Things to note if you do your postgraduate work in another country
  • Visa regulations
  • How many hours you can work and whether this can be pro-rated (extra hours at some times, so long as the maximum total number of hours isn’t exceeded).
  • Presence/absence of international student support office.
  • Prepare at least $4000 USD as "startup fees" before you apply to a graduate program. This is to cover application fees, one-way airfare, rent deposit, furniture costs, book costs, and those few months before you get paid for your TAship if any.
  • No pay over summer.
    • This depends on the program: mine pays a small amount in the summer, but it's not equivalent to what you get paid during the year so you have to add up your total income and divide it over 12 months as the basis for your budget.
    • In addition, if your assistantship includes health insurance in the US, be aware that you might have to pay out of pocket for health insurance during summer months.
  • In my program, the school year started in late September, but Teaching Asssistants got paid once a month, so there was no pay until Nov. 1. It was awful. Learn when the pay schedule is ahead of time.
    • Some programs prohibit you from holding another job while working on a Teaching Assistant. Find out if that’s a hard rule or if they’ll look the other way.
    • Funding from home: you might be able to secure external funding from your home country.
  • Before you apply to graduate programs, enquire with US graduate colleges AND departments one by one about their TOEFL and language testing requirements. Note: a graduate college may require the TOEFL and/or language testing while the department may waive it. This can be contradictory. Also check with the office of international students if possible. Even more confusingly, these requirements or waivers can vary depending on what country you are from, or what the staff individually perceive your “native language” to me. I am from a Commonwealth country (former UK colony) and am East Asian by blood and appearance with a “difficult sounding” name, so I had a hard time convincing people that yes, my country’s education system IS English-based.
    • Factor in the costs of the TOEFL and language testing.
    • Language testing may be carried out privately by your US university separately from the TOEFL altogether. And you may have to pay for this language test. One example of a language test is called the SPEAK test. The SPEAK test used to be conducted by Educational Testing Services (which now conducts the GRE) but it was discontinued by ETS over 10 years ago. It is still privately used by certain university departments.
    • Language testing may be conducted not by your university’s graduate college or your MA/PhD program but by your university’s foreign languages department or ESL department. They may or may not have the power to give you a waiver.
  • If your degree scroll from your most recent degree is issued in a non-English language, you may have to pay for certification/translation services out of your own pocket. Northern Michigan University is an example of a university which wants you to pay this fee yourself. Factor this cost in.
  • Learn a bit about US culture, and undergrad and graduate student culture as soon as you can. There are a lot of subtleties.
  • I speak English fluently and (not but!) I have an accent. When I was teaching as a graduate teaching assistant, I found that they key to communicating well with my students was to write down the main points of everything I said on the board before class. If I was going to cover 3 things in class, I would write them down as bullet points on the board. I would also write down what homework was due on the board. After class, I would send post-class emails to the whole class detailing what homework was due and clarifying any questions students may have had. Students really appreciated these reminders. Also, it helps you cover your ass (back yourself up) and creates a record in case students claim “I didn’t know that piece of homework was due” or in case you receive any complaints that your teaching supervisor investigates. If students claim not to understand your accent, they cannot claim not to be able to read English.
  • Another important way to improve your teaching is to be relaxed and happy in class. The kids feed off your energy. Crack a joke, even if it’s a bad joke or a self-deprecating joke, and make them laugh. It’s hard not to get along with someone who makes you laugh. This actually helped my teaching evaluations...
  • Talk to fellow GTAs in your department and share teaching tips.