International Education Week with Alison Andrews-Paul

Alison and teammate Gabrielle Satterlee. Photo Credit: Lindsey Bradley.

This week marks the 17th Annual International Education Week (IEW), a joint initiative between the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education, which celebrates and promotes the benefits of international education and exchange programs worldwide. 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 chat with Alison Andrews-Paul.

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NAME: Alison Andrews-Paul
AGE: 18
UNIVERSITY: Baylor University
LOCATION: Waco, Texas
YEAR OF STUDY: Freshman
COURSE OF STUDY: Health Science, Pre-Med
INVOLVEMENT ON CAMPUS: Baylor Track and Field Team; Baylor Cross-Country Team

Why did you decide to study at Baylor?

I first became interested in Baylor when I learned what a great track and field programme they had. I talked with the coach of the distance team (Coach Harbour) and really liked his ethic and values, they were exactly what I was looking for in a coach and he just seemed to be the right fit for my future training. Baylor also has an excellent Health Science and Science programme which is the field I knew I wanted to be studying in. Overall, I really liked the ‘vibe’ of the university, the academics and athletics just really fit with me. It also helps that they have world-class facilities and some pretty nice buildings to study in to say the least.

Describe your school/program socially and academically.

Most of my social time is spent with the cross country team. They are an awesome bunch of girls and all really dedicated to where we are going in our running. Some of them are crazy fit and getting to chill with them is inspiring. We do a bunch of stuff together on the weekends from going to the Farmers’ Market for Breakfast after long run to the traditional Tortilla Toss into the Brazos River.

There are also a seemingly unlimited number of clubs, study groups, sororities, and organisations available to join. With my busy schedule as an athlete I have not been able to fully explore all of these but I am a proud member of the Baylor sailing club, a super cool group of people. No, I don’t know how to sail – but I’ve always wanted to learn and what better time to start right?

Aside from that, living on campus I have a CL who is someone who looks after everyone on our dorm floor – she’s always organising events and get-togethers for everyone. There’s always someone to hang out with if you’re open to it.

My academic programme is just the right level of challenging and packed. I am so grateful for my high school for teaching me so much of what we are going over in these early stages, we go through the content so fast that I would not be able to keep up if it weren’t for the preparation I found in Wairarapa College. Overall I would say that the transition in terms of content from New Zealand high school to American University is very doable. I have two academic classes each week day and they last just over an hour each. In addition to that it is recommended to spend 3 hours out of class for every hour in class, but I am getting on just fine with about 2 hours out of class for every hour in class. I also have a lab for chemistry once every two weeks and virtual labs to complete at home on the other week.

Being a Baptist school Baylor also has a religious requirement, and at the moment I have chapel twice a week and then ‘U1000’ once a week. Chapel really isn’t that bad – sometimes it’s not so interesting but most of the time it’s ok, it can be a good time for reflection and a nice break from a busy schedule. U1000 is a Freshman course designed to help answer every and any question students have about how things work at Baylor, from where a building is to how to register for Spring semester – they’re there to help. It also just provides us with someone to talk to should we ever need it. My U1000 teacher is really nice and open to talk to and brings us food every week.

Baylor also provides tutoring at the ‘Success Center’ from 9-6 Monday through Thursday. Here, I can go in with homework, study, or just questions about any subject and they’ll assign me to whichever tutor is there at the time. This has been incredibly helpful for some of my Sociology and English papers. There’s also the Writing Center, where you can get help with essays and ‘Higher’s’ which is a student-athlete study area where I have mandatory tutoring three times a week – this helps a bunch with getting my chemistry homework done. It’s really nice to be surrounded by other people studying, it makes the task less cumbersome and makes me that little bit more motivated to get to it. Overall I am really enjoying my classes and I am staying on top of the homework.

Describe your experience applying for admittance into American universities (e.g. SAT preparation, reaching out to schools, researching funding, writing essays, etc.)

Well, all I can say is it’s a long process, if you’re interested the earlier you start, the better.

The SAT is a strange test but I had a good manual book and that helped a lot, I would have been lost without it. I ended up taking the test twice and the second time I really knew what I was doing and my score improved insurmountably.

Getting the NCAA eligibility box ticked off is also a pretty lengthy process, not exactly difficult but takes a lot of paper work and time…But I got there eventually.

The admittance process into Baylor was made a bit easier by the fact that I am on scholarship so some of the paperwork was done for me at the other end. But again, took a bit of patience but we got there eventually.

