Suggestions from Sandra

Sandra '13

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.  

My hopefully helpful podcast + commentary on CPT

This is a video response to the International Narrative Blog Series launched via SagePost47.com.

I have also included thoughts on the CPT policy change discussion (20:45).

Questions:

1) (0:47) What was the most important reason that made you decide to stay in the US / go back to your home country after graduation? 

2) (4:13) Any regrets - things you feel you didn't make the most of but should have during your time in Claremont? 

3) (8:00) How do you - apart from this - bear your added riches to the world?

4) (9:59) 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?

5) (12:14) What challenges were unique to being an international student when you were figuring out post-graduation?

6) (15:57) Did being international effect the course of study you chose?

7) (17:32) As an international student, how do you present your unique advantages to employers?

8) (18:48) How do you deal with the challenges of the (potential) differences in values between the United States and your own country?

Two Reminders

Alisher '08

You’re here, you’ve made it.

A cyclone of events (standardized tests, endless form-filling, a scary visit to the US consulate, packing your suitcases, and saying good-bye to your friends & family) lifted you and dropped you off at the gates of Pomona College.

The good news is that you’re not the first one to go through this journey! Looking back at my time at and after Pomona, I hope these two short stories will help you shape your own experience.

Story #1: Role models

In my first semester, I became friends with another international Pomona alum, a few years older than me. We shared interests and a common background. I looked up to him: he was successful, energetic, fun to be around, and just a good person. I don’t think I was fully aware of this, but I was projecting myself onto him, turned him into a role model. As a result, I relied on him heavily in my professional development: from resume edits, to class recommendations, to interview prep. He was a great influence in my life.

What’s scary in this story is that, as far as I can tell, everything happened by accident – I certainly wasn’t consciously looking for a role model. What if I weren’t so lucky?

Be mindful of the role models your brain picks. As an international student, you might be more likely to gravitate towards people that you share something with (eg, language, interests, etc). It’s easier to model individuals that you can project yourself onto, but it is not necessarily the right fit for you if you look deeper. Take stock of people who you spend a lot of time with, and try to see why you’re attracted to them.

Story #2: International^2

I was interviewing and looking for jobs throughout my senior year. Countless interviews yielded no offers. I was picky about location – it had to be either Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York – and competition was high. In one of my interview processes, a company offered a final round in Philadelphia, and when I asked for alternatives, they suggested that I also look at their offices outside of the US.

This was the first time I even thought about looking for work outside of the US. It went counter to all my assumptions about career goals. But with the offer on the table, I decided to give it a chance. I picked their Dubai office, flew in for final rounds, and got the job the same day. It felt amazing!

By the end of my senior year, I had a choice between the Dubai offer and a similar job at a different company based in New York (one of my dream cities!). Somehow, the answer was simple, despite my long-time fixation on building my career in the US. It felt so much more liberating to think that I could go anywhere in the world and be in demand.

Being an international student and then choosing to explore the world even further makes you international^2. Whether it’s a job, an internship, or a study abroad program, you should seriously consider it. You may decide against it, but at least you’ll be making a conscious choice.

I’m happy to answer more questions. You can reach me @alishsayd or here.

Third Culture Kid

Nanako '11

I’m a third culture kid. Having spent my formative childhood years in the US but the rest of my life in Japan, I’ve never felt fully Japanese nor American – but rather somewhere in between. I always felt out of place during my teenage years in Tokyo, where I was the only one interested in studying overseas for college. And I felt out of place when I first got to Pomona in 2007, where I sounded American but was culturally Japanese. Back then, the International Student Mentor Program (ISMP) was in its first year and the number of international students was much fewer than it is now. It took me a while to find a group of friends that I truly felt comfortable with.

 

I eventually found my group – mostly international – and it was through interactions with them that I realized how important it was for me to be in a diverse community. That was where I felt most comfortable and could thrive in, both personally and professionally. I became interested in a career in international affairs, in a multilateral / international organization surrounded by people from all over the world, and thus began thinking about graduate school. Most programs require at least a few years of work experience before applying though, so I decided to first look for a job in the US.

 

I wanted to stay in the US after college for two main reasons. Firstly, I wanted to take advantage of my F-1 visa status and the 1-year Optional Practical Training (OPT) period that comes with it (note this period is 3 years for STEM students) – it’s extremely difficult to obtain an H-1B work visa once you graduate and leave the country. Secondly, I had done an internship in Japan during my junior year summer and did not particularly enjoy it – so I knew it was better for me to stay overseas instead of immediately returning home.  

