of campus life. Each new student is placed in a group of 8-10, with 2-4 upperclassmen advisors who are there to be the first point of contact and the first advocate for a new student.

“But wait,” you say, “O-Week doesn’t happen until next August.” That’s true. Many of the students who will be joining us next year haven’t even been admitted yet and won’t find out about their acceptance to Rice until the end of the semester. It’s the middle of February, sure – but in fact, planning for O-Week has already begun. This is just the point at which things pick up speed.

At Duncan, my residential college, the O-Week theme was revealed last week to be RadiO-Week, which has prompted two things: a wave of radio-related puns to circulate the college and a wave of excitement and mild panic as people rush to fill out their advisor applications. Interviews, decisions, a second wave of applications and interviews and decisions as colleges seek to fill the co-advisor (advisors who are from a different residential college) positions, and so on. It can be a stressful time, especially if it’s your first time applying to advise, especially because it’s a job that attracts so many people. Yesterday, at lunch with the group I advised last year, I asked who, if anyone, was applying to advise. Almost all of my new students said they were, and, further, that “basically the whole freshman class is applying.” So what’s the big deal? Why is it that my whole group – ten wonderful freshmen with diverse interests and backgrounds and personalities – wants to turn around and play the role of the knowledgeable older student?

As for my lovely O-Week family, there isn’t a single one of them that wouldn’t make a great advisor next year!

People have different reasons for wanting to become advisors, but here are some of the ones I’ve heard. Of course, everyone who applies wants to get to know the matriculating class of 2017 and wants to be involved in the college (and it’s fantastic to be part of an environment where those motivations are just givens). But here are other reasons for your future advisors giving up two weeks of their summer vacation and a whole lot of their sleep to make sure the matriculating class of 2017 feels safe and accepted at Rice:

  1. My O-Week was amazing!!! I want to repay the favor for the next group of new students!
  2. I know something could have been improved, so I wanted to see that change.
  3. I want new students like me to feel that they have someone supporting them.

The middle reason may be surprising, but it just goes to show the drive and compassion of Rice students. Other advisors I worked with last year admitted at some point, “You know, my O-Week experience was only okay, but I know that was only because of XYZ thing, so I wanted to sort of make sure that didn’t happen.” And those advisors who are advising for the third reason can be some of the most passionate – they’re people who have felt marginalized at some point in their lives, who struggle with mental wellbeing, and who want to use their experiences to make things easier and more comfortable for new students.

And the best O-Week team (like Duncan’s team last year) has a mixture of all three. So I encourage any prospective students who do decide to come to Rice to look out for the differences in the advisors at their residential college. There is no one Rice experience, and your advisors are going to represent that.

The only slightly nutty advising team at Duncan last year: more awesome than you could imagine

Rice Owls, Then and Now

One of the RAs at my residential college works in the Research Center at Fondren Library. A few weeks ago, she gave me and a few other Sidizens a highlights tour of some of her favorite things in the library archives. While we were there, we got to see all kinds of treasures. These included:

  • A nurse’s uniform from World War I
  • A world map from the 1300s (although you would definitely get lost if you used it for directions)
  • Possible X-rays of Hitler’s skull
  • A book with a cover that may or may not have been made from human skin (spooky!)
  • The first folio of Shakespeare’s works

Getting to turn through the pages of books written hundreds of years before I was born made me feel like I was traveling back in time. I couldn’t believe that these treasures had only been a few floors below me while I worked on assignments at the library late into the night!

The first folio of Shakespeare’s works was compiled in 1623, almost 300 years before Rice was founded.

Of all of the things that I was able to see, however, I was particularly intrigued by the Rice-related items in the archive collection. Amidst the glimpses of the past on display were old yearbooks and photographs taken during the university’s early days. It’s amazing to see how much larger and how much more diverse our campus has become over the years. With the university’s founding in 1912, almost none of the buildings that I go into each day existed, and there were about the same number of people in my Econ class last semester as there were in the first graduating class.

Pictures from when Sid Rich first opened in 1971. The building was dedicated by LBJ!

