Q&A With an International Graduate Student

Pursuing graduate studies is a grueling process on anyone. It is invasive, personal, detailed and demands of the applicant and in-depth introspective consideration of intellectual understandings. Stefanie Soller-Lamm is an international student from Germany who graduated from AUM in December of 2016. She studied psychology and knew that the only thing that could bring her what she wanted, her own counseling practice, was graduate studies.

I spoke with her about her experiences as an international student in American university, what was the hardest part, how her expectation and experiences differed, what the grad school process was like, and what advice she would give to future international students wanting to pursue graduate studies. Her responses are insightful, yet simple explanations of cultural variances and experiential learning that proves useful in more ways than one.

What is the hardest part of being an international student in an American University?

Well, honestly, I’ve only ever gone to university in America so I can’t really comment on differences in other college programs. Even so, my experiences at lower levels of schooling were understandably a lot different. In Germany, our whole schooling system is designed differently. From an early age, you are tested for either college or what Americans consider trade school, and in that, there isn’t this stigma associated with it like there is here.

What was the biggest difference or change in the schooling you noticed?

The academic work ethic is very different. American kids complain about things that were so normal to me in Germany, things that were just expected of us as students.

 Like what?

Like the work load. So many of the students complain about how much work there is, but it seems very normal to me and manageable.

 What was your biggest takeaway from grad school applications?

Well, that IS a lot of work, so start early. You should weigh the benefits of the graduate program, see if it’s something you really want because it’s designed to test you, and if you fail, it’s so much harder to re-enter. Use your time preparing wisely; really focus on the GRE prep and go ahead and prepare yourself for whatever the outcome may be, absolutely do not underestimate any part of it. Also, it helped that I knew so surely what I wanted to study, and that I had made great connections with my professors, because a good recommendation really helps.

What recommendations could you give to other international students wanting to apply for graduate programs?

This part is very simple for anyone, really. Everyone should start studying early, you should know what you want to study and why, this is very important because every program is going to ask you this and it needs to be genuine. More so, make connections with your undergrad professors, volunteer, have extracurricular activities, these are really nice on applications. But for international students specifically, allow your diversity to benefit you. It makes you stand out, and that’s what you want. There are three out of 21 students in my program now that are international. Let your different understandings of the world be your advantage, other applicants don’t have this, so let it make you stand out.

Do you have any last thoughts or takeaways you’d like to add?

Yes, for anyone, go ahead and allow yourself to gather as much motivation as you can. Be resilient. Also, I want to say my favorite part of grad school is the co-horts. We’re in small groups, and it makes everything personal and intimate, also, you go through the processes together and it creates a unique bond.

 By Dana Horton