Kiwi, Carolyn Zou, talks to us about her U.S. Education Experience

Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN. Photo credit: Carolyn Zou.

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 Carolyn Zou.

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Name: Carolyn Zou        

Age: 18

University & Location: Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN

Year of study: Freshman

Course of Study: Political Science

Involvements on Campus: Lyrical Movements (music therapy volunteering), SCNO (Students Consulting for Non-Profit Organisations), Intramural Volleyball

Why did you decide to study at Vanderbilt?

I decided to study at Vanderbilt University because after combing through websites, student written blogs and speaking to school representatives I felt it was the best fit for me in terms of culture and academic programs.

Describe your school/program socially and academically.

Vanderbilt is a school where both social and academic parts of college life are well balanced. Students work hard for their majors and are constantly seeking out work experiences and clubs to join, but they also know how to enjoy being in “Music City”. This combination creates an incredible atmosphere.

Carolyn Zou.Photo credit: Daisy Zou.
Carolyn Zou.Photo credit: Daisy Zou.

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

Applying for American universities was a lot of work and definitely worth the time and effort. I prepared for months to take the SAT and the ACT before even deciding which college I would want to apply to because it’s a application requirement for most colleges (as standardised tests are very important as they are a point of comparison for applicants). After that I researched all the universities within my score range to narrow down my choices. I then read countless websites, blogs and watched videos to better understand the culture and character of each college to decide which would suit me the most. After choosing which schools to apply to I ranked them by preference to decide on which to apply for early and regular decision. Writing essays was unexpectedly difficult. I read through previous journals and diaries of mine to find and relive experiences to be able to write with more passion. Another impo

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

There is an obsession with cowboy boots in Nashville. Nashville is known as “Music City” and more specifically known as “Country Music City” which explains the boot obsession. I’ve noticed that they can be paired surprisingly well with anything from jeans to dresses.

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

International student orientation on the Vanderbilt campus began earlier than that of the local students, which meant I had the chance to meet with students from all around the globe. This was comforting for later times because we went through similar experiences of encountering a different culture. Being an international student has not affected my social life or the opportunities I’ve had on campus. In fact being an international student makes for an interesting conversation starter.

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

Biggest challenge would be arriving on campus not knowing anyone. It’s rebuilding your network (friends, acquaintances, support network) and reputation up from scratch.

Biggest highlight is taking a trip with friends on fall break and getting to experience more of what this dynamic country has to offer. I came for the school ,but I really want to stay for the culture that studying here has brought me together with.

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

After graduation I am hoping to work in a job that requires travel. My time in the USA will help with this because I’ve been able to experience and learn how to manage transitioning from one part of the world to another. Also, being able to study abroad means that I broaden my perspectives on everything from food to current events.

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

If you’re a New Zealander hoping to study in the US in the future be sure of your goals and always remember them. It is not an easy process with all the standardised tests, essays and choices, so remember why you’re doing it and let that motivate you.

What was most helpful during your application process? What did you feel you and others might need more support with in making a better process?

Other students that I knew studying in the USA made the application process a lot easier for me because they were able to answer questions (as the USA and NZ have very different academic systems and names for things).

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

it allows you to grow with influences and perspectives that you otherwise would not have encountered.

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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 ( and Twitter (@educationusanz), and be sure to check out our free resources ( available to help you get started!

International Education Week 2015.
International Education Week 2015.