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MythBusters: The Study Abroad Edition

by Darci Miller

Hello from the beautiful city of London! I’ve been here for a month and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that the study abroad experience is just as wonderful as everyone says it is. It’s also given me the chance to put some study abroad myths to the test.

Myth #1: Study abroad is 90% partying, 10% studying. This certainly depends on what kind of student you normally are and what kind of lifestyle you lead at your home university. Europeans do go out more than Americans but “going out” often means drinking a pint with some friends at the local pub and not necessarily getting all dolled up and going clubbing. And once assignment deadlines start looming, you are going to have to hit the books.

Myth #2: It’s too much money. It’s very easy to study abroad in a financially responsible way. If you go through a program hosted by your home university, any financial aid you have will (or should) transfer. After that, it’s all a matter of using your money in a smart way. Also, check online and with your study abroad office to see if there are study abroad-specific scholarships you can apply for. I got $4,500 from Miami’s study abroad office and it’ll be funding all of my travels and then some!

Myth #3: It’s dangerous and/or scary. It’s drilled into our heads before we leave that pickpocketing is a big threat in Europe but as long as you’re smart about your belongings, international cities are no more dangerous than cities in America. And living in a new country is certainly a jarringly different experience but it’ll only change you for the better.

Myth #4: Europeans all dress a certain way and you need to fit in. Everyone in London looks like they’ve stepped out of a fashion magazine – well-dressed and attractive – so if I wear a Miami t-shirt to class, I stick out like a sore thumb. It’s ok, though: Regardless of how you dress, people will know you’re American as soon as you open your mouth.

Myth #5: You’ll have more free time than you know what to do with. I’m taking four classes and each is two hours per week with Tuesdays and Fridays off. I’ve become a champion napper but I’ve also done a ton of exploring. You’re abroad for a short time – don’t waste it!

Darci Miller is a New Yorker studying journalism and sport administration at the University of Miami. When she’s not writing for the school newspaper, you can find her at the gym, either working or working out. She loves all ‘80s pop culture (the cheesier the better!), and glues herself to her TV when the Olympics are on. She dreams big, and believes the sky’s the limit!


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The Best Research Methods for College Students

by Jacquelene Bennett

There is going to come a time when you are writing a paper or doing a research project when simply doing a Google search will not be enough to get the information you need. As you progress through your college career, the papers you write and the projects you do will get harder and more in depth and the research tools you used in high school and in intro-level classes won’t help much. So how do you do proper research?

Start off by going to the library and looking at books – real, actual books. Contrary to what people think, books are not outdated or irrelevant but are actually great sources for papers and projects. The plus side to going to the library is that if you have trouble finding sources, you can ask a librarian who will be more than happy to help you out.

Another way to find reliable and informative sources for a paper is through scholarly journals. Scholarly journals are collections or databases of articles written by experts and professionals on different subjects and issues in almost every academic field of study. The databases I use are JSTOR, Project MUSE and LexisNexis but there are literally hundreds of different journals and students generally have free access to them through their universities. You can usually find these sites linked to your school’s library website, through a class’s Blackboard site, Google Scholar (though you generally have to pay for these), or, of course, a librarian can help you access them.

While a Google search might give you fast surface facts, you will have to search for a long time to find citation-worthy in-depth analyses and reliable information. With books and scholarly articles, you get the information you need and you never have to question their legitimacy.

Jacquelene Bennett is a senior at the University of Redlands where her areas of study are creative writing, government and religious studies. When she is not studying or working, you can usually find her eating frozen yogurt or blogging about her day. She has a cactus named Kat and believes that Stephen Colbert is a genius. Jacquelene works hard, laughs hard and knows that one day you’ll see her name in lights.


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Should You Commute to College?

February 24, 2012

Should You Commute to College?

by Kara Coleman

Traditionally, most college students live in dorms or apartments on or near their campuses to get the full “college experience.” But before you sign that rental agreement, you might want to consider living at home and commuting to school.

