Tag Archives: Community

Why Tufts?

Elijah Mensah,  Environmental Policy & Planning M.S. Candidate

Hi Everyone, my name is Elijah. I am an international student pursuing an MS in Environmental Policy and Planning here at Tufts! I aspire to acquire knowledge and practice in the field to contribute to the policy and planning of cities. First, I would like to speak briefly about where I am from.

A country located on the west coast of Africa, formerly known as the Gold Coast during British colonial rule, and now Ghana after independence in 1957, is one of the best places to live in Africa! The country was called the Gold Coast because of its vast Gold reserves and other minerals. This played a crucial role in attracting European businessmen to the country until the slave trade became the next lucrative commodity. Fast forward to modern Ghana, we are known for being affable, welcoming, and peace-seeking people. Today some of our most significant trading commodities remain gold, bauxite, diamond, manganese, timber, petroleum, and cocoa.

Life in Accra Central, Ghana    Credit: Muntaka Chasant, Wikimedia commons, 2019

I was born and have lived all my life in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Due to school and other engagements, I have had the opportunity to travel around the country. I completed my elementary education in rural Accra, Senior High education in the Volta region, and my undergraduate degree in the Ashanti region of Ghana. Growing up, I was puzzled by the environmental issues making headlines in the news and radio discussions. I was interested in how I could contribute to addressing the notorious littering, poor waste management, and flooding in my community. I witnessed firsthand human actions that lead to garbage and plastic waste clogging waterways and flooding during the wet season, which caused destruction of properties and sometimes claimed human lives.

Research studies in the country have attributed poor waste management to the outbreak of cholera and malaria diseases, which has dire impacts on public health. All of these influenced my decision to pursue a BS in Natural Resources Management. Later I teamed up with friends and colleagues who found the current waste management and climate change crisis a significant threat to our country. We worked together to cofound a community-based nonprofit called “Keep Ghana Beautiful.” Our mission was to educate community members and school children on the issues of poor waste management and climate change and encourage them to reduce, reuse and recycle waste and plant trees to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Through my nonprofit organization, I was selected as a fellow for the Atlas Corps Program. It provided the opportunity for emerging nonprofit leaders around the world to come to the US to hone professional skills and develop hands-on learning in a national nonprofit for 12-18 months and then return to their home countries to utilize the skills. I was privileged to have been stationed at “Keep America Beautiful,” a US national nonprofit with over 65 years of experience in addressing the issue of littering and promoting recycling through its over 700 affiliates across the US and Canada. Throughout the role, I lived principally in Stamford, Connecticut and traveled briefly to 10 states across the US. My thoughts about going to grad school started sometime during the pandemic when I worked from home. I first started broadly researching via the internet in the field I wanted to develop and focus my skills. I then narrowed the search to MA or MS programs. I was fascinated by Tufts’ academic success stories and its location within the Boston Metropolitan area. I found the prospect of pursuing an excellent graduate program in one of the top-notch schools in the US an accomplishment to begin with living my American dream.

Upon returning to Ghana after my fellowship, I began an application to Tufts. After some months of waiting I was surprised with that sweet congratulatory email of admission to the MS in Environmental Policy and Planning. After the back-and-forth issues of immigration and securing a visa, here I am living the dream! I am currently taking four classes this semester and I feel great about it. I like the immersive learning culture where students engage weekly in small group discussions with instructors. I love the discussion forums on the course Canvas site where students share their weekly journaling to the class. These stimulate conversations among students to learn of other perspectives on a specific topic. I think it is creative and transformational. I can’t stop without talking about my department building- the Brown House. This is home where all of the bonding and fun happen. We use it to connect with colleagues, study, organize events, meet our professors and administrative offices for assistance. One of the best parts for me is always free sncks in the kitchen. I love the community!

