Oxford to Jersey: An International Transfer Student’s Story
Taking the next step for your education journey can be a daunting experience. Combine that with moving to a new continent and an ever-changing five-year plan, it’s a lot to keep up with.
From Oxford to New Jersey
After finishing high school in the U.K. I landed an amazing one-year sports marketing apprenticeship, and I later transitioned into the exciting yet often challenging hospitality industry. Anyone who has worked in hospitality will tell you the strain it can put on your life, both personally and financially. I spent so much time in the workplace, my co-workers became like my real family. One day, after a particularly stressful kitchen shift, I headed for home and called my dad to say I was ready—ready to start the next chapter of my life in the U.S. and earn a degree. The offer had been on the table ever since I left school, but at that moment it seemed like it was the perfect time. As someone who tends to run towards change instead of fearing it, I was more motivated and passionate than I had been in a long time.
With all the excitement and planning then came the most challenging part of the entire process: hurdles associated with obtaining a student visa. Luckily, I had the support from family, friends, and a fantastic advisor at the community college I was applying to in New Jersey. After getting all the relevant high school transcript equivalents, placement tests, and immigration interviews, in December of 2016 I was on my way, headed 3,000 miles away from home.
While feeling substantially homesick for the first few weeks, I threw myself in head-first and started studying for my associate’s degree in hospitality management. I started to acclimate more to the U.S. education system as well as the way of life. I worked part-time as a cook and a culinary teaching assistant on campus to earn some free credits, and I ended up graduating with honors in 2019. While I may not have had the “traditional” college experience, the friends and professors I met have not only stayed in contact with me in the years since graduation, but have also had a lasting impact on my life and my success.
As standard with a student visa, I was eligible for one year of Optional Practical Training post-graduation that allowed me to stay in the United States to work full-time. Naturally I stuck to what I knew and landed a cooking position. Unfortunately, my year was cut in half and I was furloughed from work due to the pandemic. However, that was when I realized that, maybe, despite being involved in the hospitality industry for eight years, it was time to shift into another direction.
As I began to consider my options, I thought back to my marketing apprenticeship. Though I had a passion for culinary arts, my first passion was marketing and communications. I looked up 4-year institutions near me, and it was Rider University that stood out. I browsed its catalog and decided that a bachelor’s in communication studies was my next challenge. I reached out to the director of the international department and learned more about the university and its communications program. I told them my story and kickstarted the application process. Being furloughed from work gave me the chance to really focus on the nitty gritty details and give it my full-attention. Within 2 weeks I had an acceptance letter and scholarship offer.
Having the guidance as not just an adult learner, but an international and transfer student, was pivotal in my decision. Of course, the financial aid helped, but I wanted to make sure I was transferring somewhere that cared about my journey as much as my community college advisor did. I wanted to be safe in the knowledge that any trouble I ran into would have the university’s unwavering support.
I transferred and began mid-pandemic learning in fall 2020. Being a foreign student whose only American education experience was community college, I wanted to make sure I was somewhere where I was comfortable to be myself. My experiences at Rider have helped me rekindle my love for education, pushing me forward to being the best student and person I can be.
My advice for anyone who may be in my position contemplating the next step is that it’s never too late! A five-year plan does not mean you are locked in for those five years; it’s okay to try something new. Advisors and counselors are your cheerleaders. They are there to make your life easier and the transition more manageable.
There are no stupid questions!
Applying for University or for a visa is a long process, but it doesn’t have to be a battle. Utilize the help, and do everything by the book.
I came into my years of higher education with a unique perspective that has served me well at different stages. Being an adult learner, I have been able to value and appreciate the education I am receiving. Being an international student has led me to become more cultured, not just in American culture, but also the different cultures that make up this country and its institutions. As a transfer student, going to a “big school” wasn’t so much of a daunting thought; I had the perfect segway into university life. There is no longer a “traditional” college route; rather, the best route is whatever gives you happiness and success.