Be Like a Proton: challenges and takeaways when applying to graduate school

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By: Fernando Antonio Rebolledo Uscanga – a Fulbright COMEXUS scholar from Mexico and a PhD fellow in Biomedical/Medical Engineering at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Speaking, writing and interacting in a language that is not your native one is definitely challenging. It is not easy to express yourself with the same freedom that you have when you speak in your first language. The words, phrases, expressions, are all different, and as you learn a new language you have to accept that there is nothing wrong with making mistakes.

Similarly, the process of applying to graduate programs is challenging. There is a long list or requirements to apply to schools. Academic transcripts, Curriculum Vitae (CV), Letters of Recommendation, the intricate Statement of Purpose and lastly, the terrifying standardized tests, which such as the TOEFL iBT and GRE or GMAT exams. These standardized tests are considered the most important part of your application. Well, I will counter this assumption, I think this is wrong. Why? Because graduate schools are looking for unique candidates. The admissions committee reviews the application materials for your candidacy as a whole, which demonstrate the kind of person you are, and what you are going to bring to the program and school. Through your application, the committee can identify your cultural background, your way of thinking, your reasoning and your diverse opinions about key global issues. Most of these characteristics may be conveyed through your Statement of Purpose and through it the admissions team could better understand who you are, how you think, and how you approach problems and solve them.

My recommendation for success in the application process to graduate school is to be yourself.

The standardized tests might seem frightening, but like any other required application component, they represent one part of a whole. The standardized exams do not necessarily measure your intelligence or capability, but rather your effort and how well you understood the rules of testing. Getting a high score does not equate to being qualified or being the right individual to pursue graduate studies. At the end of the day, standardized exams are tricky but a low score doesn’t mean that you would not be able to succeed in a graduate program. Getting a low score is in fact, fairly common. If the first time was a problem, then try it another time, and another and as many times as you need. One strategy I would recommend is to check out free resources that ETS offers online and watch a variety of lessons on YouTube. Remember to stay positive that the next time you take the exam it will be better. As one famous high school basketball coach in the U.S., Morgan Wootten, would say, “You learn more from losing than winning. You learn how to keep going”, so keep going. You are almost there. And yes… I took the exam more than once.

Another important factor during the application process is to be prepared with your university search. “Where are you going to apply?” is a common bottleneck for many applicants. “Where do you want to go for graduate studies? Is it feasible? What do you need to do in order to get accepted?” After thinking about all of these factors, it is essential to prepare yourself as best as you can and apply. Reach out to professors (also known as faculty advisors) that you want to work with, share with them your academic interests, ask them questions about the program, and make sure to carry your confidence along the way.

Confidence is so important during the application process to graduate programs because it demonstrates your capability that the admissions committee wants to see in you in order to make decision to whether accept or deny your candidacy to the program.

To restate my recommendation, confidence is shaped by how you present yourself to the committee, how unique you are, and how you can defend your ideas and goals.

Same recommendation goes to those interested in applying to highly competitive institutions. Although my GRE and TOEFL iBT scores were fair, I applied to some competitive graduate programs. I believed in myself and decided to apply even though some people advised me that I wouldn’t get accepted.

I was admitted. My overall application was strong enough to be considered.

Be positive, like a proton.

The process is certainly about how much effort you put in order to accomplish and reach your dreams. Every step that you are walking through is worthwhile. It is a road that will definitely lead you to success. My motto is to “Believe in you, believe in yourself deep down.”

[vc_row][vc_column][mk_mini_callout]Disclaimer: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

 

 

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From a cornfield in El Salvador to New York City: How learning English took me overseas

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By: Pedro Alexander Vasquez Jimenez – a Fulbright Faculty Development Program scholar from El Salvador and a Master’s degree candidate in Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language/ESL Language Instructor (TESOL) at Binghamton University.

”De lápiz y de papel no se vive.” This is a figurative expression that means “Schooling alone does not provide a way to make a living. If you don’t work, you don’t eat or live.” I grew up in a rural area and was reminded of this phrase over and over again when I was a child. My parents did not believe that education was valuable and didn’t want me to spend time studying as they didn’t see it as a path to earning a living. They often told me that I had to work in the cornfield, that I belonged to this place and to this profession just like other countryside boys in El Salvador. The cornfield where I was brought up is located in the rural area of Morazán, a city considered as one of the poorest areas of the country. Nevertheless, I developed a desire for education, so I persuaded my parents to send me to school in the morning while I promised them to work in the cornfield in the afternoon even if that meant intense days full of work and school.

In high school I became interested in English language and wanted to become an English teacher, but my family could not afford to send me to college. Close to my high school graduation, I applied for a scholarship offered by the Universidad de Oriente UNIVO and got accepted because of my academic performance. To attend the Universidad de Oriente UNIVO was quite exhausting especially because I had to take two buses every day to make it there. Not to mention that I had to get up around 4:00 am to be on time for my 7:00 am classes. Despite of all obstacles I faced in order to complete my bachelor’s degree in English Teaching (TESOL), I still persevered. I remember studying by candlelight every night because we did not have electricity in my house and only carried USD $2.00 dollars on me, which was just enough for the bus fare.

The Global UGRAD experience at Missouri State University (2011-2012)
The Global UGRAD experience at Missouri State University (2011-2012)

 

In 2011, I was awarded with a scholarship to participate in the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD), an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State´s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. I attended Missouri State University for one academic year during my undergraduate studies. The experience to fully immerse myself in a completely different academic setting was extraordinary: I had classmates from different cultures, backgrounds, and languages. In September 2015, I was awarded an opportunity by the Government of Austria to participate in an International Civilian Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding Training Programme (IPT) at Stadtschlaining, Austria. This was a three-week long program that took place at The Austrian Study Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution (ASPR). At ASPR, I wanted to focus my studies on Human Rights because I believe that we can teach values and human rights to the youth through education.  In short, I was very excited to get admitted to the program and also to go to Europe. Later in 2016, I graduated cum laude from Universidad de Oriente UNIVO and officially became an English Instructor.

Since then, teaching has become my passion, which I enjoy and love every time I do it. Undoubtedly, I chose the right profession. After I graduated from Universidad de Oriente UNIVO , I was offered a full-time position as the head coordinator of the English Teaching degree program. I taught different levels of English courses, in addition to an honors level course on leadership and competitiveness as a volunteer. This particular course was part of the University honor program for students with a high GPA pursuing a variety of majors. At the same time, I was involved in community service teaching English language to kids of the community.

I believe everything is possible when you are an optimistic person. We find obstacles in the way, but they make us stronger and help us to look for different ways to approach them and achieve our goals. Taking risks as well as trying new things may be challenging for everybody but it is worthy, and I am an example of it. Stepping out of my comfort zone is something that I will never regret. The experience of pursuing academic studies abroad and being introduced to a new culture have been the most amazing journeys in my life. I remember as a child while I was working in the cornfield, I used to look at the sky and see the planes flying over me and I never thought that once in my life I would take one. Now, I am in New York pursuing a Masters of Arts degree in TESOL and what I know is that dreams come true if you dare to believe them; of which always makes me reminisce about one of my favorite quotes, “Don’t stop dreaming, don’t stop believing.”

More news about Pedro (in Spanish): http://univonews.com/soy-prueba-de-que-univo-tiene-profesionales-con-valores-competentes/   

[vc_row][vc_column][mk_mini_callout]Disclaimer: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

 

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