I want to use this platform to thank and send a shout out to my mentor and professor Julian Agyeman, at the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP), Tufts. He has been phenomenal in guiding and supporting me throughout my journey. Also, I would like to motivate someone out there that it is possible when you put in the hard work and seek the support you require. I tried many times to further my education but got rejected. On the occasions I gained admission, something may have changed in my life and stopped me from proceeding. 10 years after completing my undergraduate degree, I accomplished a near forgotten dream. Don’t be surprised to see me completing a PhD in the future.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, stay tuned for more!

Books on a Budget

Maitreyi Kale, Human Factors Engineering M.S. Candiate

I firmly believe that acquiring books and reading books are two different and perfectly valid hobbies. Whichever one you’re after, the unfortunate reality of being broke college students is that we probably cannot afford to shell out hundreds of dollars at bookstores or on Audible to build the personal library of our dreams. Thankfully, there’s plenty of free or low-cost sources of books as a college student at Tufts/in Boston, and in this post, I’m going to introduce you to some of my favorite ones.

1. School Libraries

As a student, it’s easy to forget that Tisch Library and Lilly Music Library (and the SMFA Library in Boston) are not just great study spots but also, well, libraries, i.e., excellent sources of free books! Use JumboSearch to look at the library catalog or check books out in person. A fun and less well-known hack is that if Tisch doesn’t have a book you want to read, you can actually recommend a purchase, and I promise they want you to use this resource!

2. Identity Centers

The Women’s Center and LGBT Center on the Medford/Somerville campus have mini libraries with books on topics relating to women, gender, sexuality, and more. While these collections definitely fall within a more a niche theme, they’re an underrated source of new reads from educational, to self-help, to cute queer romance books and much more for the Tufts community.

3. Public Libraries

When I bring up this resource, people often groan because they think getting a library card is a long-complicated process that involves visiting the library in person and talking to human beings, but… guess what! There are other ways! As a resident of Massachusetts, you can sign up for a free eCard at Boston Public Library. This eCard gives you access to BPL’s massive collection of ebooks and audiobooks, which you can access conveniently through an app called Libby (see item 4). Of course, you can visit the library by taking the T to Copley Square or Back Bay and acquire a physical library card and borrow resources like books, DVDs, museum passes, etc. in person.

Another library to keep on your radar is the newly renovated Somerville Public Library on College Ave, which is super close to campus. On your next walk to Davis Square, stop by Somerville Public Library with some form of Photo ID and proof of address and ask to sign up for a library card at the front desk. Fill out a quick form and walk away with a library card that allows you to borrow not only from SPL, but also from any other library that is part of the Minuteman Library Network! You can sign up for a temporary card online, but you must go in person to obtain a physical library card. Alternatively, you can visit Medford Public Library in Medford Square, which is also within the Minuteman Library Network.

4. Libby

This is by far my personal favorite resource (when combined with the one above), and I still cannot quite believe it’s real. Download the app Libby on your smartphone or tablet, enter a library card number, and instantly acquire the ability to (virtually) borrow from your chosen library. Libby makes it easier to find your next read through features like filters, curated lists, and smart tags, that will help you navigate Boston Public Library’s extensive collection of ebooks and audiobooks! You can listen to borrowed audiobooks on the app, and ebooks can be read directly on the app or sent to your Kindle. In true library fashion, you do have to wait to borrow books sometimes and your (extendable) loan ends after 2 weeks, but if you’re indecisive like me, you’ll appreciate this natural narrowing down of options to choose from. I also always look out for the “Lucky Day” shelf, which lets you skip the line and borrow from a list of fairly popular books instantly.

Maitreyi Kale

5. Little Free Libraries

If you’ve walked around the Medford/Somerville area, you’ve probably come across one of these cute tiny wooden house-shaped bookshelves on sidewalks. The concept is simple: take a book or leave one! I always feel like a winner when I find a free copy of a book that’s on my to-read list in a Little Free Library, but also equally so when I discover treasures, I might not have come across otherwise. Sometimes the books in LFLs have little annotations or dedications penned by previous owners, which always add a bit of meaningful magic to the reading experience. Find Little Free Libraries near you!