As I went forward in time from the university’s founding, I saw class sizes grow, watched campus expand, and witnessed an increase in diversity on campus. Along the way, I got to see pictures of my own residential college, Sid Rich, from when it first opened in 1971. As the pictures moved from black and white to color, I watched hairstyles and fashion change. Different faces occupied the photographs taken year after year. However, throughout the tremendous growth and positive change that Rice has experienced, the unconventional wisdom of its student body has remained an integral part of the campus culture. Going through the archives that night made me realize that Rice has always been committed to educating its students so that they can change the world for the better. The Rice experience is truly life-changing, and there are so many opportunities waiting here for you to discover!

Research at Rice

Coming into Rice, I definitely knew I wanted to do research here. I remember going to research panels as a “prospie” (prospective student) during Owl Days and hearing about all the wonderful opportunities and ways to start research here. Personally, I really wanted to work off-campus at the Texas Medical Center because I wanted to work in a clinical environment as a premed. I remember continuing to attend other research panels once I started going to Rice. These panels often advertised research opportunities or discussed ways to getting involved. There are emails that you can subscribe to that publicize research opportunities and other programs that you can apply to as well. I find that emailing the principal investigator (PI) of a lab you’re interested in is the most effective and worthwhile way to get involved in research. If the PI is interested in speaking with you, then you usually meet up at their lab and discuss the next steps.

This is how I found my first research opportunity. I worked at a lab in the Neurological Research Institute (NRI) at the medical center. I investigated the effects of certain gene splicing errors on the behavioral, physiological, and neurological components of fruit flies. My lab was another community I found at Rice, and I had my own project to work on independently on my own time. As much as I enjoyed the experience, I realized that this type of research was not for me. I wanted to do more social sciences research and not so much work in a wet lab environment.

Rice is right next to the medical center, which makes it super convenient for students who want to work there.

A year later, I had a new opportunity to be involved in the Health, Humanism, and Society Scholars Program at Rice’s School of Social Sciences. This program allows students to work on medical humanities research at Texas Medical Center schools. I am still involved in this research now and it has been one of the most interesting and unique experiences I’ve had thus far at Rice. I am studying the moral, ethical, and legal implications of genomics at the Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy. A lot of the work I do is on my computer, coding interviews, writing up literature reviews, and researching case studies. I don’t have to go to the medical center as often, which makes it much more convenient for me. As I’m moving forward with my research, I’m excited (but also a bit nervous!) to present at the Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium this coming April. Not only has this research made me learn new skills and turned me into a more inquisitive and analytical student, but I’ve also realized what my academic interest are. In addition to wanting to go to medical school one day, I also want to go to grad school to study public health.

A lot of people, like me, don’t always stay with the same lab during their four years here. Sometimes it can take a while to find a lab that suits your interests and schedule. Regardless of what kind of research you do, it is a time commitment and you will get the most out of the experience if you put enough effort into it. For example, if you do research for credit, you usually need to put in 9-10 hours a week (equivalent to a 3-credit class at rice). Students can also get paid for their research, which can be extremely rewarding.

Research isn’t for everyone, but if you are slightly interested, I encourage you to try it out. It’s also important to note that at Rice you can do research in all sorts of subjects (sociology, engineering, science, history, etc), so don’t be discouraged to get involved just because you don’t think your major suits it. Just because you’re in a certain major does not mean you can’t do research in another subject area. The kind of research you want to do is super flexible, so I encourage you to take advantage of that. Research has developed me into a more well-rounded and mature individual who is more prepared to take on the real world.

Why I Became an Economics Major

Back in high school, I toyed with the idea of being an Economics major, but I wasn’t 100% certain. I took AP Micro- and Macroeconomics in my senior year, but I did not ‘fall in love’ with the subject immediately. While I enjoyed my Economics classes, I liked others more. I seriously considered my choice of major while I was working at my first summer internship at American Business TV. I was producing news segments that provided insight about different companies’ financial news. I was surprised to learn that I liked reading about stock prices and company mergers. With this newfound appreciation for business and my affinity toward economics, I decided to major in it.

