Our International Spotlight features focus not only on those who came here from abroad, but also on American students who devoted a significant part of their time to intercultural activities while enrolled here at the University of Iowa, as well as faculty and staff who support internationalization at Iowa.
Shachi Vyas, an international student from Ahmedabad, India, originally studied law in her home country before transferring to the UI to pursue a Bachelor’s in Business Administration in finance and accounting from the Tippie College of Business. Read on to learn more about her process of adjusting to an American university and other cultural barriers, as well as her advice to other international students.
How did you hear about the University of Iowa? Why did you decide to attend?
In India, you can apply to a law school as an undergraduate. I did one year of law school in India and decided to go on a three-week study abroad program in the summer between my freshmen and sophomore year. I had originally planned to go to the University of Minnesota for the three weeks but it turned out that the University of Iowa worked logistically better in my schedule so I ended up coming to Iowa with five other business students.
During my stay here, I was introduced to the business program at Tippie. I was very impressed by the finance and accounting programs here. Besides, I had such a great experience during those three weeks that I decided to seize the opportunity and apply for a transfer so I could complete my undergraduate here. I have cousins who went to school in the U.S. and after talking to them about their experiences, I felt like I was making the right decision. I also have family in Chicago so Iowa seemed like a perfect fit in all aspects.
What surprised you about the U.S. or Iowa?
I think the American classroom experience was surprisingly different for me. I’ve come to realize that college-level education in the U.S. is a lot more hands on and interactive. You’re expected to be an independent learner and be more proactive in figuring out what is going to be expected of you. I want to say the work isn’t necessarily harder but you delve much deeper into the course material. Professors expect you to speak up and perform in class – I suddenly found myself participating in classroom discussions and working in teams a lot more than before. The whole idea of visiting a professor during her office hours was very new to me – I thought it was commendable how accessible and willing to help the professors are.
What was the adjustment period like for you? Did you find it difficult to make American friends?
Shachi and her FIS family
I have been very fortunate to meet some wonderful Americans around here. Even before I got to the U.S., the Friends of International Students program paired me up with a local family that I had a chance to meet with once I was here. It was comforting getting to know a family in a relatively new environment.
In school, it took me a while to open up to people. My biggest barriers were the differences in culture, communication and body language. I think the barrier for American students is that they are afraid they might not know enough about the cultures of international students and might unintentionally end up coming off as insensitive. But over time I’ve realized that these cultural differences are, in fact, the building blocks of friendships. The moment you start talking about the similarities and dissimilarities of your cultures with each other, you start communicating rather than just talking, and that’s when friendships develop. Many times, you end up clearing some misconceptions that the other person has about your culture and learn a few aspects of their culture that you never before knew existed.
One of the best things I like about studying in the U.S. is that there are opportunities for everyone to connect with people from various backgrounds – all you have to do is just put yourself out there. In my case, I just started talking to people sitting around me in class, going to multicultural campus events, getting involved in student organizations – I ended up meeting some wonderful people some of who are like my best buddies now!
What is your favorite place in Iowa City?
I don’t have a particular favorite in Iowa City but I have to say I really enjoy walking around the Ped-Mall in downtown. There are no cars allowed in this area so it’s a walker’s paradise. Besides, it’s always so vibrant and full of people. There are some great restaurants (Crepes de Luxe is my favorite!) and shops and there’s always an event or concert over the weekends.
What advice would you give to other UI international students?
Just like us international students, a majority of domestic students on campus are also living away from their homes and families. They’re going through similar adjustments as we are, at least in some ways if not all. They’re looking to learn new things and make new friends as much as we are. So my biggest word of advice would be don’t be afraid to put yourself out there – because as they say, the best learning happens outside your comfort zone.
After graduation, Shachi plans to pursue a career in the financial services industry.