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.
* * *
Name: Rebecca Purvis
University & Location: Arcadia University, Philadelphia
Year of study: Graduate student – first year of a two-year Masters program
Course of Study: Masters in Genetic Counseling
Fulbright Award: 2015 Fulbright Science and Innovation Graduate Award
Involvements on Campus: I work part-time as a graduate assistant in Arcadia’s Honor’s and Accelerated Programs area, generating scholarship and mentoring resources for Arcadia’s students with the aim of promoting higher-level global academic opportunities.
Why did you decide to study at Arcadia University?
Arcadia’s genetic counseling program is really strong in the personalized clinical opportunities and learning environment it offers its students. The faculty were incredibly welcoming and student-care focused which was important to me as an international student. In general, the program reflects the university’s passion for providing opportunities for students to engage with social issues and advocate for community, ideals that supported my own interest areas for cross-cultural and internationally applicable thesis research. In terms of financial considerations, Arcadia was also very open about discussing scholarships with me and were able to offer a financial plan that helped me significantly.
Describe your school/program socially and academically.
My Masters is a small full-time program that combines classes with clinical practicum rotations. There are fifteen of us in the class; 5 males, 10 females, all of varying ages. Aside from the three head faculty, we are lectured by other department staff in the areas of medical physiology, embryology and research. Every student in the class has a different clinical practicum, travelling off-site to hospitals and clinics throughout the Philadelphia area to observe practicing genetic counselors in different fields. The timetable is intense and the workload is heavy but as a class we all get along really well and are supportive of each other. We spend time together outside of academics but haven’t yet been able to meet other graduate students at the university because Arcadia doesn’t have a graduate student association established yet. There always seems to be a lot going on for undergraduates on campus. Working in the honor’s program means I’m exposed to the events the honor’s council runs, from Rocky Horror performances, to cultural food nights, mystery murder dinners and a Hunger Games styled food drive. Despite the university being relatively small in size it’s very active in its events and community outreach.
Describe your experience applying for admittance into American universities for graduate studies.
Applying to universities can be a tiring process because there are a lot of boxes that must be checked off to be considered as a valid applicant. I was fortunate that the process was very straight forwards with Arcadia. The genetic counselling program has its own administrator who is just brilliant, and the other administrators from the enrollment office were really available over email to answer my questions and help me submit the required material. Once I was offered interviews, I had one with each of the program faculty over Skype and there were no issues with that area of the process either. Applying for admittance can be disheartening at times because each application requires a reasonable amount of work in the knowledge that you’re committing time to something that may result in a rejection. However, great rewards take time to achieve and all the work is completely worth it for the opportunity to pursue your professional ambitions.
Tell us about any interesting cultural tidbits that you noticed in your region of America.
Philadelphia can be quite an intimidating city at first. It’s very different from anywhere else I’ve been to before. I heard rumors pre-arrival that Philadelphia wasn’t an overly friendly place but my experience has been the exact opposite. People have been really nice here and are always interested in having a conversation with me once they realize I’m an international student. Driving can be a bit crazy but there is always something to go out and do in all the hustle. I love the big street art scene and sporting culture that permeates Philadelphia.
What is it like being an international student on campus? In your community?
Global focus is a cornerstone of Arcadia’s mission so being an international student on campus is really wonderful. The international office really tried to make sure I had the information I needed and helped me to sort final paperwork that I needed to submit on arrival. They set me up with an international buddy and have remained present and contactable as my semester has progressed. I am the only New Zealander on my campus, in the apartment complex I live in, and the only New Zealander I’ve met since moving to Philadelphia. That can feel a bit isolating at times, but Kiwi’s are really welcomed here and everyone I’ve met always wants to hear about New Zealand and what it’s like to be in America. I miss home but I know that I’m gaining access to amazing professional opportunities that are completely unique to my location and situation.
The first day of my clinical rotation was at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital, one of the most prominent and innovative hospitals in American. I was completely floored by how amazing the facility was and by the fact that I was able to go and learn from some of the leaders in the medical genetics field. Other highlights have included travelling to Washington D.C and New York in my downtime. Philadelphia is ideally located between both cities on the east coast and so being able to spend weekends sight-seeing has been awesome. Also, being part of the Fulbright community has been one of the most humbling and personally rewarding experiences. I had Fulbright orientation in Miami with 67 other international students from over 43 different countries and it was one of the best weeks of my life.
Have you thought about your plans post-graduation? How will your time in the USA help your career?
My long term plan is to return to New Zealand to use the training I’ve had here to contribute to growing genetic health services and the profile of genetic medicine in New Zealand. America has a unique healthcare model and is on the forefront of advancement in medical genetics. New Zealand’s genetic health sector is very young in comparison meaning there are ample opportunities for developing modes of practice and service delivery models that could maximize access to genetic information and the overall quality of patient care. Learning within the American system will provide me with the raw knowledge and professional tools to better serve and lead within my profession and to achieve my own personal goal of making a difference in an area that could improve the lives of others.
What advice can you offer to New Zealanders hoping to study, at the graduate level, in the US in the future?
When I was looking into graduate study programs in the States I knew that I wouldn’t get there without scholarship support, a common theme for a lot of undergraduates looking into overseas study. One of the most important things is putting in the time to do your research, to discover what your options are in terms of eligibility for scholarships, what different scholarships exist and where to go to speak to someone about them. Universities and professional organizations in New Zealand do fund international students, but students should also look into graduate foundations, rotaries, volunteer societies functioning within your specific field and at the financial options at your prospective US institution. Knowing your options expands your ability to choose your academic pathway. Also, putting together a robust application is key in terms of writing a personal statement that has been thoroughly read by your academic advisors, mentors and family, which can then be adapted for different scenarios. A strong personal statement that reflects your goals is vital within the application process and can serve as your base for all other application materials and interviews, so it’s important to begin early and to produce something you feel strongly represents you as a personal and future professional.
How has your undergraduate studies in New Zealand prepared you for graduate work in America?
I was initially worried that I’d be underprepared in terms of entering into an unfamiliar education structure and not knowing how basic assignments or tests would be formatted, or not producing work up to the required standard because the standards would be so different from my undergraduate experience. Graduate school is a step up from undergraduate no matter where you do it and I feel very relieved that my undergraduate studies prepared me so well. Even though my work load is more intense, the skills I learnt at the University of Otago in terms of critical thinking, paper writing and the depth of learning fundamental concepts in my field has put me on par with everyone else in my class and I haven’t struggled to maintain my grade average. My undergraduate study was so thorough in terms of material that the transition to material here hasn’t been as difficult as I’d worried it would be.
Finish the sentence: I believe international education is important because…
it gives students the opportunity to become more; to expand their leadership and ambassadorial qualities in order for them to better serve others and to become lifelong learners who can engage in a global society.
* * *