Maitreyi Kale

6. Used Bookstores

This section could be its own blog post, really, because there are several used or secondhand bookstores in the Greater Boston Area! You can also sell copies you own in exchange for bookstore credit that you can then use to purchase your next read. I’d recommend googling used bookstores in the area and planning a visit (maybe with friends!), but here’s some of the popular stores: The Book Rack, Raven Used Books, Book Wonder, Brattle Book Shop, Brookline Booksmith, Harvard Bookstore, More Than Words, etc.

7. Community

I know Facebook feels like old news, but if you’re a college student, you probably use your account to access Facebook Groups, Pages, and Events specific to your school. If you’re looking for a particular book, consider posting an in search of, or “ISO” post on a Facebook group. Chances are, someone will comment or reach out saying they have the book you want, and maybe you’ll even make a new friend to discuss that book with! If you live on or around campus, I’d also recommend joining either Everything is Free Medford or Everything is Free Somerville, because these Facebook Groups are excellent for ISO posts like these and will significantly expand the reach of your request beyond just the Tufts community.

With the help of the above resources and more, I’ve managed to expand my personal collection of books, broaden my reading taste, and do some serious damage to my to-read list without emptying my wallet in the past three years, and I hope they help you achieve your bookish goals too!

Need an Ear?

Maitreyi Kale, Human Factors Engineering M.S. Candiate

Have you ever wanted to scream into the void about your problems? Vent to someone who’ll never gossip about you? Freak out about adulting in secret because everyone else seems to have their life figured out? Or just have a listening ear in the middle of the night?

One of the many perks of being a Jumbo is that you totally can! Ears for Peers is Tufts’ anonymous, student-run peer support hotline, and you can call or text Ears every night from 7 PM to 7 AM about absolutely anything. I’ve been a part of Ears for Peers (E4P) since my freshman year (Fall 2018), and it is by far the best most meaningful thing I do on campus. Why am I openly talking about being an Ear, if we’re supposed to be anonymous? This year, I am one of the Faces of Ears for Peers alongside the wonderful Libby Moser, and we are the only two non-anonymous members of the organization. You might see us around campus tabling for Ears, spreading the word about Ears as a resource and giving out free merch. I love being Face, because it means I get to talk about my favorite organization after having been anonymous for three years!

A lot of students don’t know this, but E4P is available as a resource to graduate students, too (and we sure do need it). So if you need someone to talk to, you can call us at 617-627-3888, or text us at ears4peers.herokuapp.com/ every night from 7 PM to 7 AM. We’re working on making it so you can text the number as well, so follow us on Instagram @ears4peers for updates on when that becomes possible! All Ears are Tufts students like you, so calls usually feel like chill conversations with a friend; we try our best to match the energy that you’re looking for! Since we’re fully anonymous and confidential, we’ll never know who’s calling or texting us, and you won’t know who you’re talking to, because our systems hide identifying information.

Ears are trained to handle a wide range of topics. With over 600 calls just last year, we’ve gotten calls about everything from relationship problems, to homesickness, academic troubles, to mental health struggles, and so much more. We’re familiar with Tufts resources on campus (and many off campus) and can provide personalized recommendations to callers if they’re interested. Despite being an Ear myself, I’ve called the line when I wasn’t on shift, because in bad moments, it’s comforting to know that I’m confiding in someone who doesn’t see me as a “burden”. 

Curious about what it’s like to be an Ear – besides gaining access to a secret group of actual superheroes as friends? Ears take 4 shifts per month, either from 7-11 PM or 11 PM to 7 AM. Shifts are taken in pairs, so you’re never alone, in a secret room that has beds, desks, computers, snacks, etc. so you can do homework, go to sleep, or exchange life stories with the other Ear on shift. When the phone rings or the text line goes off, you pick up, help someone out, and experience the fulfillment that comes with it. Sometimes, you end up having a great, hilarious conversation with a caller and get mad that you’re anonymous and cannot be best friends with said caller. And every now and then, your friends might ask you where you’re headed in the middle of the night when you’re on shift or attending a meeting, but it’s a secret, so you get pretty good at thinking on the spot, I guess?