The visa process was a little tougher because you have to wait a while for some paperwork and then making the trip to Auckland was not particularly convenient…It was a nervous wait to see if my visa and passport would arrive in the mail on time after my interview – would not recommend leaving it to the last minute as I did.

I honestly didn’t reach out to many schools just because I was so happy with the programme I was going into, it just felt right and I didn’t see any reason to look elsewhere. So far it’s paid off!

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

Being an international student-athlete on campus has been pretty fun, the American’s love comparing countries and ways of life. I get asked a bunch of interesting questions. There are also the random words or names for things that we say differently, like ‘boot’ for the back of a car instead of ‘trunk’ and ‘rock melon’ instead of ‘cantaloupe.’ We always have a bit of a laugh when those moments come along. Comparing catch phrases and accents is also fun. There’s another international student, a British guy, on the track team and we have some funny conversations during dinner time about ‘Americans.’ Also whenever I do something a bit strange the girls just laugh and say “she’s not from around here.” Even though they know the thing I did wasn’t typically kiwi either. That’s another thing; I get called Kiwi a lot, which I quite like. Overall the people are very accepting of international students – more than that they make me feel welcome and seem to enjoy having me around.

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

The biggest challenge would have to be dealing with homesickness. I’ve always been very independent and up for trying new things so I thought I would skip the homesickness phase…but it seems I wasn’t exempt. The first month was tough because I missed my family and friends so much; I also just missed the weather (it was very humid during August)! Suddenly all the little New Zealand ‘trinkets’ that had seemed so lame when my Aunty had given them to me were little pieces of home and I cherished them greatly. So with my New Zealand flag proudly hung up on my wall, I got stuck into training and study that really helped. I am also rooming with an Australian and talking to her was great. Now, two months later, I feel right at home and am happy as. I still miss my family but I talk to them often and I know that I’ll go back to New Zealand eventually – the homesickness never truly goes away, but it does get easier.

The biggest highlight since living in America has been getting to meet and train with an awesome team. As an athlete in a small individual sport in New Zealand I often trained by myself which is fine most of the time…but honestly it’s ten times better and easier to motivate yourself when surrounded by like-minded people. And I still get some Own Your Own days to do some independent training. Coupled with that is getting to use some pretty incredible facilities and resources. The university has its own 400m outdoor and 60m indoor track, along with 3 alter-G treadmills, two hydrotherapy tubs (one hot and one cold) and several personal trainers who provide massages and other forms of treatment whenever you need. This is super awesome because I can maximise the efficiency and effects of my training and throw everything I can into what I love to do – run.

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

I have thought about my post-graduation plans (quite a lot lately in fact), and while there’s a lot of thinking there’s not a lot of deciding. I know I want to go into the health sector and preferably in a hospital (I think); I’m just not sure exactly what in the health sector. I may be open to going to grad school, but then again I also want to start working after my four years here…and then at the same time I don’t know what I want to do four years from now – seems like a long way away. But I do know that I want to keep running and that I will return to New Zealand at some point. I know some seniors who have only just properly decided what they want to do so I have time (I hope).

My time in the USA will help my career in that I know I am receiving a world-class education – people come from all over the United States and pay a lot of money to get into Baylor’s Science programme. A Science degree from Baylor looks very good on paper. I know that the experience I am gaining over here will help me in whatever I decide to do wherever I decide to go.

What advice can you offer to New Zealanders hoping to study in the US in the future?

Really consider what you are looking for in a university – there are so many options over here that a near perfect match is guaranteed to be available. Go with what feels right and fits with both who you are and what you want to achieve.

Be prepared for the workload but don’t get overwhelmed…just put the time in, ask for help and ‘she’ll be right.’

Do you have any tips about the admissions process? Any tips on how to prepare for departure to the US?

Get the admission process rolling early, even if you’re not sure just yet, the earlier the better. You can always say no at the end if you change your mind.

Pack some things from New Zealand that really make you feel at home, you might think it’s not that big a deal now, but you’ll thank me later.

Other than that just be completely comfortable with your decision and once you’ve made it, try not to second guess yourself. And if things seem tough at first just do your best to make it work…the worst that can happen is you go home having learned a whole bunch about yourself and your world, you won’t know unless you try.

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

I believe international education is important because you learn about more than just what you are majoring in – you also learn about a whole new culture and way of life and get exposed to things you hadn’t even thought of in your home country. It honestly opens your eyes to the idea that ‘the world is your oyster’ and there’s more out there to see than what you can find in your home country.

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Consider accessing #IEW2016 to participate in the virtual conversations happening online around International Education Week.

Additionally, 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!