Why did you decide to study in the USA?
I decided to study in the USA because I really wanted to explore a different education system that has more in-depth research and allows you to have more hands-on experience. Another reason was that Pakistan is diverse but not with nationalities, so I wanted the opportunity to explore the diverse culture here, both in the university environment and community level. Lastly, I liked how the education system in the USA allows you to be flexible. Professors are very open to working with you on scheduling as you try to balance work and studying.
Why did you choose this particular college or university?
I applied to 16 universities, and the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) was the most generous with funding. The cost of living in Cedar Falls, Iowa, is also much lower than other places, and I liked that it was a small state school. International students come to the USA with different abilities, and small state schools help you to find what you need and also make it easier to make good friends.
What do you like best about your program or university?
The research and the professors, especially Dr. Catherine Zeman. I have been able to work with her in her research lab and with recycling projects. Working with her has been so fun, and I have been able to work on a thesis piece related to public health.
What do you miss most about home?
I miss food and family the most and also how fast Pakistan is growing. When I go back, it will be a good surprise to see how much it has grown.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
Life in general. I knew life in the USA was going to be busy and that it’s a country where people were scheduled to be on time to be respectful. I also thought all of America had huge buildings and looked the same like NYC or Chicago, but it’s not true, it varies. There are also a lot of mattress factories around. Education-wise, plagiarism is very serious. I know it’s a big deal, but it is disrespectful to do and it is very strict here. Make sure to use support from the university for assistance with writing and editing.
... your biggest disappointment?
Life is so fast here, we are not able to look around enough. Additionally, this country is hugely diverse, but small towns have little information about different cultures. Many places encourage diversity, but some people are still hesitant to open themselves and meet and explore people.
... language differences?
Language was not a problem for me, but I am still learning English writing every single day when I do research and work on papers.
If I have to make a line graph it would be up and down. Finances are challenging, it took me five years to know how to do budgeting. It took a lot of time to learn where I should be spending money and where not to. I would recommend that everyone learn how to finance and balance spending and saving.
... adjusting to a different educational system?
The education system is different here. The grading system, professor expectations, readings, and knowing how long a semester was new to me. I learned concepts are important here and learning together is also important. Back in Pakistan, I mostly studied by myself, but here I sometimes sit with friends and study together. Also, make sure to plan your studies ahead of time.
What are your activities?
In undergrad at UNI, I was very involved and active as a student, but now not as much. I had to slow down during graduate school and focus on my studies. In undergrad, I was in student government and was a voice for international students. I was very involved with UNI’s Muslim Students Association which helps to understand family background, culture, and show how much we care about the community. I also was involved with a nonprofit leadership certification and a fellowship program in Washington DC called RESULTS, where we raised our voices and did advocacy for poverty issues and diseases (such as HIV, tuberculosis, malaria), and we went to DC twice and met senators and House representatives.
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
Making friends is easy for me, I am a people’s person. I love meeting people, and I enjoy conversations. I am flexible with arguments and open to diverse backgrounds and ethnicities and their points of view in general. I am lucky to have a close knit group of friends in the United States who are not just friends, they are everything.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
I want to be an epidemiologist and pursue a PhD in that field to make myself fully understand more concepts and gain additional skills. Getting an education from the USA allows me to explore different versions of this field and look outside of the horizons, see all the structure of the world, and give me opportunities and quality learning. In the future I might want to work for the government or private sector in the health system in Pakistan and use the amazing policies I saw or learned in the USA, which can benefit my country's health system.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering a U.S. education?
My advice is be patient, and please please please when you come to the United States, try to figure out expenses and try to live within your budget. Try to balance life and think and act reliably so people can rely on you. It is OK that you are undecided about what you want to do with your life. Studying in the USA will give you plenty of chances to make mistakes and correct yourself. Allow yourself to be out of your box, meet people, and introduce yourself to others. Come to a country that is new to you, get to know the people around you, and be open, it will help you later on.