BackgroundInterview Date:April 2019
Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: South Asian
Graduation Year: 2021
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
High School Experience: Private school in Pakistan with the graduating class of about 200 students. There was a culture of going to college in the United States.
First Generation College Student: No
Major: Political Science
Extracurricular Activities: I’m in student government, I’m a resident assistant, I’m in Greek life and [have a leadership role] in my sorority.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Yeah, they all have. As much as I’ve gotten involved on campus with clubs I have learned a lot of skills and made a lot of friends. It’s helped me a lot socially and helped me in learning skills as well. With every club, you learn a different type of skill, like, being part of student government helped me have a voice for my class and be a part of administrative decisions and being a resident assistant allowed me to mentor freshmen. Greek life is completely different because being sisters with other girls is really nice.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
My classes involve a lot of readings and I usually do not have exams. I have a lot of papers to submit towards the end of the trimester. It depends from class to class, but the usual trend is there are a lot of readings, class discussions, and papers towards the end of the term.
Is there anything that you feel your major’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
I think Union has an amazing Political Science department. We have professors that teach really well. If you ask, people will refer you to the Political Science department if you are looking for a really good professor.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I think it is fairly competitive. Union is a very diverse school so in classes people have different opinions and you learn from them a lot of the time. It can be competitive because there are people with different backgrounds and opinions and we are constantly debating in class. [About 20% of students come from diverse backgrounds and 8% are international.]
How accessible are your professors?
They are very accessible because Union is a small school and the classes are usually not that big. Whenever you go to office hours or [approach them after class] they are always there to help you answer any sort of questions you have. They’re also very responsive to email. [The average introductory class size is 21 and the average upper level class size is 14.]
Do you feel people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
From my experience, yes. Sometimes there is a small number of people who might be really adamant on their views and not open to other schools of thought, but that’s a very small number of people.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I come from Pakistan, which is a third-world country, and I am passionate about doing something good for my country. Because I knew Union has a great Political Science department where I could learn a lot from the people around me and professors, I was already decided on the major when I came in.
How was transitioning academically from your high school in Pakistan to Union? Were there any systems in place to help you adapt?
It was quite a transition. There were a lot of things I was not familiar with. When I came to Union they have a lot of orientation advisers and a couple of small programs for international students, as well as other students too. For example, writing here is different from how it was in Pakistan, so fall of freshman year there were small workshops where they would give us the guidelines of writing an essay in college. Other than that, I would also go to office hours with my professors. The professors were really understanding and they would explain things, help me, and it made the transition really smooth.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Richmond House with one roommate.
Sophomore: Davidson House, which is also a freshman dorm, and I’m a resident adviser so I have a single.
How was transitioning from Pakistan to Schenectady, NY in terms of location?
It took some time because, of course, Pakistan is very, very different from the United States. I’m from Islamabad, which is a big city with a lot to do and Schenectady is a very small town and we don’t have much to do except for a couple of places to eat. You get used to Schenectady. The good part is the campus has a lot of things to do so that keeps you engaged.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
In my personal experience, I haven’t experienced anything bad on campus as of now. But, I do know that some people do not feel safe, especially when they’re walking back home at night. I know campus safety is always around and you can give them a call if you do not feel safe. In my experience, there have never been any big safety problems on campus.
Pros and cons of being located in Schenectady, NY?
1) Because Schenectady is a small town there are a few places that you get familiar with really fast and you can socialize with the townspeople.
1) Schenectady is really small and doesn’t have that much to do there. [The population of Schenectady is about 65,700 and there is a 21% poverty rate.]
2) There’s a stereotype about Schenectady that it is not safe to be out in the city at night. [The violent crime rate in Schenectady is about 133% higher than the national average and the property crime rate is 35% higher than the national average.]
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
Being a part of Greek life, I usually go to parties with Greek life. There is also other stuff happening on campus, like movie nights, so sometimes I’ll go to that kind of stuff too. It depends on the night. I mostly go out on Friday nights because I prefer to have resident adviser duties on Saturday nights.
What is the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
Greek life pretty much makes the nightlife at Union on the weekends. There are a couple of off-campus houses and there are some on-campus houses too, so there’s always a lot of parties going on at the Greek houses during the weekends.
How was transitioning to the Union nightlife as an international student?
It was a culture shock when I came in as a freshman because the drinking culture is very different. It’s very big, especially because the school is Greek life dominated. People also like to go out and go out a lot. It wasn’t hard to adjust, but it was a process.
