Kiara-Naseem Larkins is a freshman from Germany majoring in Psychology and Criminal Justice at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada.
Why did you decide to study in the USA?
I decided to study in the U.S because the universities have high academic standards, and the quality of education is excellent. Flexibility was also an essential factor in my decision. The universities and colleges in the U.S. allow you to choose your courses, their content, and basically personalize your degree and help you a lot. TMCC [Truckee Meadows Community College], for instance, offers workshops for international students to understand the system and use it in order to achieve your goals. The staff here always makes sure to support and assist you. Another big thing for me was cultural diversity. Since I’m studying psychology and criminal justice, it is important for me to understand people from all cultures, races, and ethnicities — and the U.S. has already allowed me to meet and connect with people from all over the world.
How did you choose your intensive program of study?
I actually didn’t plan on going to a community college at first. But when I applied to a university, the international advisor told me to look into TMCC because it was more affordable, and also would be an easier transition coming from a different country because it is a smaller school and can really focus on you and your needs. So the advisor gave me the contact info of an advisor for international students at TMCC, and I immediately contacted her. I was not only able to save a lot of money, I really liked the options and courses TMCC offers, and I love the location — the view is just amazing. It also feels like you’re part of a family at TMCC since it’s smaller and more personal than at a big university.
What do you like best about studying here?
I love that I get to choose from the hundreds of courses and personalize my degree to my needs. It is also remarkable that the educational system in the U.S makes it easy to get a double degree or a minor in so many different fields.
What do you miss most about home?
I really miss my little sister and the rest of my family, but it gets easier with time, and living alone and being independent really builds your character. I also miss German food. There is nothing like a German bratwurst — a special kind of sausage — Bretzel [soft pretzel], and bread. But the food in the U.S is also delicious and super diverse! I love trying new things.
How long have you been studying here? How has your English improved? How has this program helped you to handle future study at a U.S. university?
I’ve been studying in the U.S. for a semester now, and my relationship with the language has changed tremendously. My father was born in the U.S. and grew up in Germany, while my mom was born in Germany and spent a few years in the U.S when she was a teenager. So my parents both speak German and English, and I would say that I grew up bilingual. Even though basically everyone around me spoke English and German, and I understood everything, I was always too shy to actually speak English. Family members would talk English with me, and I would answer in German. Since I moved here and started my studies at TMCC, I feel very comfortable speaking English, and I have been able to broaden my vocabulary a lot, which will help me when I start to study at a university.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
My biggest surprise about U.S life and education is the love Americans have for their country. Whether it’s standing for the Star-Spangled Banner, putting up flags at their homes or on their cars, or just expressing their love for the land of the free — Americans are proud. I had not experienced this before, since Germany has a rather complicated history with patriotism and nationalism. We usually do not express patriotism in our daily lives, but rather, the only time you would see people flying or displaying German flags would be during major soccer tournaments like the world cup or the UEFA European Championship. These events encourage solidarity among citizens and all gather together to cheer on the German teams. Other than those times, the only places where German flags are commonly flown are at government buildings.
I was very surprised about the relationship professors have with their students and the amount of support you get as a student when it comes to education. In German universities, we don’t really connect with our professors and most of them don’t bother to learn your name or care if you keep up with the material discussed in class. Here, at TMCC, all of my professors know my name and make sure everyone understands the material covered in class. They genuinely care about student success and provide resources and office hours if students need additional help. This is something I find refreshing about the U.S. higher education system.
... your biggest disappointment?
To be honest, I have not been disappointed by anything regarding the education and the college so far. I really enjoy everything out here except for the public transportation system. In Germany, actually, in most parts of Europe, public transportation is fantastic. I could literally hop on a train in my hometown, get on a second train in a bigger city, and be in Paris in five hours. Here it would take around two hours to get from one end of the town to the other. So it’s important that you either live close to your college or own a car.
How have you handled:
... language differences?
If a situation comes up where I don’t understand what people are saying to me or I don’t know a word, I simply ask the person to explain it. As I said, people here are nice, and they don’t expect you to have the vocabulary of an English professor. We’re here to learn. Not only material towards our degree, but the language, culture, and so much more. And asking is the best way to learn and strengthen your skills!
That’s a tough one. I am trying to do my best not to get any financial help from my family, so I made sure I took a two-year break to work full time and save up money for my education. I am also working for the International Student Services at TMCC, which helps me a lot. And there are, of course, also thousands of scholarships that you can apply for — but there are some that are only open to U.S. citizens, so you have to do some research. I received a scholarship from TMCC last semester, and I’m always looking for ones that I can apply to. Even if they’re only for a hundred dollars, they can add up! I would definitely recommend every student to look for scholarships, and there are a lot of websites that make it easy for you.
... adjusting to a different educational system?
I didn’t have difficulties adjusting to the U.S. educational system, since TMCC offers workshops for international students to explain and adjust to it. They do a great job with making the transition for international students easy. Education, lifestyle, and culture — they make sure you’re able to easily adjust to everything.
What are your activities?
Currently I am the president of the International Club and am looking forward to joining Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society, which recognizes academic achievement students and provides a lot of opportunities for its members, like scholarships, networking, and achieving your full potential. I am also planning on giving back to the community and volunteering for some organizations here in Reno. I love to exercise at the fitness center on our campus and enjoy hanging out with the people I have met here and going to the amazing events Reno offers.
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
Since most of the people are so open and friendly it is easy to make connections in the U.S. But I don’t think that the concept of friendship is the same out here as it is in Germany. I know a lot of people in Germany and I can get along with pretty much anyone, but I honestly only consider two people as real friends. I feel like for Americans, at least teenagers and young adults, basically everyone they know is a “friend,” while in Germany people you know are just acquaintances. So I feel like it is important for international students to distinguish between their concept of friendship and the American concept of friendship.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
Like many students my age, I am not a hundred percent sure what I want to be. I love to explore and understand the minds and behaviors of people around me. I also am very interested in understanding why people commit certain crimes and identify what traits they have that are different from law-abiding citizens — that’s why I’m studying psychology and criminal justice. Right now I am thinking about getting my master’s degree in forensic psychology and working for Interpol to solve and decipher crimes or help victims of crimes, especially victims of human trafficking. Studying in the U.S. will help me with achieving these goals tremendously. First of all, I am studying in a geographically widespread language, and second, I am receiving a great education, which is highly acknowledged worldwide.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering studying in the USA?
Build your network! The U.S. offers people a lot of opportunities to be successful and it is always great to have successful people around you. Another one would be to be active and join clubs, social events, and take in all the different cultures that are coming together in the U.S.
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