We’re all familiar with the stereotypical college student – eating Ramen noodles for every meal and taking out student loans to pay for books and tuition – but that doesn’t have to be you! My goal is to graduate from college debt-free so I live at home with my parents and commute to a university about 30 minutes away. Because I live at home, I am able to save myself rent and utility expenses and use the money I earn from my job to pay cash for my tuition and books. Some students prefer the feeling of independence that comes with living on your own (I mean, if you live in your parents’ house, you live by their rules!) but not taking out student loans will mean financial freedom after I graduate and get a real job.

The downside to living so far off-campus is that I’m not as connected to events and happenings at school as the students who live there are. It’s not always easy to make it to meetings and events when commuting from the next county but by no means does it deprive me of the college experience: I still attend football games, plays and seminars at my university, and hang out with friends between classes.

Is living home and commuting right for you? While it’s certainly not for everyone, it’s definitely an option that I encourage students to consider while making housing plans for the upcoming school year.

This summer, Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree. She is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University Kara's writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books.


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British School vs. American School

by Darci Miller

Upon arriving in London for study abroad, I was initially amazed by how normal everything felt. I mean, everyone speaks the same language – how different could things possibly be? But two days later, as I was standing in an endless line and waiting to register for classes, I realized that some things here might not be quite the same.

While the lack of a language barrier definitely helps (we all know what a “lift” is, right?), the British school system does its own thing. Most British universities are three years rather than four and get this: the first year doesn’t even count. That’s right! If Brits want to slack off their entire first year of “uni,” they absolutely can. Of course, it’ll affect their ability to get work placement but it won’t mean anything when it comes to their degrees. This means a whole ton of drinking and skipped lectures followed by two years of mountains of work.

In America, handing in an assignment means printing it out and giving it to your professor. Not across the pond: Each assignment needs some sort of cover sheet that’s provided to you on Blackboard (or the “Virtual Learning Environment”) and needs to be handed into the department office. Not the lecturer or seminar tutor, but the department office. Does this make sense?

The grading system is different as well. One hundreds are completely unheard of: Eighty is basically the equivalent of a perfect score so don’t freak out about getting a 60 – that’s a decent grade here! There are all sorts of different labels assigned to seemingly arbitrary numbers and not even the educators have any idea why it’s done like this. Trust me, I’ve asked.

And then, of course, there’s registering for classes. British students only take classes in their “course,” or major so when associate students attempt to take classes in multiple courses, the online system isn’t equipped to handle it. You may be able to take out books from the school library using a touch screen and a scanner, but you have to run around to the different departments and have them physically sign you up for classes. I never thought I’d miss waking up early for my registration time back in the states!

Bottom line: No matter where you study abroad, you’re going to have culture shock, even if it means writing papers with footnotes instead of in-text citations. Just smile and chalk it all up to experience!

Darci Miller is a New Yorker studying journalism and sport administration at the University of Miami. When she’s not writing for the school newspaper, you can find her at the gym, either working or working out. She loves all '80s pop culture (the cheesier the better!), and glues herself to her TV when the Olympics are on. She dreams big, and believes the sky’s the limit!


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Forget "The Hunger Games" - Try These Study Games!

by Lisa Lowdermilk

So, you've been studying for three hours straight for your chemistry exam and you haven’t even cracked your calculus, history and geography books yet. Besides envisioning that much sought-after 4.0 GPA, how do you stay motivated? You play study games, of course!

While study games aren't quite as addicting as the Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft varieties, they're still much more engaging than reading over your study guide for the hundredth time. Websites like Quizlet – aka "the world's largest flash cards and study games website" – are perfect for helping you memorize vocabulary whether you're studying biology or business and another option, Quia, offers Hangman, Battleship, scavenger hunts and more. If you're looking for resources to help you prepare for standardized tests like the SAT, ACT or GRE, on the other hand, sites like Grockit have got you covered...but access to these games, study plans, written and video study aids can cost $29.99 a month.

In addition to being more fun than your average study session, study games increase your chances of remembering the material for your test. Research has shown that if you try to encode information in as many ways as possible (e.g., via sight and sound), you're more likely to remember that information. And because many study games make use of both visual and auditory features, your odds of doing well on your test increase. If you can't find a game to help you study, consider visiting your textbook's website: Many publishers offer animations, study guides and quizzes.