How happy are you with the weekend options at Union? If you could change anything, what would you change?
I think it’s fine because the people who like to go out end up going out, but there is a program called the U-Program which also has events during the weekend, [like bingo or trivia], so I feel like I always have a choice. If I don’t want to go out, I’ll go do some low-key event like a movie night or bingo night, and, if not, there are always people who are willing to hang out in the dorms.
How did you meet your closest friends?
One of my closest friends was my roommate last year. I also met a lot of people at international orientation, so I ended up being close friends with them too.
How would you describe the overall social scene at Union?
I would say it’s pretty good. Because it’s small, everybody pretty much knows everybody and people are very much connected in that way and can socialize with each other. Also, most of the time you will have more than one class with the same person so that’s how you become friends with a person too.
To what extent do international students mix with domestic students?
When I came here last year I noticed that that was a problem. I did not notice a lot of international students or domestic students trying to socialize with each other. I personally looked at it as a problem, so I tried to be friends with domestic students and it worked out pretty well for me. Because I’m friends with both international and domestic students I can tell that there’s reluctance from both sides to interact with each other.
To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientation mix socially?
I think they do. I see diverse groups of friends often.
How do you like the size of Union in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that impacted your experience? [There are about 2,200 students.]
When I was coming to Union I was not excited about it because I thought it was a small school and there were not going to be a lot of people who I could hang out with and stuff like that. When I came here I realized that there were benefits to the size because you make friends quickly. There aren’t a lot of people in your grade so eventually you end up meeting everybody and you can make friends with them. It’s also very, very good in terms of getting help from your professors because the classes are small so it’s easier for us to see them. [The student-faculty ratio is 10:1.]
To what extent do people in Greek life and not in Greek life mix socially?
I have friends both in Greek life and not in Greek life, but I know that sometimes when people join Greek life they only hang out with their sisters or bothers, and I think that’s totally understandable. I have another friend group [outside of my sorority] because I’m an international student as well. But, there are some people who become restricted to their respective sorority or fraternity.
How accepted have you felt as a Muslim student on and around campus?
Union is very open to every religion and culture and we even have a Muslim Student Association. I’m not an active part of the MSA, but when I came to Union I went to one of their meetings and met a couple of other Muslim students there. I wouldn’t say there was a huge number of people there, but we have our own prayer room at Union and there are other events that happen around campus for us, so I feel like we have the representation that we want.
Were there any parts of Union or American university overall the surprised you when you arrived on campus?
The variety of subjects that liberal arts colleges surprised me in a good way. I thought that was pretty cool. I don’t think anything has surprised me in a bad way.
Has the alumni network helps you find internships or jobs?
Yes, definitely. We have an alumni weekend in the spring and I met a few ladies there and interacted with them a lot. After that, one of the offered me the opportunity to shadow her in court. I think the alumni are very helpful.
To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
I haven’t been there a lot because my schedule is really packed. I’ve been there two times to look over my resume and they were really helpful. They edit it for you, tell you about new opportunities you may be interested in, and tell you to follow up with them so you’re doing the job.
Have you learned any computer programs that will be especially helpful professionally?
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Union before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I knew more about the Greek life. Maybe I’m saying that because I’m an international student because, before coming here, I only knew about Greek life through American movies. Because Greek life is such a big component of Union, I wish I knew more about the dynamics of Greek life here.
What is something a prospective international student may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
For international students, it’s very natural to feel homesick when you come to school in America. But, at Union, there is a lot of help around campus. Your RA is a good resource if you feel homesick and the Wellness Center has counselors and therapists who are more than willing to talk with international students about homesickness and stuff like that.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
They should talk to people in admissions because there are a lot of students working there. I think it’d be good because those people will be honest with them and tell them about the school.
Reasons to attend Union:
1) Academically, I think it’s a really good school.
2) The administration is very approachable. It’s very easy to go talk to them and tell them about your concerns about your classes or changes you want to see on campus. The same goes for the president, he’s very approachable and always up for a chat with the students.
3) It’s a small school which helps your professors prioritize the students and give them more time with them.
4) The social life is pretty good. There is a good balance in that if you’re not a party person there is always something going on during the weekends for you and if you’re interested in Greek life there are good options for that too.
Reasons to not attend Union:
1) It’s a small campus.
2) It’s an expensive school if you don’t have a good scholarship or financial aid.