What was your favorite part of being a university student in the United States?
The relationship with professors because it’s so different--closer [than in Central Asia]. You can challenge them. You can ask any questions that you want. Whenever I asked [questions], I didn't even feel dumb because…they were encouraging any questions that you had, and I was very comfortable asking them.
Was your life at university in the United States similar to what you imagined it would be like? How was it different? Did anything really surprise you?
One of them was curved grading. I don’t know if they do that in Kazakhstan, as well. For example, if the class is super challenging...and your grades are lower and you think, “I’m going to get a B in this class,” but then you get an A because you are the best in the class [even though] the class was overall challenging. [On the other hand,] if your classmates are smarter than you are and harder workers than you are, even though you’re thinking you’re going to get A-, they can downgrade you to a B because of the curve. That was very surprising. I never experienced that [before studying in the United States.] Also, open book exams. I’d never seen that, personally, when I was getting my bachelor’s degree. You can use cheat sheets, which is incredible. It was not as challenging, I would say, as I was expecting. But I think it also depends on the program and on the university. So, I think it all depends. But for me, it wasn’t as challenging as I would expect. Like learning all the formulas, for example, you could have looked it up and it was okay with professors.
[I]t’s amazing to talk to a person, an alum from that university that actually went through the same experience... They will have so many valuable tips—like information that you wouldn’t be able to find online or it will take you forever to find online…
What type of extracurricular activities were you involved in?
I went to Pilates and yoga classes because I wanted to stay fit… I was planning to do tennis and sailing because Boston University is on the big Charles River and they have their own sailing dock. Unfortunately, due to COVID—that was my second semester when COVID started—I couldn’t go sailing. For tennis, we had to switch to online, so unfortunately that closed. We still had yoga online which was very nice, but it was so hard to wake up super early in the mornings to turn on your computer and do it online. It’s not the same experience as going to a big fitness and recreational center. It’s beautiful out there [at the fitness and recreational center] and you’re networking with people. I did want to go to acapella classes, but I didn’t have enough time, so I just stayed with yoga and pilates.
How was the food?
I was an exchange student—I’m a FLEX alumna—and I lived in the United States, in North Carolina. From that moment, my favorite food was Buffalo wings. I tried Buffalo wings all over the States, and I would say even Buffalo wings in Buffalo, New York are not as good as in North Carolina. Also, French Fries, I would say. If you are studying in the south, there is this fast food chain called Bojangles and they do Cajun style French Fries. French Fries is the biggest American food for me and I can’t stop eating it, unfortunately.
What was the atmosphere on campus like? What was your experience making new friends?
The campus for Boston University is a straight line. It’s a city campus. I’ve been to a lot of different campuses. I lived in Michigan, in Ann Arbor and close to UNC Chapel Hill, and Duke University and they’re completely different. The city campus was a very, very, very different experience and I’d say it has both downsides and upsides. I did love the fact that I was in the city. In the middle of it there was [the Boston] T, like a subway that you could take downtown. It was very convenient. In terms of friends, I didn’t have a lot of American friends, unfortunately because my program was international. I would say 70% of my classmates were from China and then other classmates were from all over the world. Before COVID we had events organized by our department…we would go apple picking and that was fun. You would meet friends there and then there are clubs. For example, I wanted to do acapella singing. But since I didn’t have time and unfortunately for master’s students there are clubs, but mostly clubs are for undergrad students so you would mostly meet undergrad kids rather than master’s [students]. There was also a project management club. It was very active during COVID. Before [COVID], we didn’t have that. I think another way [to meet friends] is group assignments when you have projects together within the class. That’s a very, very good way to meet new friends and make new friends in an easier way.
I did use EducationUSA resources. I took books from there and they were very helpful. I also was a part of/ an alumna of EducationUSA’s program and it was very helpful.
What was the most challenging part of the application process?
There were two. One of them was GRE. I didn’t have to pass it for three universities. I was applying to four. And one of them was asking for it. I really wanted to have a whole master’s application experience, so I did study for GRE and that was very challenging—the new words that you have to memorize, math—because I didn't do math for such a long time. The whole process. You have to go for an exam that is four hours long and sit and take it in one take. So that was very challenging. I think writing an essay, like a letter to the university, is one challenging part. That’s one page you show what you are made of and what you represent. You have to show why you really want to go to that particular university and it’s hard sometimes. You have so many thoughts and it’s hard to make it succinct if they asked for only 500 words.
