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Interaction of Home and School

When I started my graduate studies, it was quite overwhelming for me. I always studied at home after school, which was a good practice to complete the work in-time. I often had deadlines regarding my course work and the research projects that I was conducting with my professors. However, even after completing my work, I kept thinking about school and work while eating, watching television, or listening to music. This reduced the quality of the time that I was giving to myself to relax and prepare for the next day. At the time, I could not see that fixating on my work was affecting the quality of the work and ideas that I was supposed to develop. During my fourth semester, I started exploring research topics and finally selected “work and family” as the research area for my dissertation and for the next step of my professional career. When I was reading empirical studies about work-family balance, work-family conflict, and work, family and individual well-being, I learned how the workplace could easily invade family life and negatively affect an individual’s well-being. Since I am currently a graduate student and do not work as a full-time employee, I wanted to examine work-family balance in the context of home and school balance.

After learning about the negative possibilities that come from poor home-school balance, I decided to keep my work away from my home life, but at the same time I made sure that all my assigned work was efficiently completed. I could feel a positive difference in my academic productivity and also it improved my psychological well-being since I was feeling more happy, motivated, and productive. I was giving an appropriate time to my school and home life. This helped me deal with both important domains (i.e., home and school) of my life more effectively and successfully. Currently, I am not a married person. I could see some of my colleagues who were married and those who had kids and imagine their challenges. Therefore, as a student, it is extremely important to think critically and plan to deal with both work and home life, as well as family commitments, without letting them overrun each other’s boundaries. As international students, this approach may ultimately increase progress toward our studies while reducing the challenges that arise when we do not balance home and school life. In short, this may improve our academic productivity, home life, personal health, and well-being of our significant others.

Relaxing and Meditation

Being an international student, it was quite hard for me to deal with graduate studies because I found the education system and academic practices completely new when I started. During my first year, I was entirely focusing on my work and I had very few social and entertaining activities during that time. Also during my first year, I was very enthusiastic because it was just a beginning of my studies, but since my program was at least four years, I realized that I could not continue at that rapid pace. I was affecting my health and also struggling to manage my studies because I was overwhelmed.

During my second year, I consulted with my colleagues and I also visited the Montclair State Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for stress management. They told me to do some meditation, spend some time in a natural environment, and especially value the time that I spent outside of academia. I had no idea how helpful meditation was for me and it consumed almost no-time. For instance, I started taking a short break during my work and I took long deep breaths a couple of times during the work. I created an account on YogaGlo, which provides 18 days free access to hundreds of meditation practices. Using that website proved to be extremely useful. I was so surprised how the things changed, and I improved my health and work productivity at the same time. I felt more relaxed and motivated. More importantly, there was a change in perception that there is a substantial value to spending time outside my studies, which helped me regroup myself and made me ready for each extensive work day. These small changes brought a positive overall change in my life and personal development. I have decided to continue these practices for the rest of my life.

A Mistake in your I-94, are you a fugitive Now!!?

I am glad that your interest is hooked on my little story, and I hope it will help you or your friends if a police officer at one of the POEs (Port of Entry) made a mistake with your I-94. A month ago, I went to one of the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicle) offices in Wayne to take the knowledge/written test for a driver’s license. I waited for my number to be called and here we go! A problem came up: the person who checked my documents (6 points of ID) told me that my name on my I-94 does not match my name on the other documents. Guess what, a little letter that the officer in the airport put as my middle initial was the problem! Honestly, I don’t even have a middle name. They told me at the DMV office that they won’t issue my driver’s license until everything matches.

I was shocked and afraid at the same time, I mean nobody told me about it. Even when I was issued my social security card, they did not say anything. Some people said that to avoid any need for a correction request at a later time, it is always the best to double-check your personal information on the I-94 form. However, that was a kind of impossible thing with my 20-hours economy class flight coming from Syria.

I tried to call the airport but I couldn’t get through for some reason. The answering machine didn’t give me any option to speak with customer service that is responsible for correcting I-94 mistakes. So I stopped by the international student office in Stone Hall Room-215 and asked them about my problem. They told me that I have to go to the airport to fix my issue. The problem was that I entered the United States of America through JFK airport, not Newark which is closer. I thought, it is going cause some pain for me and cost me a round trip to the airport. Eventually, someone came like a charm and told me that you can do it from any POE. So I prepared myself on Friday, and took the important documents with me like my passport, I-20, bank account, my social, and other things just in case i needed them. Usually, it takes 25 minutes by car and about 1 hour and half by bus.

I reached their office at 2:30 pm but an unexpected thing happened, they told me that the CBP office hours are from Monday to Friday, 8:00 am to 11:00 am, which was the only thing that I did not check it. Unfortunately, I had to go back and curse my day and my wasted time.

