Ashley Campbell, talks to us about her U.S. Education Experience

This week marks the 16th Annual International Education Week (IEW), a joint initiative between the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education. Initially created so that America could inspire its students to travel abroad, IEW now encourages and supports foreign students interested in making the leap to study in the United States. Today IEW is celebrated in over 100 countries, including New Zealand.

Join us as we profile kiwi student experiences in America each day this week. Today we talk with Ashley Campbell.

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Name: Ashley Campbell                 

Age: 26

University & Location: University of Missouri, Columbia, MO

Year of study: First year

Course of Study: PhD, Biochemistry

Fulbright Award: 2015 Fulbright Science and Innovation Graduate Award

Why did you decide to study at the University of Missouri?

I wanted to learn more about Biochemistry, specifically in the area of structural biology. The University of Missouri has excellent structural biology focused faculty and access to some of the best facilities for X-ray crystallography, electron microscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance. This allows for exposure to many state of the art techniques in my field of interest.

Describe your school/program socially and academically.

The Biochemistry Department at the University of Missouri has been very impressive both socially and academically. I am required to take three courses a semester in my first year. So far I have taken part in Biochemistry, Enzymology and Metabolism and a Seminar class. These classes are generally very discussion based, and require a lot of analytical thinking. I have found this to be a very engaging way to learn, but it can also be very challenging. Socially this has been an amazing department to join. I am the only international student in the Biochemistry course, but I arrived to a very warm welcome from my American class mates. We have become friends very quickly and go out together in the evenings and on weekends to get a break from study. The social aspect has proven to be very important academically, as I have found when I have gaps in my knowledge I am easily able to ask classmates for help. It has been a very encouraging working environment.

Ashley. Photo credit: Michele Krause
Ashley. Photo credit: Michele Krause.

Describe your experience applying for admittance into American universities for graduate studies.

Applying to American universities was a very daunting process. There are so many places to choose to apply, and it is difficult to know which will be the best fit. I think the most important part was making contact with faculty members at various universities before applying, and seeing how their interests match your own. The application process requires a great deal of time and effort to prepare the required materials. One of the most difficult parts was writing essays which highlighted my achievements, as I tend to be modest and try not to boast in my day to day life. It helped to be able to talk to my previous professors about what the important aspects of my persona were, which achievements to focus on, and how these factors made me well suited to graduate school.

Tell us about any interesting cultural tidbits that you noticed in your region of America.

I have not been in Missouri long, but the first thing I noticed was that everyone drives everywhere! As someone who has always walked to get around, this has been a significant difference. People here tend to be very loud, but friendly. For instance my bus driver hollers “Have a nice day!” about twenty times during my ride to school.

What is it like being an international student on campus? In your community?

I have felt very welcomed by the American community on campus. Sometimes I even forget that I am from overseas, until someone points out a word I say funny or mannerisms which are different, which can be a fun way to start conversations. It has been a very welcoming environment for an international student.

What has been your biggest challenge and biggest highlight since living in America?

The biggest challenges all occurred in the early days of moving here. How do I find an apartment? How was I supposed to get to school? How do I buy and transport furniture? Is it okay to walk alone at night? How do I do this all on my own!? It was very daunting trying to do all these things in a new country, where I was unsure of the cultural customs and how safe it was. Making friends with local students has significantly eased these issues. Now that I have been here three months, the next challenge is that homesickness is starting to set in. I miss New Zealand a lot. It’s difficult living in the middle of a continent when your favorite thing to do is go to the beach!

The biggest highlight has to be the people. I never imagined it would be so easy to make friends here. Americans are very open and inviting people. It has made the whole experience of adapting to a new culture very enjoyable.

Have you thought about your plans post-graduation? How will your time in the USA help your career?

It’s a while before I graduate (five years!), but I look forward to taking my knowledge and experience back to New Zealand. Structural biology is a quickly growing scientific field in New Zealand, and I hope that my experiences as I go deeper into my research can help that field to grow. The connections I am making with classmates and professors will be beneficial too. Having international collaborators for future projects is an invaluable opportunity as a researcher. Hopefully I can convince some of my colleagues to come and work in New Zealand too.

What advice can you offer to New Zealanders hoping to study, at the graduate level, in the US in the future?

Be ready to work incredibly hard. I never noticed the laid back attitude in New Zealand until I arrived in America. It seems like the work never stops and a good work ethic is essential to get by. That being said, it is very important to take some down time, or you can burn out in such a fast paced environment.

How has your undergraduate studies in New Zealand prepared you for graduate work in America?

In the most part it has. I feel I have a strong analytical mind and practical laboratory skills which are required, but am feel lacking in some of my theoretical knowledge. This has been especially apparent in my Enzymology and Metabolism class. My US class mates were required to memorize metabolic pathways and chemical reaction mechanisms throughout undergraduate studies. I have never taken any organic chemistry, which is a main focus in the course, so I feel I have had to try and catch up very quickly. This requires extra work outside of class, and with such a heavy workload already, it has been difficult to find the time.

Finish the sentence: I believe international education is important because…

It brings together people with different cultural and education backgrounds, but a similar passion for their academic subject. This results in effervescent learning environment, where new ideas can flourish.

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Are you thinking about studying in America? There are thousands of opportunities for motivated students! Connect with EducationUSA New Zealand on Facebook (facebook.com/educationusanz) and Twitter (@educationusanz), and be sure to check out our free resources (nz.usembassy.gov) available to help you get started!

International Education Week 2015.
International Education Week 2015.