Thursday, July 30, 2009

U.S. Southeast Region

Here we have: Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Arkansas.

I have noticed a couple of things regarding the South West. I'll categorise them into Pros and cons:
-The weather is fantastic. Not too cold in winter and mild in Spring and Fall and if you can survive the hot summer- you are good to go.
-The people are kinda nice (southern hospitality) I found out that international students are not too self conscious about their heritage and most of them have respect for older people; persons of authority etc. This really helps because most people show respect to you if you respect them (I am digressing from my point).
-Life is pretty cheap. You can afford to live on a small budget (if you stay away from the big cities). I find groceries especially easy to find.
-The schools are affordable compared to other states. So far in my research; I have found colleges in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee to be very reasonable and if you are an innovative person, you can pretty much pay your way through school without parental assistance.
- I'll update the list as my research progresses.

- Jobs are not that easy to find. HOWEVER: If you have a degree and a particular level of expertise and you are willing to work in semi-urban and rural settings: Then it is much much easier to get a job. The reason for this phenomenon is that a lot of people are moving up north and to the west coast to start their careers because that is where the major demands are - depending on your trade of course.

This means that the south has a shortage of professionals especially in the rural areas and if one is willing to move there, then the chances are there. The pay is pretty decent too. But if you are a student looking for the usual jobs (cleaning mostly) then the chances are pretty slim and you can get one if you are very very lucky.

Most of the schools here are not as competitive as they should be. I did an in-depth research on one of the four year institution in the south and found out that the graduates from the school could not compete at the same level as other schools thereby undermining their chances of getting into the job market.

Other than that, the sun is good, the food is fantastic though not gourmet and life is not as expensive. So if this is your basis of criteria, then the south is for you!


Like I mentioned earlier, I major in the technical field and I have started looking for prospective transfer schools.

Since I have about a year or so, I have decided to base my research by region, then by state, then go from school to school and see what I will dig up. This may prove interesting to see what the result will be.

My criterion are:
1. A school with a good academic standing
2. With a good technical field (engineering, applied math, computers)
3. Fairly affordabe
4. Scholarships.

The last one is a huge factor because I know for certain that I will not be able to pay for school fees out of my pocket.

Now, with that said, I would like to highlight the fact that I am from Africa, and so I will initially lean towards the warmer states (starting with the south) and if I dont catch anything, would gradually move towards the north.

Deep breath, and here we go>>>

Money for Schools

Here comes the big one. Most of the international students that I know have on one time or the other, had a problem with payin their way through school. There are limited ways in which a student could get assistance in paying their way through school.

First off, we are not eligible to receive federal aid (FAFSA), the Pell grant, and the loans that are available charge exorbitant amount of interest and of course you are required to have a co-signer.

So, to supplement the small income I was getting working 20 hours a week earning minimum wage, I knew that I had to get assistance of some sort or otherwise I'd be sunk. To say the least. So what to do? There's only one way to do it.... Scholarships!

There were several ways available: The easier sort was to join a school team that offered scholarships. Incidentally, a lot of money is endowed to schools that support a particular game as a sort of advertisement. And the more prestigious the school is, the more the money that is set aside to invest in the school sport and the school by extension.

Unfortunately for me, I had a problem. I was not generously endowed with the talents in sport. I can hold down on my own in class, but I am hopeless at the field. So the option of getting a scholarships was out of the question. I started looking for scholarships out of other means, and I believe that my diligince paid in the end as I got several offers that were not even mentioned on the schools website!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Finding Work

I met this headache the first week I was in the United States, leave alone the stress I had to go through about the school work, the professors and the American accent. The bills are frighteningly high, and the rent I was paying for my one room apartment was enough to pay for a three bedroom self contained house back home.

So the issue of money came into play. I had to do my groceries, pay my bills, and my tuition and books just to stay afloat and since I did not have a never ending supply of money available, I had to find a way.

I should mention beforehand that my family prepared me for the first semester alone and I had to find my way of paying through school. One thing that I did in the beginning was to look for scholarship opportunities that did not consider citizenship and /or residency. And the few that were there had less money and were much more competitive. But I knew that I was worth my salt and so I had to look I was able to get a few that greatly subsidized the amount of tuition that I was required to pay. So if I could come up with a job, I would just about make it and the keyword being 'just'. I will leave that for now. And will talk about scholarships later.

