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A Hug

My Mexican classmate told me an embarrassing experience one day.
He asked me, “Do you like the life here?”
I said without thinking, “Yes, the people here are so nice and friendly. ”
After that, he said, “Really, last week, a girl was almost going to sue me.”
I said, “What! What did you do to her?”

He explained that he met that girl several times and he thought they were friends. However, last Friday, when he saw that girl in front of the building, he walked toward her and gave her a hug. Suddenly, that girl became so angry, according to what he explained

“I don’t like the culture here. In Mexico, it would be weird if you saw someone you know without hugging. People here are so cold!” He said these with a little bit hopeless.

This is a meaningful lesson. Especially, for us, being international students in America. It is really important for us to face the culture differences and deal with it carefully. It is understandable that the Mexican boy felt bad about this. However, it is not smart for him to judge all Americans based on one individual. Basically, people who live in the same area share the same culture, however, it doesn’t mean each person has the same personality and uses exactly the same way to express himself.

People can be friendly in their own way, of course, body language included, but there are thousands of other ways to express it as well. For that girl, I guess a smile is enough. It doesn’t matter how people express their own friendly for me, a hug is nice, only smile is acceptance as well, as long as they are sincere.

Eventually, I told my classmate, “Take it easy, she was just feeling uncomfortable about that hug at that time!”

Wear a Smile and Join Superstorm Sandy Relief

Hurricane Sandy made history by devastating portions of Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern parts of United States. All of us here in NJ experienced the impact of the hurricane Sandy in one way or the other; waiting in long queue for hours together to fill gasoline, spending dark and cold nights without power, drinking soups and eating breads all day as there were no facility to cook, having trees fall on the car in the parking lot, missing school and so on.

On the one hand, all of us experienced one or more of the above said impact, but on the other hand, many helping hands came from all sides offering some help. Many of my classmates at Montclair offered to open their doors for people who were victims of Sandy. Professors extended the dates to submit assignments. Food drives and donation drives were organized to help victims of hurricane Sandy. I was happy volunteering in one of the schools at Randolph.

Discrimination did not a play a role, but a common cause to help the needy did. Such actions reassure to each one of us the power of being together. Montclair State University is also organizing a donation drive to Sandy victims. Not just that, the University has come up with other ways too to help Sandy victims. Visit this link to find out what you can do to help:

You Want to do Something Interesting and Productive?… Join Clubs!

Every one of us joins the undergraduate/graduate programs with different thoughts and different purposes. It is beautiful to be diverse. It’s even more beautiful to find out, that people with diverse background, interests and aims possess some commonalities as well. All of us love to feel worthy and be productive. I believe it’s a precious human quality we possess. We love to talk, discuss and be in company with like- minded people. It’s fun! As international students, we share a few common things like staying away from families, missing cultural festivals back home, facing a few stumbling blocks here in the US and melting to get adapted to the US culture.

While this happens in many of us, we often end up asking, “What do I do during my free time?” I get to hear this from many of the international students known to me. I appreciate it. To me, it sounds like a ‘growth question’.  Nurturing the thirst in each one of us, to positively grow is a possible solution my little mind could think of.

I asked the same ‘growth question’ to one of my seniors and he said, “Why don’t you consider joining ‘clubs and organizations’? Go to student center and get more information.” I came back, did a Google search and got this link It is a quick line for sure, to take us through the various clubs, their objectives, activities and frequency of meeting. Every club is unique and has a great cause to which we could get connected. Choose the right club for you email them and get connected.  I have joined ‘Equity and Diversity’ and ‘Indian Cultural Club’.

Making a right choice

Making a right choice

International graduate orientation – “Attendance is mandatory. If not, your registration for courses will be on hold”. All of us are familiar with these words. I was shocked as I glanced at the timings. “OMG! What am I going to do all this time?” This was a quick thought that flickered in my mind. I decided to attend the orientation as it had a heavy tag on it – ‘mandatory’.