Regardless of how you study, remember to encode the information in as many ways as possible, take breaks and reward yourself when you're done. Let the games begin!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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The Importance of Experience

by Liz Coffin-Karlin

I don’t think most students will disagree with me when I say college messes with your head. It’s not a bad thing to become wrapped up in the culture and “crazy” things start to seem “normal” – midnight pancake breakfasts, grown men dressed up as professional wrestlers breaking chairs on each other in the quad, and just dorm food in general all become regular life – yet one of the most confusing parts of college is that the classes that consume so much of your time and energy really only count for so much.

I remember being consumed by my senior honors thesis my last year and vaguely thinking “Huh, I should probably be applying for jobs...” but with the exception of a few research fellowships, I couldn’t imagine taking the time. Objectively, that job hunt was way more important than whether I got a B or an A- on that last Spanish major requirement because one class out of 40 just doesn’t affect your GPA that much. How much time you spend on outside activities and jobs versus academics, however, does affect your employment choices.

Like I’ve said before, employers want to see experience. Life experience, not classroom experience (this statement should obviously be modified for those planning on Ph.D. programs or going straight into non-professional graduate programs), is vital and whether you’re applying for medical school, a paralegal job or want to be in the business world, internships and volunteer work matter. They prove you have practical skills and good professional recommendations show you are easy to work with, which is more important than you think. Many employers calculate your attitude and demeanor into the hiring decision: They can retrain you on skills you’re lacking but it’s hard to reprogram someone who’s annoying the heck out of everyone in the office.

Obviously, your GPA is important (for example, Google won’t hire anyone with under a 3.5) but most employers care about your concrete skills more than they do about your successful memorization of Don Quijote’s final stanzas. So as hard as it may be, I actually counsel putting down those books sometimes and putting extra effort into that job or internship search, even if it may feel counterintuitive. That means completing informational interviews, exploring both externship and (sigh) unpaid internships and really utilizing your alumni network. But those are topics for another week.

Liz Coffin-Karlin grew up in Sarasota, Florida, where the sun is always shining and it’s unbearably hot outside. She went to college at Northwestern University and after studying Spanish and history, she decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires. In college, she worked on the student newspaper (The Daily Northwestern), met people from all over the world at the Global Engagement Summit and, by her senior year, earned the title of 120-hour dancer at NU’s annual Dance Marathon. She just moved to San Francisco and is currently working on a political campaign on ocean pollution but will be teaching middle school or high school Spanish this upcoming fall and working on her teaching certificate.


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Handy Phone Apps for College Students

by Radha Jhatakia

The majority of college students today own smartphones and use these devices more for apps, browsing the web, checking email and texting than actually making phone calls. Here are a few that will benefit most students...and most are available for both Android devices and iPhones.

My top most recommended apps are Amazon Student and Kindle for iPhone or Android. Amazon Student has deals for students on books, electronics and much more and if you are a member of Amazon Student, you only have to pay half price ($39) for Prime membership, which gives you access to movies, TV shows and music online plus free two-day shipping anytime. The Kindle app allows you to access e-textbooks on your phone for those few minutes before class when you remember you had a reading assignment to do.

Students also have schedules filled with schoolwork, extracurricular activities, jobs and more. How do they keep it all straight? Some apps to make things convenient include The Weather Channel, Wells Fargo, Discover and Evernote. A weather app allows you to check the weather outside so you can dress accordingly, a bank or credit card app will make it convenient for you to pay your bills on the go (some even have ways for you to make check deposits without setting a foot in the bank) and note apps allow you make to-do lists and take notes which you can sync with your calendar.

Other convenient apps include translators, dictionaries and games for stress relieving. As long as you don’t mind some ads, these apps are available for free (but you can purchase ad-free versions for about $.99). What are your favorite apps?

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major at San Jose State University. She's a transfer student who had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.