Being an Ear has made me feel so connected to the Tufts community. I love talking to our callers and texters and hearing about their lives, being trusted with their most vulnerable selves. Sometimes, we get callers who reach out frequently throughout the year and it is a privilege to watch them grow over time and support them through their Tufts journey. Sometimes, Tufts students call us because they’re worried about a friend and just want to help. Every day as an Ear feels like a celebration of the inherent goodness of human beings! Every so often, a caller is hard on themselves about difficult situations and emotions, and you end up saying something to them that maybe you needed to hear yourself. I remember being devastated about the end of my first relationship ever during my sophomore year at Tufts, and while on shift, I received a call from someone going through a breakup. In supporting the caller as they processed their breakup, I found myself telling them “It’s okay. I know it’s not okay right now, but some day, it’s going to be okay, and that’s what makes it okay” and realized that I actually believed that I’d be okay for the first time since my breakup… I’d really needed to hear it myself. 

My favorite Ears tradition is The Gritch, which is a journal that sits in our room for Ears on shift to write in. The Gritch brings us closer together as a group, because we vent and respond to each other’s entries, and some Ears have even found love through writing to each other through the Gritch :’) Since Ears has been running since 1989, we have some Gritches from thirty years ago, and it’s super interesting to read first-hand accounts of what Tufts was like in the past! Like, I know it’s frustrating for us to deal with SIS to enroll in courses every semester, but did you know that in 1995, Jumbos used to line up outside Eaton Hall to register for their classes in person?! Can you imagine waiting in line for hours and only to find out that that course you really wanted to take filled up by the time it was your turn? It’s also fun to see what previous generations of Ears are up to now; Josh Wolk (A91), the founder of Tufts’ humor magazine The Zamboni, was secretly an Ear and wrote some of the funniest entries in the first Gritch ever. When I internet-stalked him (as one does), I found that he’s published a hilarious book called Cabin Pressure, which is about the time he returned to his childhood summer camp but as an adult counselor. A copy of that book now sits in the Ears room! 

Many people ask me why I decided to continue doing Ears during my master’s program, with everything else grad students tend to have on their plates. In an effort to end my history of overcommitting and overbooking myself (classic Tufts undergrad behavior), I promised myself to only give my time and effort to things I cared about most this year; Ears for Peers has contributed immensely to my growth as a person and my understanding of the human experience, so continuing to be an Ear during grad school felt like a no-brainer to me. As a bonus, some of my closest friends at Tufts were/are Ears, and our bonding nights spent playing board games, doing paint and sips, chatting around campfires, are some of my most cherished Tufts memories.  

Growing up in India, around a culture of shame and stigma surrounding mental health, I craved a community that acknowledged its significance and supported each other through these “hidden” difficulties. I feel proud to be going to a school whose students have set up such a unique, wonderful resource to support its community. I’m sure I speak for all Ears when I say: I know from personal experience what a difference it makes to have someone be there for you through a rough time. So, if you ever need anyone to talk to, know that we’re ear for you!

Community: What is the GSC?

By Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. Candidate

The Graduate Student Council (GSC) serves graduate students across all areas in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), School of Engineering (SoE), and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts (SMFA at Tufts). The GSC is responsible for organizing events, funding student research travel, and aiding and funding graduate student organizations (GSOs). Some of the notable events hosted by the GSC are Pub Nights, the Annual 5K Run/Walk, Apple Picking, the Graduate Student Research Symposium, and many more. These events aim to serve the needs of all the students in these graduate programs by bringing them together, giving them tools to succeed, and connecting them with necessary resources.

I am currently the Community Outreach Chair on the GSC’s Executive Board (e-board) and thus have a unique perspective on how it runs from the inside. It’s amazing to be part of such a great group that serves such a large community. By being involved on the e-board, I see how this large organization runs in order to anticipate and meet every need of these students. In this role I have organized a clothing swap, a beach cleanup, a food drive, valentine’s day cards for soldiers, and the annual 5k (happening on 4/22/22)! These events have united the Tufts and Medford community to allow students to give back while having fun and meeting other students.

