Graduate Connections sat down with Ramin Hosseinabad, PhD student in Mechanical and Materials Engineering, to talk about his experience as an international student at UNL and how he’s made Lincoln his home.
GC: When did you decide to study in the US and work on an advanced degree?
Sometime during my junior year at University of Tehran, I had the very first sparks of the idea of going for graduate school. I found that what I had learned and achieved as an undergraduate didn’t satisfy my craving for knowledge and experience. Over time, it started looking like graduate school was the right choice for digging deeper and gaining more experience and skills in my field.
Studying overseas is among the best and most reliable paths one can take to live in a new culture or simply see the world while pursuing a goal as ambitious as acquiring higher education. Completing graduate studies abroad sounded more and more like the answer. At the same time, I was hesitant because I knew I was going to confront a whole world of unknowns. I decided to take a risk and pursue an advanced degree in the U.S.
GC: To give us an idea of how different Lincoln is from where you come from, would you share a little about where you grew up?
I grew up in Nowshahr, a small port town in the north of Iran. It’s popular with tourists because of its delectable food, mild weather, and the colorful houses that dot the few miles of green land between the edge of Caspian Sea and soaring Alborz Mountains.
At the age of 19, I moved to Tehran, the capital of Iran and one of the largest cities in the world (population 8 million). Despite coming from a small town and a close-knit family, my communities always included a diverse range of individuals from different places and different backgrounds. Still, even when I lived in the capital city, “home” was never too far away.
GC: How much did you know about Lincoln before you arrived?
To the best of my recollection, from the early days of making the “preparation package” for this new journey, I struggled to find sufficient and reliable information about my destination. I didn't have any experience in studying abroad, I didn’t have a good sense of how the academic atmosphere at UNL would compare to the University of Tehran, or what my social life would look like in Lincoln. All I had were the results of Internet searches that told me that Lincoln was the capital of a landlocked state in the heartland of America. Statistically, the state appeared to be among the culturally less diverse states.
Before I got here, I heard comments based in assumptions, not experience, such as, “it will not be very likely for a foreigner to be welcome in a 'red state' [politically conservative] or the 'Bible belt' [Christian majority] of America.” Needless to say, these comments weren’t helpful, and I worried that I wouldn’t fit in.
GC: But you came to Nebraska anyway! What was your first impression?
A majority of universities in the U.S. are located in very small college towns, and a few are located in large metropolitan cities. Lincoln is somewhere in between: the city provides the opportunity to live, study, and work in a sizable city, with the benefits being the state capital, but it also keeps the best parts of a small town lifestyle. Its economy is growing, with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. It also has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. And it has a significantly less expensive cost of living compared to the rest of the country. Lincoln successfully affords a high standard of living.
GC: What about the people you’ve met here?
Since I moved to Lincoln nearly three years ago, I’ve met international students with diverse backgrounds from all over the world. I’ve also made friends with people from Nebraska and from across the U.S. Getting to know these people and seeing the commonalities in our experiences has helped me find warmth, security, and peace in the place that I now call home.
I can’t emphasize enough how the concept of valuing diversity is deeply instilled in the minds and hearts of the majority of Americans. The hospitality, acceptability, and care in Nebraska that have embraced thousands of individuals (including yours truly) is the best example of the “Nebraska Nice!” motto. It was these values that helped me feel “home” again. This becomes even more important personally when I remember that my only companions at the beginning of my journey were two suitcases full of clothes, a backpack, memories of past, and a heart filled with mixed emotions.
GC: What was it like getting around Lincoln after living in Tehran?
Lincoln has a great network of bike trails all across the city, which makes it safe, convenient, and friendly for biking between the campuses, into downtown and and neighborhoods, and shopping. As an avid bicyclist who commutes 15 miles per day, I cannot be more thankful to live in a city with such a safe, accessible and scenic trails.
GC: So do you bike everywhere?
The U.S. in general doesn't have great public transportation compared to other countries, but Lincoln is really accessible and easy to get around. The bus system works well for getting between the two UNL campuses, and you can easily catch a bus downtown—usually.
Seeing the rest of the U.S. is easy, too. Besides having its own airport, Lincoln is also served by Amtrak (national railroad service) and bus lines. An experience of traveling by train and observing the “the backyard of America” through the train windows will be a memory I share with friends and family for years to come.
GC: What words of wisdom can you share with international students moving here for the first time?
When you decide to build a new life from scratch, especially as an international student, your experience will be more or less up to you. In addition to pursuing academic and professional goals, some embrace this freedom and attempt hard to gain unique experiences and “suck the marrow of life,” whereas others miss the daily routines and safety zone they had back home.
The point of being abroad is not really to look for a place with nice weather or live an easy life, but instead to challenge yourself. To learn a new language. To travel and observe more. To break your shell and come out of the “safety zone” and meet people from very different origins who don’t necessarily share the same cultural references as you. In fact, to attain more dimensions.
Like I said, your experience is what you make of it. It’s up to you to get out, meet people, and expand your horizons.
GC: Any parting thoughts?
After nearly three years of living overseas, Lincoln has become a new home for me and revealed many shades of its reality for the reasons that were mentioned earlier and more. Obviously neither Lincoln nor any other place is perfect. Like every corner on the Earth, Lincoln has its own pros and cons, but I want to point out the great and sometimes overlooked values that Lincoln offers. The people and their values, in addition to the tremendous support from the University, paved the way for me to strive for even higher heights, both in personal and professional life.
It became possible for me, and it can become possible for anyone.
Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me. Henry David Thoreau
More About How to Make the Most of Your Move to Nebraska
- Think about where you’re going to live. For example, City Campus is within walking distance from downtown, where there are plenty of very cool places for studying, grading or writing a report, or simply taking a break. Visiting public spaces allows you to meet new people, students and non-students alike.
- Get involved early in clubs and organizations related to your interests. It's challenging to go places where you don’t know anyone, but once you get past that initial awkwardness, meeting people goes pretty smoothly!
- Don't be afraid of trying new things and new places. Being curious and passionate—and being open to new experiences—helps you grow as a person.
- Sometimes you’ll worry that your questions sound silly. But be nice to yourself—you're learning! Besides, it’s impossible to ask good questions every time!
- Rather than worrying about yourself, try to help other people feel comfortable asking questions of you. Do your best to address any questions or comments with patience, enthusiasm, and honesty. Using humor is always appreciated, but be careful at first because what's funny in one country or culture isn't always appreciated elsewhere.
- When you’re meeting new people, be patient and don't have high expectations for everyone you meet! If you have trouble striking up a conversation with someone, don’t focus on it. Move on to the next potential conversation with an open mind.