I did use EducationUSA resources. I took books from there and they were very helpful. I also was a part of/ an alumna of EducationUSA’s program and it was very helpful. Since I went through the experience, I think that Magoosh is an amazing platform. They do have small videos on particular topics and that was very helpful—and flashcards. I think the main challenging thing is to create a strategy on how you will approach the whole application process. Like what are your deadlines for this thing? What are your deadlines for that thing? For prospective students, it will be great if there will be a person who will explain the whole strategy, rather than just the test. For example, we had a person who came and explained how to write an essay for GRE or how to memorize words, or how to do math for GRE. How to approach the whole thing is pretty challenging… Everyone is different so they have to find the best way to learn to study for that test and that takes a lot of time. A lot of time is wasted. I would start learning words but then I realized that I don’t need those words or I don't need to study this particular topic in math.
How did you choose which universities to apply to?
I knew that I wanted to apply for a master’s in project management and I started researching what are the best schools and where are those schools and what do those programs look like and what is the ranking of that university. Actually, there’s a funny story. I chose one university because I watched this chick flick when I was 13 years old and there was a girl Amanda, the actress Amanda Bynes, and she was saying, “Oh, I want to go to Georgetown so bad!” And she was saying “Georgetown” and it sort of clicked in my mind “Georgetown.” I looked up Georgetown, and they did have a project management master’s and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s my dream!” So, I did apply to that as well. It was ranked pretty high in that and I applied for George Washington because they did ask for GRE and it was also one of the top-ranked. Then, I applied to Boston University. Then, when I did that, I went to the Bolashak website. Actually, I was a little bit dumb because I wasted a lot of money by applying to Georgetown and GW because it’s not on Bolashak’s list and I knew I wanted to get that scholarship. Only Boston University was on that list. But then, during the application process, they took that university out from the list and I didn’t have any. [I thought,] “Oh, my God, what should I do now?” And I looked up their list and there were three or four [universities] and only one in the United States, and it was Penn State. But to apply to Penn State, they were asking for 10 years of experience in project management and already having PMP [Project Management Program] certification so I wasn’t a good match to that university. And I didn’t have executive positions. I looked at the list of universities that you can apply to, and one was NYU. So, I applied there and I also got in. So, I was thinking, “Ok, I’m going to go to New York University. It’s fine.” Even though I knew [NYU] was ranked higher than Boston University, Boston University’s project management program was ranked higher than NYU’s. But then, when I was applying, [Bolashak] added Boston University. And I was like, “Oh, yeah, probably that’s a sign.” So, I applied. That’s how it happened... I [did] get Bolashak and I was the best student from the project management program.
I think another way [to meet friends] is group assignments when you have projects together within the class. That’s a very, very good way to meet new friends and make new friends in an easier way.
What advice do you have for students from your country who are considering applying to universities in the US?
When they choose their university, it’s amazing to talk to a person, an alum from that university that actually went through the same experience that they’re going to go through. They will have so many valuable tips—like information that you wouldn’t be able to find online or it will take you forever to find online. I would recommend, of course, to talk to a person, not from another country, but from, for example, if you are from Kazakhstan, then talk to a person from Kazakhstan. That’s one of the tips. Then a second one, the rent. That’s one of the biggest things when you’re moving to study abroad. It’s different everywhere. For example, in Kazakhstan, you can rent an apartment with furniture and everything is included there. But in the States, it was so surprising for me. They rent only the room and then you have to find yourself a mattress, bed, and all of the furniture inside. So that was pretty challenging, in the beginning. I would [also] recommend for them not to stick to Kazakh community. I would advise them to go on Facebook and look for roommates that are not from our country because that challenges them to use English every day in their life. If you’re living with a person from the same country as yours, or if you’re speaking the same language, like Russian, for example, from post-Soviet Union countries, then it’s more challenging for you. I think it’s better to live with someone from another country and not speaking the same language.