The D- day arrived. I reached the conference center. Smiling faces in red t-shirts; the student workers at the international services – it was a beckoning call to me.  I heard lots of whispering as though a Pandora box was opened. A few of them include: “I don’t know why it is compulsory?” “Can’t they finish it earlier?” ” I know it’s all the same information”. Believe me; the session answered every whisper. It opened up the door of do’s and don’ts. Anecdotes shared described what could go wrong and how do we seek help.  A note on campus life, tips on keeping up the academic credits, US culture and campus resources created a great sense of confidence in me. To be honest, we were not bombarded by information one after the other. I really appreciate the moments reserved to ‘loosen up’. Knowing each other is a great art and I believe the orientation gave us a taste of it in the form of a wonderful game. 

Reflecting back, I feel happy that the orientation is mandatory. If only I had missed it, I would have missed the value it added on my understanding of my legal status, the awareness of helping hands available on the campus and the fun element. It would have defeated the very purpose of my presence here. I wish all the international students attend the orientation with a right spirit and take home a greater understanding.

Campus Organizations

As an international Jewish student, a community that understands my culture and can celebrate it with me on our holidays and events is something important for me. When first arriving at Montclair I was searching for a Jewish organization that I can join that will help me feel more like home. The University has a Hillel organization on campus. However, unfortunately, we do not have organizations like the Israel-on-campus like there are in other  universities across the US(Carnegie Mellon, for example). This is probably because there are not many Israelis at the university (I am the only Israeli in my department, and in fact, another student and I are the only Jewish students in the department).

Although Hillel is a small and intimate organization and does not have many student members, it is well-managed by two lovely directors who are dedicated, putting their heart and soul to organize successful events such as Shabbat dinners, holidays, and other significant events. I, for example, attended Shabbat dinner and celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot with them. During Sukkot, for example, they made a Sukkah outside the campus and brought in a Chabad rabbi from New York to give a blessing. Last week they had hosted an “Israel Night,” with a group of Israelis student visitors from Kibbutzim College.

The Israel Night took place in the dorms of the international students at the Village apartments. They invited everybody to come and celebrate and there were students from Norway, Russia, Germany, Poland, Korea, Lebanon, et cetera. They made real Israeli food – hummus, pita, Shakshuka, Matbucha, as well as Israeli salad and brought halva and chocolates from the Israel. Of course, there was also Israeli Music.
(: To conclude- Aya Sameach! Hope there will be more!

End of the semester (and first year!)…

Finally I have time to write again, now that all classes are officially over (!) All I have left now is my end of the year final exhibition and critique and one more home exam. This last month was surely intense! We had make up and cleaning up classes’ sessions. In two weeks I had two presentations to do, one 15 pages paper to write, five essays and of course the practical studio work time on my art. Every class has its own amount of readings to do and how we receive the text varies with every professor. Usually the professor will upload the relevant articles on line at the school’s blackboard, where we as students have access to.  Some professors would recommend us books to read in the syllabus, and so we go with the list to the library and borrow the books. Also we have professors who would simply email it to us in a collective email group. I personally prefer this method since then we can interact with each other by pressing reply, if we have questions or issues we like to discuss. This semester I had three classes that required reading a large amount of readings for every week. As international student who’s English is a second language and in addition had ADD, I found it very difficult. Fortunately I am done with all the assignments and now I just need to focus on my exhibition.

 Last week we had a projection class exhibition with special guest, artist Robert Whitman. All the hard work we all put into our works paid off eventually as the exhibition was beautiful and received great reviews.

Looking forward already for the summer break, when I finally will be able to sleep more than 5 hours a night.. and to continue to explore vibrant New York. I am so happy for the wonderful location of Montclair State University- About half an hour by bus to Port Authority!

Around Montclair- Petit Paris

Coming from Canada, I have been learning french since fourth grade. After high school, I would consider myself to be bilingual. The culture in the United States is different from Canada and I found that more people in the area speak Spanish and Italian as opposed to French. After taking a course in French at Montclair State, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were parts of the area that had places I could practice my french.

One of these places is called “Petit Paris”. Petit Paris is a small bakery type shop that is filled with French foods and treats. Treats including: macarons of all flavors, crepes and croissants. The macarons are rich and come in flavors such as strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, rose, salty caramel and much more. Although a little expensive, these macarons are a real taste of French baking. The crepes they make can be savory or sweet and come with plenty for 6$. If these types of foods sound great to you, I would recommend trying out Petit Paris. I would also suggest looking for other types of places that interest you. Montclair is so multicultural and welcoming of all backgrounds. Take a look around the city, it won’t disappoint!