The GSC e-board members each play a specific role in its smooth functioning. The President oversees all operations and plans Graduate Student Appreciation Week. The Vice President aids the chairs and runs the graduate student lounges at Curtis and West Hall. The Secretary manages the social media, advertising for the GSOs, and curating the newsletters. The Treasurer is in charge of managing the graduate student fund and distributing it to GSC chairs, GSOs, and graduate student travel awards. There are six GSC chairs that each aim to serve different groups and interests: Academic, Arts & Humanities, Community Outreach, International, Social, and Student Life. There are subcommittees of these chairs that have volunteers and department reps that help out with organizing and planning events. If you’re interested in getting involved in the e-board, there are elections on 5/3/22 and anyone and everyone is encouraged to apply for these positions! For more information check out the GSC’s website )!

If you have any questions or concerns about any aspect of your graduate life at Tufts, or if you would like to become involved in the GSC, please do not hesitate to contact us on our website. Check out Jumbo Life and the GSC website  and follow us on Instagram for upcoming events!

Welcome to the SMFA Community

By Lennon Wolcott PB’15 MFA’17

I’ve spent the last 4 years in graduate art admissions, after completing my MFA (’17) and Post-Bac (’15), I hear a similar story from prospective Master of Fine Arts students every year. Artists coming to grad school are looking to expand their voice, hone their practice, as well as find and develop a connection with a network of other artists. 

The goal of a grad program in interdisciplinary contemporary art is to expand and refine who we already are as artists, and much of that can’t happen in a bubble, without our peers. The connections we make in graduate school, are more than colleagues in the classroom; our graduate cohorts become our support systems, our curators, our collaborators, our gallerists, our teachers, our recommenders, and (if we’re lucky) our good friends.

Nearby Gallery, 101 Union Street, Newton Centre – Opening Reception of “In Mid Air”

Last month, I stopped into the newly opened Nearby Gallery in Newton Center, for the exhibition opening of “In Mid Air”. Nearby Gallery was founded by Cal Rice (MFA ’18) and Sam Belisle (MFA ’18). The show was a fabulous and experimental collection of work, from 3 recently graduated SMFA at Tufts undergraduate students, Lightbringer, Calla King-Clements, Daria Bobrova. In the crowd of the reception, there were families, community members, and an assortment of SMFA alumni. At one point as a group of alumni discussed the show and gallery, I realized I was in conversation with MFA graduates from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and a current MFA candidate, set to graduate in 2022. There is excitement in watching people meet, reminisce, and connect; artists sharing their work, talking about their galleries or studios, planning to collaborate, and celebrating the work of both the artists and their expanded cohort success.

Sally Lee (MFA ’20), Sam Belisle (MFA ’18), Cal Rice (MFA ’18)

What I love is that this group support is not an isolated incident. Each month artists of Boston flock to First Friday events in SOWA to see our peers in juried or solo shows. We work with SMFA alumni like Alexandra Photopoulos (MFA ‘10), Allison Gray (MFA’17),and Doug Breault (MFA’17) who run exciting galleries in Cambridge, like Gallery 263; spaces that offer opportunities to submit proposals or join group shows and residencies. We leave our studios and solitude to attend each other’s events, and to celebrate our work and community, creating lasting connections. 

450 Harrison Ave, SOWA Galleries

Each year, as I work to recruit and admit classes to the MFA and Post-Bac programs, I feel a little bit selfish (in the best way) to be able to invite in future members of our extended SMFA graduate cohort. I am excited this year to welcome to campus, the next class of MFA and Post-Bac students who will join our conversations, shows, and the greater community. We’re thrilled to have you. 

Comic Relief

By Khushbu Kshirsagar, M.S. 2021 in Education

This comic was born out of the pandemic-induced stress (of course). I am an international student from India, dealing with the crazy COVID situation there, topped off with imposter syndrome of a student who’s about to graduate. The comic signifies inner strength and the need for self-care, but in a rather wacky way. It is also one of my first attempts of turning my journal writing into a comic strip with personalized illustrations.

