Kiwi, Priyanka Shekar, talks to us about her U.S. Education Experience

International Education Week, 2015.

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. First up is Priyanka Shekar.

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Name: Priyanka Shekar

Age: 29

University & Location: Stanford University, Stanford, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, USA.

Year of study: 2012 – 2014

Course of Study: MA Music, Science and Technology

Involvements on Campus: Stanford Graduate School of Business Ignite program, Stanford Laptop Orchestra, Stanford University Singers, Lean In Campus Leader.

Priyanka Shekar. Photo credit Long Nguyen Photography.
Priyanka Shekar. Photo credit Long Nguyen Photography.

Why did you decide to study at Stanford?

Stanford is one of the few universities that allowed me to specialize in the niche and innovative field of Music Technology because it’s uniquely positioned at the intersection of the arts and engineering. My lab, the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), offers great opportunities to dive into independent research directions alongside taking courses.

Describe your school/program socially and academically.

Academically, my program was a flexible and inter-disciplinary blend of music, computer science, electrical engineering, product development and entrepreneurship, which was skillset I needed to equip myself with to build the next generation of consumer-facing new media products. Stanford has a warm and welcoming social vibe, and a particularly strong graduate student population (about 50/50 with undergraduates). Ostensibly, there’s an open event happening somewhere on campus all the time so you could eat for free every meal of the year if you wanted!

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

I started the process about 7-8 months prior to the application round – researching schools and programs, scholarships/funding, sitting the GRE, preparing my admissions portfolio and essays etc. Outside of the standard motions, I refreshed my music training by taking classes at my undergraduate university and networked widely with professors, researchers and entrepreneurs in my field, both in N.Z. and in the U.S.

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

The Silicon Valley culture is made of dreamers and builders, you can do anything here! You meet people on an everyday basis who are building the next space rocket or curing cancer. Overheard in cafes is buzzing startup talk, people are very energetic, open and adopting of futuristic and speculative ideas. If you still have an iPhone 5 like I do, it’s basically a brick around here!

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

I think the Stanford experience feels special, strange and new to everyone for their own reasons. Some strain of Impostor Syndrome is fairly common among all incoming students. The international student body is significant, so most experiences are a collaborative melting pot of cultures and experiences. In my tiny cohort of 7 Music Technology Master’s students, each of us hails from a different country.

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

Both have involved transitioning into industry after graduate study: my biggest highlight has been applying the research and specialist knowledge gained during my program to co-found a consumer music technology startup, Grüv Music, where I am the Chief Product Officer. It has also been incredibly rewarding to work alongside our novice musician users to develop a product that taps into their innate musical creativity. My biggest challenge has been navigating the U.S. immigration system to transition from a student visa to one that supports my entrepreneurial activities here.

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

I chose to attend Stanford to help my career goal of pursuing tech and media entrepreneurship. It backyards on Silicon Valley, and houses the right mix of technical/academic and entrepreneurial opportunity. This lets people here make groundbreaking leaps in R&D at a pace unlike anywhere else.

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

Timelines for university admissions, immigration visas and job applications run much longer than what we are used to in N.Z., often months or even a year ahead. Start planning early, it’s well worth the investment! I talk more about it in this interview when I was an incoming student:

What programs offered by your school has helped you to successfully adjust and complete your degree program?

The international center on campus holds plenty of social orientation events as well as educational workshops on topics such as visas, tax filing, careers, etc., which are very helpful.

The U.S. is across the world from New Zealand, how have you been able to stay in touch with your family and remain connected?

We’re lucky to have a time difference of 3-5 hours on the West Coast, which makes video calls pretty easy to keep connected. Likewise, the flight from Auckland to San Francisco is a direct over-nighter, so my family has been able to visit a couple of times. I brought my husband along with me, he’s about to start graduate study here ☺

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

….it facilitates exchange of knowledge and ideas, and sets the tone for global impact.

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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.