So my advise to you is:  as an international student, make sure that you always check the schedule to avoid the same mistake. Eventually, I was able to fix my I-94 form issue and it only required my passport and 10 minutes waiting in the office. Two hours later, the issue was solved on the website.

The officer said that in case your problem isn’t solved, you can call the number (973) 565-8000 and get it done without going back to the airport.  This was the most important information of all! For more information about CBP website you can visit Moreover, if you want to check your I-94 status and info or obtain a copy of it you can go to

Understanding Cultural Diversity

Since we are in a new culture and this is a uniqueness of the United States (U.S.) that students from all over the world having distinctive cultures come here to get education. Therefore, it is very essential to become cultural sensitive and respect all cultures regardless of race, class, and gender. It is also important to keep in mind cultural sensitiveness while communicating with students belong to a different culture. It is also substantial important to understand cultural background to interpret the response and meaning of the conversation of a student who belongs to a different culture before creating any judgment or perception about him/her. Same is true when you live with people who have diverse culture. Therefore, we have to be more careful and responsive about cultural diversity. Moreover, our positive attitudes towards acculturation would be very critical to make things easier for us. The efforts about learning new language, celebrating festivals, participating in important events, and understanding the U.S. culture may become substantially useful that will make us feel happy and prevent from isolation.

Utilization of MSU Services

It is obvious that when we come to a new country and culture, we may feel homesickness, which can sometimes lead to depression and anxiety. We can also feel overwhelmed because we have to manage everything including departmental documentation, school requirements, class work, assignments, cleaning, cooking, and travel. Having all these responsibilities at the same time, we can easily feel overloaded and that can negatively affect our productivity and well-being. I faced this issue when I first came to the US. Then I heard that Montclair State’s counseling services could help me to manage these things and I went there, which proved to be extremely useful for me. As international students, it may be helpful to consult with Counseling Service if we feel things like homesickness or cultural shock. They are really good at giving advice.

In addition, on every Thursday at 3pm, there is an event at the Drop-in Center (near the Student Center) called Connecting Across Cultures in which students from different countries/states participate and which is also a really good way to meet new students who are in a same situation. The students discuss similar issues and share their ideas and experiences, which can always be helpful for us.

In addition, when I felt bored or less energetic, I started to go to the recreational center where there were lots of activities and entertainment on a regular basis. I always felt relaxed when I went there. Now I included it in my weekly schedule and I go there twice in a week for exercise that provides me energy, happiness, motivation, and also a chance to meet other students.

Off Campus Residence

It is an ideal situation for international students to live on campus during their studies. Doing so may help us feel a better sense of community and to meet with people of similar ages and interests, which may increase our motivation level for studying well, especially in the beginning of our studies. Living on campus, we can more frequently use school resources such as recreational center (gym), library, computer lab, etc. However, if for any reason any of us would like to live off campus, it is essential to secure an adequate residence at that time when we leave our home countries. Usually, we think that it is an easy task to find a good residence once we arrive in the US, however this may not always be the case. Finding an off campus residence that matches our way of living (appropriate neighborhood, housemates, distance from school, etc.) is something that we must consider and plan well before our arrival in the US, as it is not easy to find an appropriate residence once we arrive. Therefore, we may have to compromise, or pay more in order to get it immediately.

Moreover, it is useful to see house/room pictures, view the surrounding area using Google maps, and ask current international students about housing by connecting with them on Facebook. Also, by thinking about housing early, we have an opportunity to speak with the staff at International Services about our housing options. International Services can help make sure that those international students who want to live off campus get an appropriate residence or can help to guide them in the selection process. Since many international students who do not plan ahead for housing often assume that it will be fine, but when they arrive and see how complex it can be to find an appropriate housing, they may become confused. The residence is one of the most important places to relax and talk with friends, family, and significant others during a busy schedule, especially during the first semester when we also have to deal with other administrative and admission related issues. If we do not secure a good residence, it may become extremely stressful and substantially affect our academic performance. Therefore, this important issue can be resolved through effective and early reciprocal interaction between International Services and international students.

Use of Technology

Appropriate use of technology can become extremely helpful for us as international students. For instance, when I started my studies here at Montclair State University, I lost my way a couple of times while trying to navigate the bus system. After some time, I heard about using a smartphone or a GPS so that I could easily enter any destination where I wanted to go and it would take me exactly to that location. Therefore, for a new student who is just coming to a new country and who does not know locations and directions, a smartphone or GPS would become a useful source to help avoid problems or inconveniences related to navigating the local community.

In the beginning, I was spending too much money to call my parents, friends, and siblings using my cell phone because I did not know about apps like Viber and Skype. When I came to know about these advanced communication sources, I started talking with my family by using Viber and Skype. In addition, when I used to talk through phone, it was not as enjoyable or meaningful as being able to use Skype so that I could see my friends and family, which really provided me with substantial happiness and motivation. Therefore, using these sources of communication to save money also provide me with a stronger sense of closeness to my family and happiness, especially whenever I feel homesick or lonely.