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Staying Sharp Over the Summer

by Kara Coleman

Thousands of college students across the country have been making their way home from school to spend the summer relaxing and taking a break from studying. But how do you keep from forgetting everything you’ve learned throughout the academic year? Here are a few simple tips:

  • Rack up the credit hours. The most obvious way to keep your study skills sharp over summer break is to not take a break at all. Most schools offer summer classes – some full-term, some mini-mesters and some online. Even just taking one class during the summer can be good for your brain.
  • Hit the books. While lounging poolside this summer, why not do a little reading? You don’t necessarily have to tackle War and Peace, but try for something a little deeper than Cosmo or Entertainment Weekly. Visit GoodReads.com to browse books in any genre and find something that will keep you turning pages all summer long!
  • Help someone else. I spent last summer tutoring two eighth-grade girls. Even though we just worked through pre-algebra books together, it really helped the girls to remember all that they had learned and it was a great brain booster for me, too!
  • Just play. Whether you're right-brained or left-brained, puzzle games are a fun way to keep your mind active. Sudoku – a wordless crossword puzzle that involves the numbers 1-9 – is available in book form as well as via download on Kindle. Also available for free via Kindle is Grid Detective, a game where players unscramble words.

How do you choose to keep those brain juices flowing over the summer? Let us know what works for you!

This past summer, Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree and she is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University. Kara's writing has also been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books.


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Selling/Buying Items for School

by Radha Jhatakia

It’s the end of the academic year which means summer vacation, summer school and, for many students, moving home until the fall. Moving out is never a simple process but for the items and supplies that you do not want to keep, selling them or giving them away for free are some options. This is also the best time for students to purchase furniture and other household items especially if they are living off campus – they might be second hand but it will save you quite a bit of money!

College students who want to sell items have a variety of outlets to consider. Create a free Craigslist posting – all you need to do is take a picture of the item you’re selling, give a brief description and list a price and some contact information so interested buyers can reach you. Advertising on campus through flyers in the student union and dorms is also an option; student buyers might be more willing to meet with you if they know you are another student. Lastly, if you are moving or graduating and taking items with you isn’t an option or storing them is too inconvenient, you can donate the items or give them away for free – believe me, students trying to furnish their abodes will thank you.

The dorms at SJSU did something innovative this year to help students get rid of things they didn’t need in a convenient manner and for students to find something they might need: We used a spare lounge in the dorms to pile up items including mini-fridges, TVs, game consoles, bookshelves, clothing, books and so much more. Many students found it useful and were able to take whatever they wanted for free; everything that was left at the end was donated. Success all around!

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major at San Jose State University. She's a transfer student who had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.


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Have Some Fun This Summer...for Free!

by Radha Jhatakia

It’s finally summertime and most college students are taking a break from school with the exception of those of you who are taking summer courses. But even with work and school, all college students can find some time to enjoy the summer! Fun activities can often cost money but there are plenty of enjoyable things you can do over the summer that a student-friendly budget can accommodate.

For those of you who enjoy outdoor activities, there are plenty of options available. You can plan picnics in a park close to you or have barbecues in someone’s backyard – you can have everyone pitch in a certain amount for food and supplies or turn it into a potluck where every guest brings one prepared dish. Hiking and camping are also excellent (and generally free) activities; recreational parks have hiking trails and campgrounds open for all to use so take advantage of them this summer.

If the outdoorsy scene isn’t your preference but the beach is, there are plenty more activities you can do there. Swimming, surfing and paddleboarding are all options but remember to be safe in the water! If the water isn’t your forte, you can always play beach volleyball, have a bonfire with some s’mores or soak up the sun and tan.

Prefer to stay indoors over the summer? There are plenty of arts and crafts projects you can do around the house such as making decorative items. You can also take the time to catch up on things you couldn't do during the academic year, like take a class at the YMCA, go to the gym, read some books, catch up on movies and TV shows, and spend time with family and friends.

Once you graduate from college, you won’t have three months of vacation (unless you become a teacher) – right now, summer is yours so take advantage of it!

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major at San Jose State University. She's a transfer student who had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.


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