#ThrowbackThursday: Why Jiali Chose Tufts

Written by Jiali Liu, Philosophy M.A. 2017

Coming to Tufts for philosophy was no minor deviation from what I was doing in college. I majored in English and International Relations as an undergraduate and my school offered no philosophy class (it was a petite institution affiliated with the Chinese Foreign Ministry and it was highly specialized in diplomacy studies). I came to formal contact with philosophy when I was a visiting student at Barnard College in New York. It was a short semester, but that one Intro to Philosophy class intrigued me enormously.

In retrospect, I still could not pinpoint the exact reasons for how that happened—to be shaped by one single class and then make a two-year, or even longer, commitment to the subject matter. Graduate schools are different from college in significant ways. They are more expensive. They are more specialized. They bear more relevance to and influence on one’s future career path and prospects. To make a decision about what to do at when and where for a Master degree sometimes calls for a deep soul search. My own guess is that I was exposed to philosophy in a myriad ways much earlier than Barnard, only that I was not fully conscious of its presence and power of osmosis with time in my thinking and action. I probably felt dissatisfaction with only an answer to how things are and wanted to seek why they are such.

But Tufts? First of all, I knew the program because I had a professor who graduated from here back in 2003. The continuity of tradition and legacy presented itself beautifully and ignited my initial interest in knowing more about Tufts. On the other hand, I did not want to mass-produce a dozen of applications (interestingly graduate schools do not work the same way as colleges in this aspect either: to apply for more places barely increases one’s chance to get into any of them). So I had to concentrate on a few programs that are (1) academically top-notch; (2) not discriminating against non-philosophy majors; and (3) cost-efficient.

According to the Philosophy Gourmet report, Tufts’ Master in Philosophy program is number one in the country. It has the highest faculty quality. It actually invites different majors who are interested and determined in making a career in philosophy and helps them to prepare for a PhD program. And it is generous in money and TA opportunities! I doubt that anyone who has received the Tufts’ offer would decline it unless she has a PhD letter of acceptance from somewhere else. There was another reason equally important to me. I like intimate communities and a close work-together spirit with my cohort. In total, Tufts’ program has around 20 people, including both first and second years. People have plenty of chance to invest in friendships and intellectual connection and graduate students are treated as peers by the faculty and staff.

Choosing Tufts was not nearly as hard a decision as the one on philosophy. It felt almost natural for what has happened to unfold the way it did once I knew philosophy was what I wanted.

#ThrowbackThursday: Why Rachael Chose Tufts

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. 2018

Post-doctoral Researcher, Tufts University and Washington State University

There are two main reasons why I chose Tufts: collaboration and community. When picking my graduate school, I chose based on the Biology Department specifically. Now, after having been at Tufts for four years, I can say that these two reasons also apply to Tufts in general.

Collaboration: I loved that the Biology Department was collaborative, not competitive. Since we are one Biology Department, there is a range of expertise: from DNA repair to animal behavior, there is likely someone that can help with any project you propose. There are grad students that are co-advised and many labs collaborate. I am currently working on a project with the Wolfe Lab, a lab that studies microbial communities in fermented foods! I am working with the Wolfe Lab to determine if honey bee diet affects the community of microbes that live in the honey bee gut.

In general, I find the atmosphere on the Tufts campus to be a collaborative one rather than a competitive one. There are opportunities for grad students to collaborate with labs outside of their own department. Tufts even has an internal grant, Tufts Collaborates, which is specifically for this purpose! In my department, I know of biologists who work with chemists, engineers, and computer scientists.

Students enjoying talks at the 2017 Graduate Student Research Symposium.

Community: Even though we are divided into two buildings, the Biology Department strives to stay united. Every Friday, we have a seminar with cookies and tea before, and chips and salsa after. After seminar, I have the chance to catch up with faculty, staff, and students that work in the other building.