Feeling isolation can affect our academic performance

One of the biggest problems in the beginning of an academic year that we face is feeling isolation and homesickness. The reason for this may be because many things may be new to us such as food, people, academic environment, and place of residence. At this point, we may also be alone in this country without our friends, family, and significant others. Therefore, we may feel anxiety and depressive symptoms or our emotional well-being may be effected. In the beginning, we may not be able to find friends as it takes some time, especially when we are out of our homeland and culture.

In order to overcome this issue, we can participate in the activities conducted by International Services, such as trips, workshops, orientations, or other interesting events. I hope that International Services continues to organize such events regularly every year and to select those activities that are relatively inexpensive for international students to ensure a substantial participation in those events because we more likely face budget constraints, especially in the beginning of our studies. Moreover, international students should definitely contact different organizations working across MSU, such as the international students’ organization, and contact International Services in order to learn how to make contact with these organizations.

In addition, although we feel the burden of our workloads and face difficulty sparing our time for extra-curricular activities, especially during first year, it is extremely essential to keep an eye on such events because those events could become a good opportunity to meet students who have similar interests and needs like you. The bottom line is that we as international students should be pro-active and keep searching for these activities, which could help us manage these issues and facilitate our academic performance and process of acculturation.

Packing Tips

If there is one thing I don’t like about traveling, is to pack. I’m pretty sure most people don’t find this a funny task; however, it’s an essential part of traveling.  A couple of days ago, someone sent me an article with some helpful tips about packing, so I think it would be nice to share them.

  • Do not pack jewelry, cash, computers, electronics, or fragile items in your checked baggage.
  • Pack shoes, boots, sneakers, and other footwear on top of other contents in your luggage.
  • Avoid over packing your bag so that your articles do not spill onto the ground if the bag is opened for inspection and the screener will be able to easily reseal it.
  • Avoid packing food and drink items in checked baggage.
  • Don’t stack piles of books or documents on top of each other; spread them out within your baggage.
  • Do NOT pack or bring prohibited items to the airport.
  • To avoid loss or confusion between your item and that of another passenger, place identification tags with your name, address and phone number on all of your baggage, including your laptop computer.  It is a good idea to place an identification tag inside your baggage as well.
  • Before arriving at the airport, check with your airline or travel agent to determine the airline’s baggage policy, including number of pieces you can bring and size and weight limitations.
  • Place personal items such as toiletries, toothbrushes etc. in clear plastic bags to reduce the chance that a TSA screener will have to handle them.
  • Do not pack wrapped gifts.  They may need to be opened for inspection.


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Studying Abroad

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

Nelson Mandela

 If someone had told me a year ago I was about to live one of the best experiences of my life, I would not believe that at all. However, seven months ago I started a journey that has completely changed my life in so many different ways that it is even hard to explain. Leaving my country to live in a place I had never been before, with people I did not know at all and for so long, is such a challenge. Most people tell me all the time it takes a lot of courage to do such a thing, but I always reply, well, is not life about challenges and adventurous experiences?

I have never been a shy or dependent person, however, when I came to America, it was hard for me to be able to be completely myself.  I still remember how I used to feel lost the first weeks of classes, walking around campus looking for the right building and room, how I barely participated in classes, even when I’ve always been a talkative person, and how I used to be very self-concerned about my accent. It has been seven months since I came to America, and I can totally say that I have grown as a person due to this experience.

By the end of last semester, I had a lot of friends outside the international students, I could easily go to New York City by myself and not getting lost and I found funny how even my English improved a lot to the point that I do not embarrassed about my accent anymore.

 My time in this country has definitively been one of the best experiences of my life but it does not mean it has been easy all the time, however, learning is always about beating obstacles. I can tell I have been improve many skills since I came here, my English is a lot better, for example, but also, I have learn about life. I have learn to be independent and to stand for myself, but also, my willing for learning about other cultures has incredibly grown, as well as my world view, and at the end of this journey, that is all what I’m going to take with me back home.

However, every journey comes to an end, and even when this experience is about to finish, here, it is about to start in the place where I was born. Studying abroad is not only about the experiences you live in the host country, but also about the experiences you share once you are back home.

I have been blessed with so many great experiences but now it is my time to take all what I have learned and share it with my people. I’m an education major student, and one of the most beautiful things about teaching is when you are able to give without getting anything in return. I think that the most important things I am taking with me to Costa Rica are not those in my suit case but those in my heart. I am a passionate person, and one of the things I enjoy the most is to teach, so I cannot wait to be back home and fill little hearts with knowledge and love.

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