By Sokol Pashaj
Why did you decide to study in the USA?
After working overseas in a cruise company for 3 years where I met a lot of people from all over the world, I wanted to start a new chapter in my life studying abroad and getting to know a different culture. Even though I have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from a university in Albania, I had the opportunity to become an international student at Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC), where I was able to expand my knowledge in the engineering field. I believed it was important to start my career from the beginning to challenge myself, learn a different language, and recognize and understand my weaknesses. Overall, how can I improve them while embracing this new journey with a different new perspective?
Why did you choose this particular college or university?
At first, I was enrolled in an English program called the Intensive English Language Center (IELC) at the University of Reno, Nevada, where I also wanted to continue my engineering studies. After searching all my possibilities regarding where to start my career and getting in contact with the TMCC staff, I decided to choose their engineering program since it was transferable to the 4-year mechanical engineering program at the University of Nevada Reno (UNR). What attracted me the most was that the engineering program at TMCC was affordable and accessible for international students, and overall the courses offered at TMCC were very similar to UNR’s, and their teachers as well. Moreover, the TMCC location is special to me because Reno has a great highway system where you don't get a lot of traffic, also there are a lot of opportunities since the city of Reno is currently in constant development, especially in the engineering industry.
What do you like best about your program or university?
What I like the most about the engineering program at TMCC is that I can challenge myself without pressure or fear to make mistakes. Since the classes are small, it is more specialized; therefore, the instructors give more attention to students. What also makes this program special is that the faculty and staff are very caring and understanding, teachers show interest regarding the student’s academic progress, and the International Student Services Department is also very supportive when it comes to helping you succeed and stay on track achieve your goals.
What do you miss most about home?
Like most of us, what I miss the most is my close friends and the comfortability to talk in my mother language with them. Even though I miss home, I am grateful I found a home here in Reno and that I can have my family close.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
What surprised me the most is the close relationship between the teacher and the student, which is amazing. In my home country, the educational system is very strict, and sometimes there is a fear of communicating with the teacher. However, here I have experienced support and understanding from my teachers when it comes to classes. I feel blessed that I am comfortable communicating with my instructors and expressing myself. Also, what surprises me is that the lifestyle here is very independent, living here I feel surrounded by many cultures, yet everybody is very understanding and receptive which makes me feel welcomed and inspired to continue my education here, and improving my English.
... your biggest disappointment?
I haven’t gotten there yet because so far I am enjoying this new journey surrounded by people that encourage me to do better every day. I would say if any disappointment it would be with myself when I don't achieve what I want to do. However, looking in retrospect helps me to improve my skills and not to fall into the same mistakes again.
How have you handled:
... language differences?
I feel comfortable when it comes to talking in English because IELC gave me good instruction on how to improve my language skills; yet, I do use digital technologies such as hearing music and watching movies when it comes to practicing my English pronunciation. So far people here are very patient and they try to understand what I said, which is important for me because it encourages me to keep learning.
Currently, my family supports me and even though we all are facing difficulties due to the pandemic, everything is going well. I see finances like a business, sometimes there are sunny days and some others are rainy days but at the end of the day, it is about resilience and positivity.
... adjusting to a different educational system?
Every country has a different educational system, therefore students have different educational backgrounds. For example, in Albania, once you finish your degree, then you focus and challenge yourself in the practice. I think the educational system here has the same structure but a different way to approach education with a constant learning process. I always thought that if I could win the lottery I'd invest in my education all my life because the world is in constant development, and so is our knowledge. I adjust to this new educational system by being consistent with my studies, which is a discipline. What also helped is that the professors are very professional, dedicated, and understanding. Some people think that a degree is just a piece of paper, but I see it differently: it has a meaningful value that reflects your effort and knowledge and achievements. I enjoy studying abroad, especially in the USA, because all the material that I am learning so far is very updated to the time we are living in.
What are your activities?
TMCC has a student government association that provides clubs for students. I am currently part of The National Society of Leadership and Success Club, where there are workshops about positivism, and you get to share your goals and achievements; the club is also very active virtually, and they always share inspirational content like videos of successful people that will make a good impact on other students.
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
Since I am an easy-going person, it hasn’t been difficult for me to make friends. I had the opportunity to meet good friends in both IELC and TMCC. Even though here is more like an independent life, I am grateful that I’ve met good friends on campus with the same academic goals and values. I believe friends are people that wish you the best and that you always feel comfortable being with.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and the needs of your country?
Mechanical engineering is a versatile field. My future goal is to be part of creating new energy solutions regarding sustainable productions. I want to participate in the execution of a better world and help to prevent climate change. My current plan is to transfer to UNR, and once I finish mechanical engineering, emphasize my studies in medical equipment development. Nowadays, with the current situation, the engineering field needs to provide solutions regarding health equipment. I believe that my home country, Albania, needs to be exposed to new technologies and update its educational system with the integration of new technologies. Bringing experience from people like me regarding new technology advances is good for the future development of my country. Currently, Albania’s main source of electricity comes from the rivers, since the country is provided with green energy. However, if we look into the near future, we cannot rely on the rivers since there could be a chance of drastic drought. That is why it would be helpful to develop other sources of clean energy.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering a U.S. education?
For all the people in my country who want to study abroad, I will say that studying in the U.S and being exposed to its educational system will help them to see a different perspective on how to succeed in the professional field and that overall it’s a good experience if you come with determination, discipline and most importantly, being consistent. Regarding the language barrier, I would recommend taking some classes and practicing your speaking skills everywhere you go; do not feel ashamed of the pronunciation because we all came here to learn, and it is only a matter of time to speak fluently, which is a rewarding process. Also, a piece of good advice will be to come with an open mind and learn from everyone because we all have different points of view, that is why understanding is important; it will open many doors of opportunity.