There are very few options available for international students to be allowed to work. I knew there were other methods to work that are not considered legal, but I did not want to lose my status in the U.S. At least, I wasn't that desperate yet. But honestly speaking? I did not cross that option off my list.

By illegal work, I do not mean anything that would be against the law. Some students participate in odd jobs (excuse my English) like: Babysitting, lawn mowing ... you get my drift. But according to the law, international students are really not required to do that. Now, having said that, there is really not much of an enforcement of this act going on. The rule of the thumb is, stay out of trouble - Do not get a record with the police especially regarding 'misdemeanors'. It maybe low risk for U.S. citizens, but very risky for an international students. It gives the U.S. government an excuse - and a good one to deport you back to your country. And with the number of people scrambling to enter the United States; trust me, no one would mourn for you.

Anyways, I had started to deviate from the main idea. But, I managed to get work at school working no more than 20 hours a week and earning minimum wage. It wasn't much, but it was something and I honestly could not complain.

I should mention here that there is a fine print that not many people look at regarding international work-study program - An international student is not allowed to work more than 20 hours a week EXCEPT during non school days and holidays IF AND ONLY IF the schools allows the student to work over the stipulated time. So, even though most students don't know this, it is there. And believe me, the school and the international advisor would not say a word, if you are not serious or diligent enough to find it on your own. Then its your funeral.

After one ACADEMIC year (two semesters {spring and fall or vice versa}), your options for work increase. An international student is now eligible for CPT(Curriculum Practical Training). This program depends on the school you are in. It is basically an internship or Co-op training of sorts. You are allowed to work either part time or full time. However, if you elect to work full time, you can do so for a maximum period of one year - While at the same time maintaining your academic obligation of taking at least 12 credit hours except for the summer semester. And you also will forfeit the OPT (Optional Practical Training)- I'll talk about that later.

So, a deducive (I shy away from saying intelligent) person, would take the option of working part time. Because this way, you can work indefinitely of course taking the class repeatedly (Oh, did I forget to mention that CPT is considered a 'class'?). That way, you can accumulate the hours at the same time keeping your work in school. And thereby getting more money. :)

The advantage of being in a two year college is that, after I graduate with my associates, I can decide to work for a year before I continue with my bachelors. This is the OPT (Optional Practical training). Basically, a student is required to pay an amount to get a permit to work for that time . It is also a requirement that the work of choice should be withing the student's major. The advantages of the OPT comes with the fact that it is not a requirement to be in school during this period and you can take classes with leisure. Another thing I should mention is that, OPT can be done after every degree stage (Associates, Bachelors (a year each) and Masters (17 months)) I am yet to hear anything about the Doctorate level.

It is not very easy to secure a job using CPT and OPT. Hey, getting a job is hard regardless. And narrowing the option down to your academic field makes it even harder. But there is always a way to look for jobs and making yourself be above the rest as far as job placement is concerned.

In closing I would say that it takes a courageous, resourceful and patient person to make it here in the United States and be actually successful and I sincerely hope that one day I would make it in that category.


My name is Leilah. Well, not really my given name, but my friends called me thus and it has kind of stuck on me. I am in my twenties and I originate from Africa.

I came to the United States a year ago to continue with my studies and hopefully make my mark on the outside world. I was so excited on the prospect of coming to the free world where supposedly all the money is and was absolutely and utterly shocked by the results. Life is just as hard here as anywhere else in the world and if anything, harder because everything is so regulated.

So I started my schooling in a two-year community college primarily because it is much cheaper and also because it has a smaller population which translates to the fact that it would be easier for me to adapt before moving on to a full fledged university and make something out of myself.

I have gone through so many things to get where I am currently and there is so much more that I have to go through before I am done with my schooling. And if anything happens along the way, at least I have the knowledge that I have done the very best I could within my knowledge.

I consider myself above average in my academic abilities. Since calling myself a genious would be both untrue and an invitation to making a fool out of myself and by calling myself a fool would be an outright lie. I believe I have my moment. Both shining and otherwise. So for lack of any other word, I would call myself an average joe ... er Jane. I am just another face in the crowd.

So thank you for joining me in my journey. I have no idea where it would lead. But then again if we all knew what was in store for us ahead, then life won't be as much fun would it?