Coming to Ground: Reorientation of a Post-Abroad Owl

Allow me to preface by saying that returning to Rice has been awesome. Abroad was a whirlwind of new experiences which I am sure to cherish for years to come, but now I am finally back in Houston with my close friends who I haven’t spoken to face-to-face in months. Almost more importantly, I’m finally back in the welcoming arms of queso (oh, how I’ve missed you, molten cheese).

Back at a bastion of quesodom in Houston. We basked in the sunset (and the bright future of our meal) for a moment, before heading inside to chow down.

But things are different now. Not only for me, whose worldview is completely changed after three months of independence and foreign frolicking. My friends, too, have been going through months of various experiences (both highs and lows) without me there personally to talk to them, offer them support, and of course tease them on occasion. How does one go about making up for lost time, as well as the variety of experiences which have made us fundamentally changed people since August?

Coming back from abroad, I find myself straddling two different worlds. In Houston, I’m greeted with the regular issues: homework, social life, working. However, after the long days spent in the classroom and out, applying to internships and de-stressing through nights out and movie nights in, I lie down to sleep and think of abroad. How drastically different life was then.

My final night in London, as seen from the Tower of London. How does one reconcile such an independent, carefree life abroad with the subsequent support network and more stressful life waiting back at home?

Above all, I have been trying to keep things in perspective. I often reach out to friends I met abroad (some of my British “mates”, funnily enough, are studying abroad at various institutions in the United States!) Additionally, I strive to remember what I learned abroad: that struggles one goes through are mere blips in the greater scheme of things. Naturally, this does not mean to cast them aside as inconsequential, but rather to keep things in perspective. Remember that it is often the little things which are of fundamental importance, and (I know, cliché and bloggy as you can get) it’s not the destination which is important, but the journey you take to get there.

I’m continuing this journey of self-discovery back at Rice. I am happy to be back but also miss London. A mixture of emotions which are in a constant cycle of contradiction and reconciliation. I cherish the manifold experiences I had abroad but also realize the importance of the work I do stateside, perhaps now even more than I did before. While I remain unsure about where my path will lead, I know that the choices I make every day are fleshing out the journey which will thrust me into the future!

The Trees of Rice

Do you fear those humid summer days? One of the most common concerns of prospective Rice students, including myself when I was in high school, is the Houston heat. Luckily, you do not need to worry.  Here is why:

  • The hottest months in Houston are from June to August

During the hottest months of the summer, you may not be studying at Rice. You will be on summer break, which means that you will probably get to escape the heat (yay!). During most of the months that you are here (August-April), the weather is actually quite nice, especially during the winter. In January, you get sunshine and 60 degree weather instead of the freezing temperatures of the North. How awesome is it to be able to wear shorts in the winter?

  • All of the buildings have air conditioning

Even though the weather is still pretty humid when you arrive in August, you still get to escape most of the humidity. Much of your time will be spent indoors in classrooms or in one of Rice’s beautiful buildings, which means that you get to enjoy air conditioning. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, drenched in your own sweat? Well, you will never have to experience that here because every dorm room in Rice has its own air conditioning.

  • Trees, trees, and more trees!

Did you know that Rice was designated as a “Tree Campus USA?” Rice is an arboretum with 4,300 trees spread across campus. That means that each undergraduate can have 1 tree!

So what does this have to do with the Houston heat?

Well, these trees are not just for show. They provide shade all over campus. Sometimes on a hot day, students can take cover under one of the many friendly trees spread across campus to cool off.

  • Wrapping it all up

Although Houston can have some pretty hot weather, Rice has so many awesome features like air conditioning and trees to keep us cool. As a result, we do not fear the seemingly intimidating heat of Houston.

The endless lines of trees that cover Rice University

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!

How to Conquer Applications

In every application there is an opportunity to present yourself, and this should not be taken lightly. You will get to choose what activities are on your resume and which experiences have meant the most to you in an interview. This means that interviewers will judge you on what you present to them, so you should be thoughtful about which side you show them. It is by no means an easy process, because application season runs year-round, but it is not insurmountable. You will go into application season with a plan, and you will be relentless and you will get the job you want, deserve, and only ever dreamed of.

LinkedIn headshot ready to go!

When applying to the position you really want, do not hold back. Answer every optional question and contact 3 people aside from the interviewer and physically show up at the job site, because they need to see you. They need to see as much of your greatness as possible, so this is where you stand out. An application is not a one-minute process, an application is part of a picture, and you need to paint with a micro-paint brush to make sure they get the details of what you can bring to the position. Because you are going to apply for the top positions in the world, and you are good enough, and you need to be sure they see that by preparing with resume and interview help from the career center and cover letter reviews by your peer career advisors, and hype sessions with your roommate. It can take weeks to create a perfect application, but you will earn that job.

When applying to a position you don’t really want: Question why you are applying. If that time could be spent on applications for positions you want, you could be spending your time more wisely. “But there aren’t any more jobs I want;” you can get companies to make positions you want. “But I’m tired of applying;” are you more tired of not having a job? “But it would look good on my resume;” if you put an experience that you didn’t enjoy on your resume, you are more likely to get hired into positions you do not enjoy, and that is not a happy trajectory.

An accurate depiction of the number of drafts of your cover letter and resume.

When applying to the position you don’t think you can get: think again. You are an extremely qualified candidate, and even more so, you are humble. You have done incredible things just to attend this university much less what you have done once you arrived. You just need a night in or out with your friends to gain that self-confidence, because there is nothing you can’t achieve if you put your mind to it. Under no circumstances should you NOT apply. The only way to ensure you won’t get the job is by not applying, but your community of support here at Rice is ready to see what you can do.

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!