Outside of my department, the Tufts Graduate Student Council (GSC) strives to create a sense of community within the grad students. There are monthly GSC meetings where you can meet other grad students, hear about things going on, and voice your own opinions. The GSC also hosts academic, social, and community outreach events. Just last month, the GSC held their annual Graduate Student Research Symposium (GSRS). This symposium is for all grad students on the Tufts University Medford/Somerville campus and School of the Museum of Fine Arts. The GSRS is not only a place to meet other grad students, but it’s a place where you can learn about all the cool research happening at Tufts, and maybe find a collaborator!

Rachael hiking Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, equipped with her Tufts Jumbos winter hat!

A couple other reasons specific to me: I grew up in a small town and while I enjoy visiting the city, I am not much of a “city girl.” The location of Tufts is great for the small-town girl in me: it’s easy to visit the city but it’s also easy to find beautiful places to hike and enjoy nature. Just about an hour south of New Hampshire and an hour east of Central Mass, there are plenty of gorgeous hiking trails and mountains within a manageable driving distance.

Since I would one day like to teach at a primarily undergraduate institution, I also like that Tufts has unique teaching opportunities for grad students. There is the Graduate Institute for Teaching where grad students attend workshops on teaching during the summer, and then co-teach a class with a faculty member during the fall. There is also the ExCollege which awards Graduate Teaching Fellowships for students who want to create and teach a class on their own. This coming Fall, I will be teaching my own class on insect pollinators and applying basic science to conservation practices!

Making Friends and Building a Community when Moving to Boston

from an international student’s perspective

Written by Ebru Ece Gulsan, Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering

Congratulations! You made it!

You are moving to the Boston area and are possibly even coming from the other side of the world.

Your parents are proud, friends are jealous.

As time goes by, maybe they start to be more bittersweet. They think you are too busy living the dream life to FaceTime with them as often as you used to, but they have no idea how difficult it is to wake up at 5 am to make sure you call them at a reasonable time since there is a 10 hour time difference. You sound “annoying” or “displeased” when you complain about the tremendous amount of grad school work-load because your loved ones think you do not appreciate your opportunities enough. It looks so easy when you see the third-year international students, because they all seem settled down and have already built their communities. They are all incredibly fluent in English while you still take your time to construct your sentences in the most grammatically perfect way not to be judged by native speakers, and sometimes give up on speaking up because you are exhausted of overthinking.

I get it.

I moved to Boston from a country where America is only known for its fast food, huge cars, and “drive thrus.” Maybe also for TV ads of prescribed medications (like seriously?).

Even though I traveled abroad a bunch, lived in different countries and went to an English medium university, it took me a long time to feel comfortable with my new first language. I still remember the first time I landed at Boston Logan Airport and not understanding a word the security guy said to me. I was freaking out about writing a scientific article or a textbook chapter in English. The first research group meeting I attended was a nightmare – leaving aside the scientific content of the discussions, I could barely understand the language that they spoke. There is a difference between “native speakers who speak English” and “internationals who speak English.”

Language shock is not even the first challenge you face when you move in from another country. Yes, we live in a more global age and all of us are exposed to other cultures and understandings, but this does not necessarily mean that we will immediately adjust and things will go smoothly. There are so many small cultural differences and nuances, such as different gender roles, work ethics, and gestures that are not visible at first. You will learn how to write e-mails, how to flirt, or what to say someone who has lost a significant other in another language. Health insurance, contracts, financial agreements, leases; all these small things work differently, and now you have to read everything before pressing “I agree to the terms and conditions.” It is like learning how to walk again, although you thought you had expertise in it. On top of all these challenges, there is also the time you realize you came to this country all by yourself and you have to make friends and build your own community to survive.

