This week marks the 18th 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 this week. Today we chat with Harrisson Jull.
Harrisson Jull is currently working towards his PhD in Engineering at the University of Waikato, He was previously awarded a Fulbright scholarship to agricultural robotic research laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy at Nova Southeastern University in 2016, and graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering with First Class Honours from the University of Waikato in 2013.
Why did you decide to study in the USA, and at Nova Southeastern University?
The United States is home to many researchers that are pioneers and authorities in their fields. When you do literature studies you read about these professionals and the amazing work they are doing. You become very familiar with prominent names and groups that reoccur as you continue studying. My particular area of study includes laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, automation, and mathematical modelling. The U.S. has world-renowned leaders in all these areas. I was in contact with a few of them and one that I really connected with was Professor Jose Ramos of Nova Southeastern University. His energy and willingness to have me and assist me was above any other. Having a good supervisor is something I have learned is very important for success in student research. Professor Ramos is also a leading expert in 2D system identification. Of course, another pull factor was that the Miami Dolphins trained at the University!
What are the biggest challenges you have had to overcome studying in United States?
The biggest challenge I had was having people understand what I was saying. I had to repeat myself regularly. The accent, Kiwi slang, and the British words we use are not common in the U.S. I found if I pronounced my R’s they understood me a lot better. The Kiwi slang and British words we use here in New Zealand can be hard to translate when you can’t think of an American synonym because everyone in New Zealand uses the same words. That being said, it was fun teaching people the differences and trying to translate English (New Zealand) to English (American).
Other challenges are tipping, buying milk and crossing the road. It takes a while to remember to tip and to know when to tip. I got caught out buying milk. I brought the good old blue bottle milk and found out that is 2% milk! Thank goodness my flatmates told me what had happened. Crossing the road is not supposed to scare you… but be careful when you are used to looking to the right when you cross. Cars are coming from the left – it can catch you out!
What advice would you give those thinking about studying in the United States?
Always take advantage of every opportunity. You never know when you will be on that side of the world again, what each opportunity could lead to and what experiences they will bring. A road not travelled is a journey not seen. Talk to everyone. You will be surprised how your accent can open doors into interesting conversations and new friendships. Explore every chance you get. There are many hidden treasures that even locals don’t know. Get out of your comfort zone and try everything. Like I said you might never get another chance to do some of these things again. I got to go to Venice beach and Golds Gym where Arnold Schwarzenegger trained, Las Vegas, Disney World, Universal Studios, Times Square, Miami, Harvard, Puerto Rico, a live NFL and NBA game, and plenty more. A lot of these were opportunities that arose and that I had not previously planned to do but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Describe your school/program academically, how does it differ from study in New Zealand / currently.
I am currently doing a PhD at the University of Waikato where I spend every day in a lab. As a Visiting Student Researcher in the U.S. not much was different for me. I did research all day every day in the lab. The only difference was the Professor Ramos was in the same lab as me so I could ask him straight away if I had any questions. Just like my supervisors in New Zealand he would give me one-on-one training, that was invaluable.
What is it like being an international student on campus? What are the biggest social hurdles?
Being an international student on campus is interesting. You get along really well with other international students because of the commonalities you share being in a new country. Making friends with American students was a bit of a challenge since I wasn’t attending classes. I made friends with my flatmates who were Americans and went with them to social events on campus. I talked to a lot of the students on the desk in the dormitories and made friends with them and hung out with them a lot. It is a big leap if talking to strangers is not comfortable for you but you never know who you will meet and how they will impact your life or how you might impact theirs. I also attended a religious study group on campus where I made friends.
How have your undergraduate studies prepared you for your further academic endeavours?
My undergraduate studies taught me a lot. I learnt how to plan and prioritise what work I needed to do and when I needed to finish it. The PhD deadlines are different and you need to be able to keep track of what you are trying to accomplish. If you are not careful months can fly by and you realise you could have been more efficient if you had prioritised certain tasks. The consistency and diligence that I developed in my undergrad helps tremendously in doing research. There are a lot of hurdles in research and not all roads lead to success. Being able to stick through and keep trying is the key to success.
Tell us about any interesting cultural tidbits that you noticed in Florida, what are the biggest cultural differences between Florida and New Zealand?
The culture in south Florida is very unique compared to the rest of the States. It is really similar to that of New Zealand with huge cultural diversity. This made it really easy to settle in, minus the massive amount of Spanish that was spoken. I started learning Spanish on Duolingo to help me better assimilate into the culture and my friends helped teach me. The south Florida people are very accepting and embraced my love of their culture and they were extremely surprised by my love and knowledge of reggaetón. They taught me to dance bachata and merengue and TRIED to teach me salsa. They took me out to eat at different places so I could experience the different foods that make up Miami. I absolutely loved it!
South Florida has its own culture, which I loved! I talked with a lot of people about their home countries, their experiences in the U.S., and I shared with them a comparison with my experience in New Zealand. I taught a group of students a Haka and some Maori customs and words. I was very surprised that they remembered some words later on! I taught New Zealand slang and how simple phrases can be misinterpreted between Americans and New Zealanders. I even taught a few people how to pass a rugby ball and ran them through a few drills! I was also fortunate enough to attend a Thanksgiving dinner that I was invited to by a friend and Florida local where I was taught about the heritage and meaning of Thanksgiving.
Do you have any parting comments on your studies or experiences?
What initially helped me to engage with a lot of people was talking about football and players. Playing American football for Hamilton, I had a natural love for the game. I actually got to attend a NFL game, which was a dream of mine! A huge upside of going to Nova Southeastern University was that the Miami Dolphins trained there and I got to see them practice! Having some experience which you can share or similar interest goes a long way in connecting!
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I went weekly to the local congregation where I volunteered as a Sunday school teacher. I made a lot of friends there. We got together every week and played basketball and volleyball, went out to eat, went to the movies, and hung out at the beach together. One of them invited me to their wedding, where I experienced a typical Mexican wedding with all the festivities. These are friends that I value dearly and it was hard to say goodbye. We also did service by volunteering in a local food store and put up hurricane shielding for windows. I also had the opportunity of attending a general conference for the church in Salt Lake City, Utah which was something I always wanted to do. There I saw a friend I haven’t seen in three years, and I also got to see a couple of other friends that I haven’t seen in over a decade!
I became really good friends with my Professor and he constantly invited me out to dinner with his family and I went on vacation with them to Disney. He was a huge help to me when I first arrived. He helped me settle into the dorms, lent me a bike to use, offered to take me shopping for groceries every week, and gave me every resource I needed. My roommates and friends at church also helped me adjust to living in the States and were always there if I had any questions. My professor and I would talk about academic things as well as cultural differences in different countries since he had lived in Belgium and was from Puerto Rico. I got to go to Puerto Rico and Cozumel, where I delved into their culture and experienced the local community.
In short, I have grown personally through learning part of a language, learning different cultures and the culture of south Florida, experienced new food, NFL, a hurricane, given service, and made lifelong friends.
Follow #IEW2017 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!