International Education Week with Rebecca Gray

Rebecca Gray. Photo Credit: Alexandra Scott.

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 Rebecca Gray.

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Name: Rebecca Gray
Age: 25
University & Location: Princeton University; Princeton, New Jersey
Year of study: Third year graduate student
Course of Study: Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Fulbright Award: 2014 Fulbright Science and Innovation Graduate Award

Why did you decide to study at Princeton?

I chose Princeton because it was a really well regarded school and because of the schools that I visited it had the best feeling of community. I visited three great schools but Princeton was where I could really see myself living and enjoying myself.

Describe your school/program socially and academically.

The Ph.D. program in my department usually takes around five years, with the first two year spent focusing on taking classes and preparing for your qualifying exams, and the remaining three years focusing on research. I really like that the program ensures you have a solid knowledge-base in your discipline area before you start really specialising in your research. Socially, I have a very tight-knit department, which is great. There’s a lot of social activities organised for the grad student community at Princeton, which I think promotes a really strong community.

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

The application process is obviously extensive, considering all the scholarships and schools you need to research and apply to, but it’s extremely worth it in the end. I had a lot of help from older students at my undergraduate university who were already admitted, and also from my mentoring professor.

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

I was really surprised when I got here by how hard it was to make myself understood! I thought moving from one English-speaking country to another wouldn’t be a problem at all, but I soon I was really surprised when I got here by how hard it was to make myself understood! I thought moving from one English-speaking country to another wouldn’t be a problem at all, but I soon realised how strong the kiwi accent is. People constantly think my name is ‘Bic’ or ‘Ribicca’. But once we’ve got past that I really love it here, I’ve found that the people here are just so enthusiastic, and it makes for a lovely, positive environment.

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

There are a lot of international graduate students, so I don’t often think of myself as that different. There’s a centre here which provides assistance and runs events for international students, but I really haven’t felt like I needed to use it because I get all the help and socialization I want from the general community.

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

My biggest challenge has definitely been work-related; I found that the engineering program here is a lot more theory-focused than my undergraduate education and I definitely had a lot to learn and catch up to when I first arrived. My biggest highlight has been travelling around the US! I live an hour’s train ride away from New York City, which is amazing, and I’ve also been to Washington DC, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Each one of those places was just as good as I was expecting and I can’t wait to see more!

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

My plan post-graduate are still a work in progress, but I think that receiving the broad foundation to my education that I got here will really give me a lot of options.

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

I think the main advice I want to give people is to not doubt yourself, and if you think you want to study here definitely apply! It can be hard to get a sense of what the schools you’re looking at are like, given that all you have to go on is their websites, so talk to as many people as possible.

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

As I said above, I think my undergraduate studies had a slightly different focus to the engineering education I have received here, and if I could go back I would definitely take more mathematics classes to prepare.

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

education is about more than just academics, and meeting new people and experiencing other cultures is to me an integral part growing as a person.

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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!