 

As I started exploring job opportunities, I soon realized that most organizations do not sponsor H-1B work visas. While they were willing to hire me during the 1-year OPT period (as it is Pomona that applies for the OPT, rather than the employer), it became clear that H-1B sponsorship was limited to a few sectors, such as consulting and finance. Why the most lucrative industries? Sponsoring a non-US citizen is expensive and US law stipulates that foreign nationals can only be hired when there is no US citizen qualified for the particular position (as an undergraduate with no work experience, I imagine this is a very difficult argument to make). Having ruled out finance through my junior year internship, I decided to pursue consulting. That’s how I ended up at Oliver Wyman in NYC.

 

After two years at OW, I decided to explore the international development world to see whether I could see myself pursuing graduate studies and a career in that field. Via OW connections (it’s really quite amazing how consulting opens so many doors!), I ended up at the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in Swaziland, a small landlocked kingdom lodged between Mozambique and South Africa. I joined CHAI not because I was interested in public health (at that point, I had no experience in health), but because I was drawn to their problem solving approach. CHAI had essentially created a market for HIV drugs back in the early 2000s, through the power of economies of scale. Simultaneous engagement of both the demand and supply sides of the HIV drug market had brought down drug prices from around $3,600 to $150 per person per year, making it affordable for countries to offer treatment to those eligible.

 

Personally, I fit right in with CHAI’s culture and ways of working (particularly as they hire many ex-consultants) and I felt tremendously grateful that I had started off in consulting – it was the skills I developed at OW that enabled me to work effectively with African governments. In Swaziland, I worked closely with the Ministry of Health, facilitating policymaking to scale up HIV/TB testing and treatment. After 16 months in Swaziland, I then moved to Malawi and joined the global team, covering Malawi / Zimbabwe / South Africa and providing analytics-related support. Most importantly, as a TCK, I discovered that being in a country that was neither the US nor Japan was where I fit in the most. My cultural sensitivity helped me build strong relationships with local governments, which was the key success factor in my work. My TCK experience had made me resilient, flexible, and adaptable – traits I didn’t realize I had until then.

 

I am currently pursuing a three-year joint degree at Harvard Kennedy School (MPA/ID) and Harvard Business School (MBA) because I want to be at the public-private intersection in international development. During my time with CHAI, I found that while significant progress has been made in the fight against HIV, TB, and malaria, more sustainable progress can only be made through investments in infrastructure, energy, and sanitation. Unfortunately, the vertical, disease-based nature of donor funding has created a vacuum for horizontal, system-strengthening investments, such as reliable sources of electricity for commodity and patient data management systems, and roads that safely transport drugs and diagnostics to rural health facilities. I believe the private sector has a significant role to play in such investments, and I want to be able to speak the language of policymakers through HKS, and develop the management / leadership skills through HBS, to ultimately act as the bridge between the public and private sectors.

 

Whether you’re interested in consulting, international development, public health, Africa or HKS/HBS… I would like to offer current students the following advice!

Pomona-related:

  • Enjoy your time there! Live every day to its fullest, you’ll never be surrounded by so many smart, talented, and brilliant friends. Have picnics, go on hikes, enjoy the Southern California sun and the beautiful campus!

  • Spend as much time with professors as possible. Since coming to Harvard, I’ve realized how lucky Pomona students are to have professors who are always willing to meet and chat – you definitely do not see that here. Grab meals with them, go to office hours – they are your lifelong mentors. Stay in touch with them after you graduate.

  • Take advantage of all the amazing events on campus, whether it be speakers, lectures, performances, etc. Disconnect learning from grades and absorb as much as you can from non-academic settings as well. 

Career-related:

  • For international students: if you do want to work in the US after graduation, know that you need to find work related to your major to get a visa – so do research early on to see what major makes the most sense for you and your interests.

  • Enjoy your summers, but do try to be strategic about your junior year summer. I decided to work in Japan so I could confirm whether I wanted to go home after graduation. It was a good process of elimination.

  • Set up coffee chats, skype calls – talking to people who are in your field of interest is the best way to figure out if it’s a right fit for you. Stalk people on LinkedIn, use the alumni network to connect to their friends and colleagues. You literally have nothing to lose!