Campus Events!

I’ll start out by saying I’m extremely shy and it takes a lot for me to branch out and talk to others. Montclair really helped me break out of my shell. When I was told in at least three of my six classes during the first semester that I would have to go to a campus event I was nervous. I didn’t know my way around the campus. I didn’t have any friends to go with yet. I knew my grade was depending on these events though, so I started to plan semester accordingly.

I went to musical events put on at the John J. Cali School  of music. It was even free for students! I went to literary events. I went to the center for religion and spirituality for the weekly talks that they had there. I went to events with food, I met people that I never would have talked to. The Montclair student body and faculty make it a priority to have their students involved. They gave me so many events to choose from, some that I loved, others that I gained an experience from.

So when I look back and wonder, why did they MAKE me go to these campus events? It was because they want me to enjoy my time here at Montclair to its maximum potential. I look back now and I don’t know why I was so worried. There are so many things to do that the problems turns out to be choosing which event to go to. And while this may not seem like something that only international students have a problem with, I have to agree it isn’t. Yet this is just one more way Montclair helps to build bridges between all students. Making everyone feel welcome and helping us create lasting memories.


Is it easy for you to say “hi” to a stranger?

Before I came here, a bunch of people told me that I need to brace myself in terms of language problems, homesickness, different lifestyles, etc. However, no one tells me how nice Americans are. Since I live on campus, the school’s shuttle bus becomes the most popular mode of transportation in my daily life. Even now, I still remember the first day I got on the bus: every one before me said “hi” “good morning” to the driver, of course, the driver replied them as well with a big smile. I was so surprised because for me, it is so weird to say “hi” to a driver, a stranger. When it was my turn to get on, I cannot help to feel nervous, I know I should say something, but at that time, at the first week I came here, I just felt it was too hard to open my mouth. Even though the words I tried to say are the ones I learned in my first English class. Finally, I spoke out, with really faint voice. I felt like I am the only one who can hear it. Surprisingly, the driver heard me and replied “good morning, sweetie!”.

That was the first step I took in this country. People here greet with each other from day to night and say “thanks and have a good day” to everyone who helped them, including the drivers, the cashiers, the front desk people. People here are so polite. Maybe this is what we call cultural differences, Chinese people are more introvert and feel embarrassed to express themselves. But still, I do hope one day, the greeting thing in China will become as usual as here.

English as a second language

I was introduced to the English language in elementary school and since then I have been practicing it by conversing with my international friends, watching American TV shows and listening to English music. All this indeed improved my skills with the language, however, nothing compares to physically being here in the United States, Thinking, acting and dreaming in English. This experience did significantly improve my English. At the beginning of the semester I stuttered /mumbled and had a lack of confidence when talking to Americans, concerned they will not understand me; but the longer I stayed here the easier I found it and the more convenient it was for me to communicate in English. My confidence has grown a lot and I don’t struggle as much a I had earlier.

Also, in terms of accent, at first it was harder to understand me and I received negative comments from people who asked me to repeat the same word over and over again. During my stay here, I learned the right pronunciations of the words so I speak more clearly. Without a doubt, this experience is the best English schooling I could get. It forces you to be creative in searching similar  words and finding new ways to express yourself if you ever get lost in the translation. Additionally, I found that Americans are very nice and have a lot of patience with foreigners speaking english language, in the sense that if they see a foreign student who has difficulty with the language they will help, instead of making fun of the language differences. They even find our accent cute (:

Regarding writing in English, since I jumped into the academic life as a graduate student I was required to be more elaborate on my writings as it should be and I understood how crucial the format is along with the content. Concepts like critical thinking, analysis, freedom, meeting the expectations of people, and the transitions between the paragraphs were the ones that I had never paid attention to before. I made presentations in English, wrote papers, took several exams, and during this period I realized that I am more experienced and  have progressed in speaking and writing in English.

Even though I now feel more comfortable with English compared to my prior times here in the states, I know I still have a long way to go to fully be able to express myself in the same level as an English native speaker and I should try to continue to improve my English in each and every assignment. I want to be able to put in words precisely what I want to say, without the language…barrier, using as much “high vocabulary”. And, perhaps one day I will be able to publish an art critic about an exhibition I appreciate