The first big step to take is to accept the fact that you will need to put in effort. You probably will not find yourself in your perfect friend group spontaneously without making the first move. Luckily, Boston is such a diverse and international city. It is easy to blend in. It might feel strange or new to hang out with people with different backgrounds at the beginning, but Bostonians have been doing this for such a long time. Plus, you speak their language! This makes a huge difference because if you were to move in another country where the first language is not English, it would be much more difficult to befriend locals. Despite the fact that they can speak English if they want to, people will hardly give up on the comfort of speaking their first language to have you around. Are you not confident about your accent? Well, think about it as an ice breaker because you will notice that the question “where is your accent is coming from?” is a classic pickup line. So, own it!

There is a metaphor I really like: it is called “Peach People vs Coconut People.” You can look it up for more details, but briefly, it defines certain people as “peach people” and others  as “coconut people”. Peach people are easy to approach, love small talk, yet they still have the core that they will only share with their core group of friends or significant others (this does not mean that you will never be a part of it). Coconut people are the opposite, with an annoyed resting face; but once you get to know them, they are ready to tell you about their aunt’s new boyfriend or why they chose a particular medicine. Just remember that people will be different, and keep this in mind to understand different reactions when approaching others and getting to know them.

Obviously, it is easier to connect with other expats. You will receive plenty of e-mails from Tufts International Center about upcoming events – attend them. If you want to bond with people from your country, find their communities and show up at their gatherings. But please remember that balance is the key. Keep your conversations and friend groups diverse. Of course you will feel homesick and will need your own people, but try not to call home every time you find yourself in this situation. Actually, you know what? You will soon realize that you see home in a different light. It will take time, but once you get there home will not be “where your heart is,” but instead might be where you can connect to the VPN.

Last but not least, know what you like to do and keep doing more of it. Pursue your hobbies and find others who share the similar interests. If you like scuba diving, become a member of New England Divers. If you enjoy photography, go take a course about it and meet others who enjoy it too. Do you need people to hike together? Just invite them and get to know each other during the hike while there is no distraction except the nature.

Do not forget that flux has no season in a diverse and international city like Boston. People come and go all the time. They all feel like a fish out of water at the beginning. Everybody needs friends and there is not a “more normal” thing than the desire of being a part of a community. Just be yourself, show up and bring your beautiful unique accent and slightly broken English with you wherever you go! 

Why Tufts?

Recently, we asked our graduate students why they chose Tufts. Check out this multi-part blog series, in which we explore the journeys of our #TuftsGrad students and the paths they took to Tufts University.

Why Ece Chose Tufts

‘If you want to strengthen your skills and improve your scientific knowledge, be challenged to become an independent researcher and work with awesome people, Tufts is the place.’

Why Amanda Chose Tufts

‘Tufts is the best place to improve myself, to find my path, and to make real changes in the future. If I could make the decision again, Tufts would still be my choice. ‘

Why Michael Chose Tufts

‘Ultimately, I made my decision to attend Tufts School of Engineering based on two important economic factors: proximity to the Boston biotechnology ecosystem and the earning potential in the Boston area.’

Why Alia Chose Boston (and Tufts!)

‘So it wasn’t until I was finally in my apartment, lying on a yoga mat and bemoaning the lack of central air, that I realized that I was finally there. Boston was my home for the next five years.’

Why Alexandra Chose Tufts

‘I always feel as if professors are interested in hearing from me, helping me, and maybe even learning from me. Doors are always open.’

Why Ellen Chose Tufts

‘As someone who entered school psychology from a completely different field (finance), I feel confident that one day I will be ready to step into my future profession as a school psychologist.’

Why Rachael Chose Tufts

‘There are two main reasons why I chose Tufts: collaboration and community.’

Why Vasanth Chose Tufts

‘There are so many more reasons I like Tufts, and I cannot do justice in a short blog post, but one takeaway is that being both a nurturing liberal arts school and competitive research institution, Tufts affords some great opportunities to do good work, grow in your career, and remain happy while doing so.’

Why Jiali Chose Tufts

‘People have plenty of chance to invest in friendships and intellectual connection and graduate students are treated as peers by the faculty and staff.’

Why Lennon Chose Tufts

‘I remember thinking how lucky I was to be in a place where people were so passionate about their subjects and eager to help others find their own.’