Finding My Life/Work Balance at UNL

Xiaoqian Ma portrait

As an undergraduate, I developed a wide base of knowledge in my discipline. Now as a grad student, I’ve developed much more professional knowledge and had more training opportunities. Because I’m specializing in my field, I also have many more reading and writing assignments than before. It took me a little time to adjust to these changes!

When I first came to the US to do a Masters, I wanted to do really well in all my classes. I hid myself in the dormitory and focused all of my attention on studying. As a result, my English didn’t improve very much and I became homesick. I passed up opportunities to get out on campus and make new friends in order to study. But rather than studying, I just found I had plenty of time to miss my family and friends in China. I had to learn that just because I have much more work doesn’t mean that I should only study in my room! In my first year here, I found that other activities balanced my life and give me opportunities to develop as a scholar. 

Later, I realized that I should go out to make new friends and join activities to vary my personal life. This is important to do if you’re a domestic student, and even more important if you’re an international student! I started to volunteer in the Student Involvement Office, joined the Chinese Student and Scholar Association (CSSA), interned at the International Student and Scholar Office (ISSO), and attended professional conferences. I met new people and these activities assisted me in learning more about my major, Higher Education-Student Affairs. Besides getting more ideas for my assignments and projects, I felt much more comfortable speaking in class. Getting involved around campus wasn’t a distraction from my work. Instead, it gave me a deeper understanding of what I was learning. Gradually, I made my home at UNL and enjoyed graduate school more.

I learned to balance life and work by managing my time wisely. I was surprised that there are few students in the library when a football game is going on. That became my time to study and get work done! If you’re a huge Huskers fan, though, remember that the library is always there, but there are only a few home games during the season. Manage your time wisely if you plan to watch the games. Personally, I usually don’t want to do any reading or homework on Friday night. However, if I have plans on Saturday or Sunday, I have to do some academic stuff on Friday night. I don’t want to cancel my social plans or mess up my study plans, so my calendar helps me keep track of things. Because I got used to managing my time and planning, I can perform well in classes and enjoy social activities at the same time.

My social and extracurricular activities helped me develop the communication skills and build the social network I need to succeed in my field. While I gain knowledge from textbooks and by attending classes, campus involvement helped me develop my network and learn social skills. (If you are looking for some valuable activities, you may want to visit Office of Graduate Studies website where they list upcoming Events and Opportunities.) When I go to events, I make it a point to introduce myself to at least one new person. I never know who I’m going to meet, or if I’ll make a connection that benefits my work or research.

During my time at UNL, I’ve learned that while academics are my top priority, I make sure to make time for socializing and meeting people from around campus. When I’m happy and live a balanced life, I can focus better on my work. I hope you find your own way to perform well academically, get involved around campus, and enjoy your graduate life!