In AP Microeconomics, my group made a video about Credit Score Mingle, a dating website that pairs people together with similar, high credit scores.

I realized I wanted to major in Economics in the third week of my sophomore year. Why is this important? It was one week after the add deadline, a university imposed deadline to make sure people don’t add classes too late and get behind. I was unable to add my introductory economics class, the class I needed in order to take any other economics class at Rice. I spent the semester taking almost all electives, ranging from Naval Engineering to Introductory Russian. This was actually a good thing, as I had some time to think about my future, in addition to adjusting to my first semester living in an apartment off-campus.

 

In the spring of my sophomore year, I was able to enroll in my first economics class, Principles of Economics. I was also very motivated, as I had been trying for months to enter my chosen field. The introductory class was engaging and entertaining – I never wanted to miss it. At this point, I was excited to finally take classes in my major.

 

Aside from the academic aspect of the major, there’s something more important: the people! People play a huge factor in one’s education. For instance, in my World Economic History class, I am writing a group paper. In Energy Economics and Macroeconomics, I formed study groups with undergraduate and graduate students to do the homework. I gained so much from learning from my peers, and they have learned from me as well. The people who tend to major in economics are outgoing and friendly – sometimes they even introduce themselves to me. I’ve made some great friends in my major that I plan on keeping in touch with even after I graduate.

Seohee Kim, a friend in my major, and I at the 2016 Dance Team Christmas Party

Going forward, I do not know what the future holds. I could be creating regression analyses using econometrics knowledge or creating long-run market price trends for energy sources. I could be tabulating finances or predicting the next market crash. The best part about being an Economics major is that it opens doors; I could enter nearly any industry in some capacity. There is a lot of flexibility in choosing classes, you could go heavy on the quantitative, law, or finance classes, or you can take a more generalized approach and take a smattering of each. I did not expect to like my major as much as I do. I am glad I took a chance to pursue what I love, and I hope to incorporate my economics knowledge in my work in the future.

There Are No Boundaries Here

“I apologize, everyone, but we will need to delay the start of the show until 7:35 because we still have a line out the door. We didn’t expect so many people to come. Sorry, again, but thank you, everyone, for coming out tonight!”

I was surprised to not hear any groans from the crowd following the announcement. It was Saturday night, and the Rice African Student Association (RASA) was holding their annual dinner show, Africayé. Dinner started at 6:00, but when my friends and I got there at 6:10, the line was already far out the door and remained that way until the start of the show.

Last but not least – our classmates and friends on the dance team danced their hearts out. Photo Credit: Rice African Student Association

Africayé has always been a hugely popular event at Rice. The perfect combination of exotic but delicious food, foot-stomping music, and immersion into a lively culture so remote from most of our own is beyond worth the $5 ticket value, an opportunity Rice students are more than willing to drop everything for. Walking through the food line, my plate was loaded up with injera bread, a variety of meats, samossas, rice, and lentil stew. My heavenly gustatory experience was soon mingled with the heavy beat of traditional African music pumping through my body as my friend beckoned us to take our seats in front of the performance stage. We filled the time jamming and grooving to the drum sequences booming through the speakers and when the show started, my field of vision was flooded with colors, movement, and life. We screamed wildly for our friends who were performing, having never imagined that they could dance with so much purpose. The last number by the RASA dance team was incredible, bursting with an awesome sense of cultural pride and rendering everyone in the audience jealous that our bodies couldn’t move like that.

Our friend absolutely killed it as the RASA dance team captain, and we were happy to be there for her.

Cultural nights like Africayé are one of many at Rice. Ritmo! and Lunar New Year are equally enthralling, each in their own ways. I’m proud to attend a university where everyone celebrates everyone, and learning extends far beyond the boundaries of a classroom. The community that Rice fosters is one-of-a-kind, and I’ll be taking advantage of every opportunity to expand my limitless horizons. I’ve already added an entire album of traditional African music to my Spotify playlist.