1) What was the most important reason that made you decide to stay in the US / go back to your home country after graduation?
- After graduation, I decided to stay in the US because I wanted to gain work experience abroad and put the skills I had acquired through my Pomona education to use in the US, and then at home. With OPT, you get one year of work authorization in the US without going through any cumbersome immigration process. You either use or lose it. So, I thought, why not use it! I can always return home when I am ready without any barriers. The reverse is not always possible.
2) Any regrets - things you feel you didn't make the most of but should have during your time in Claremont?
- I should have made better use of all the resources available for students at the Claremont Colleges - CDO, Students Affairs, mentors, professors, office hours, I-Place - these are vital resources that REALLY help shape your personal and professional development.
- I should have paid more attention to the staff - housekeepers, grounds workers, dining hall staff - who worked tirelessly to make life extremely comfortable for my friends and I. Some of my really good friends on campus were housekeepers and grounds workers. I wish I had sacrificed more time to build closer relationship with these amazing people who make life extremely easy for Pomona students. Take your first step out into the real world, and you will appreciate them a hundred times more.
- Claremont weather is beautiful all year round. I didn't make good use of it. I actually used to wish for snow days every time I saw my East Coast friends stay in during winter. Worst wish ever!
3) How do you - apart from this - bear your added riches to the world?
- I make Ghana known to the world where I can and when I can. I participate in events in school, and in greater New York City. Lots of people have questions and need clarification about various countries and regions. I add my riches to the world by being available to answer those questions, and making people more curious until they have more questions, and then the cycle continues.
4) How have you, as an international student, navigated conversations with people outside of the United States when they have negative views of the USA/Americans?
- Well it depends on the topic of discussion. If the negative view has no merit or is unjustified, I use my experience living in the US and my potentially better understanding of issues to present the opposing (positive) views citing examples when I can. People do formulate negative views about the US through what they see and what they read. Studying and living in the US has changed my perspective on many issues, and it is important to respectfully relay the other side of the story through meaningful and cordial dialogue. This is of course more difficult to do when the American view is not necessarily bad, but in conflict with the culture in a specific region.
5) What challenges were unique to being an international student when you were figuring out post-graduation?
- I wanted to work post-graduation. The major challenge I faced figuring out post-graduation employment being an international student was actually being an international student. It is a big challenge. It was extremely difficult for me knowing I qualified for certain positions, but not having permanent work authorization made me ineligible for these positions. Four interviews I had ended abruptly once the interviewers realized I would require sponsorship in the future. It was an extremely frustrating period for me, and it is for at least one international student every year. Also, not a lot of employers want to train their employees for just one year of employment (which is the duration of standard OPT). But, somehow, something works out even at the very last minute if you do not give up. It will take extra effort to really search and apply for as many organizations that would consider your application, even if it's just for the duration of your OPT.
6) Did being international effect the course of study you chose?
- No, it didn't. I had a fair idea of what I wanted to major in, and I stuck to it. But I had friends who chose majors not because they were interested in those courses, but they had to be marketable once they returned home. Certain majors were just not viable for employment opportunities in their home countries.
7) As an international student, how do you present your unique advantages to employers?
- Tough one - I think being an international student is now extremely advantageous because of the growing interconnectivity of nations. Knowing a second language is a plus because a lot of firms prefer individuals who can interact with a broader range of people. Knowing how processes- financial markets, regulations, etc.. work in different regions (having a broader scope of knowledge) gives you an upper hand as well. Basically, being an international student is great, but expensive. Therefore, you need to show that you have something that a domestic student cannot bring to the table (or you can do better) and therefore, worth the investment. Once you pinpoint your unique advantage, make sure it appears somewhere in your application materials - cover letter, resume, writing sample etc.
8) How do you deal with the challenges of the (potential) differences in values between the United States and your own country?
- I listen, I observe, I absorb, I evaluate, then I either reject or fail to reject (like hypothesis testing!!)... but then I respect the values regardless! I grew up with a set of values that most of my friends in Ghana had as well. I moved to the US and some of these values were different. Everything is ok until a challenge presents itself, right? This was a great period of learning for me. In some cases, I altered my values because the American system made more sense to me, in other cases I had to mix the two values, yet in other cases, I fully rejected the American value. However, this process of elimination is only possible if you are flexible, and willing to listen, observe, and absorb.