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EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is part of a new ongoing series about international student life at colleges and universities across the U.S. Please join us over the next several weeks as we bring you stories about these amazing individuals and the American higher education system as a whole.
Usually, students want to go to a university that will give them the most education and experience possible.
But some students, like Scherzade Agha from Pakistan, seek a college that encourages students to offer something in return.
Agha, who was born in Islamabad, has never been afraid of a challenge. After finishing her undergraduate degree, she went to work for Bank Alfalah Limited. She managed almost 100 offices across Pakistan.
But Agha soon learned that if she wanted to keep moving forward in her career, she would need international experience.
So she decided to get her master’s degree in finance at a U.S. university. Agha applied to the Fulbright scholarship program. In 2015, the program placed her at Tulane University.
Tulane first opened as a medical college in 1834. The school is a private research university located in the southern U.S. city of New Orleans, Louisiana. New Orleans is famous for its music, cooking and colonial European buildings. The city also has a rich and unique mix of French, Spanish, African and Creole cultures.
When Agha first arrived, she did not have problems communicating. English is an official language of Pakistan, so she says there was no real language barrier.
She says Tulane wants students to enjoy life and have a good time. Professors frequently inform her of social events happening around the city.
"It’s kind of funny that our program director, he sends us an email every week, you know? ‘Oh, there’s a party happening there. There’s a party happening there.’ So you don’t get to see those kinds of things happening at many different universities."
But what interested Agha most was applying what she learned in her classes to the real world. In other words, she wanted to use her education to solve problems and improve her community, not just earn a grade or improve herself.
Agha wanted to be involved in the Darwin Fenner Managed Fund class. The class is a special program that accepts only 49 students from the whole school.
The school lends $4 million from its endowment to the students to invest in the stock market. The students are expected to help the endowment grow. Agha says that since the program first began, the students’ investments have been highly successful.
Another international student, George Wu, also wanted to give back to the Tulane community. He started his undergraduate degree in accounting there in 2015.
Wu was born in Hong Kong, China, but ever since he was a child he knew he wanted to study in the U.S. He says Tulane has been a great experience for him. He found he loved the individual attention his professors gave him. He says he did not receive that kind of attention from his teachers in China, and he has really benefited from it.
"It is a really good way for them to improve … study and knowledge. It is really important for the professors to take care of those students in the class."
Wu wanted to help his classmates by giving them the same attention he was getting. In high school, Wu took several advanced placement, or AP, classes. These are classes which are much more challenging than regular classes. Many universities often accept these classes as college credit.
Wu now works in the Tulane Success Center, a department at the school that provides academic aid. Wu helps other students do their homework and study for their business classes – a subject in which Wu excels.
Wu also shares his culture with domestic students by working with the Tulane Chinese Students and Scholars Association. This association is a student group that holds events involving Chinese food and other traditions.
Work and play
Both international and domestic students can find lots of fun things to do at Tulane and in New Orleans. The city holds frequent festivals celebrating art and music through the year, such as the famous Mardi Gras parade and New Orleans Jazz Festival.
Wu says his friends in China are jealous that he can watch the professional basketball team, the New Orleans Pelicans, whenever he wants.
Wu even joined an intramural basketball team at Tulane to make more friends. He says international students should try to make connections with domestic students however they can.
"Sometimes you have to force yourself to get involved in a new environment."
Agha, the graduate student from Pakistan, says that enjoying the city and making the most of academic programs are important. But balancing work and play can be very difficult, she says. While she managed all her classes easily, she really struggled at first with being completely independent.
Agha comes from a wealthy family, and says she was not prepared for the responsibilities of living alone. Cooking, cleaning and other tasks were all things she had never done for herself before.
But she says learning how to solve even these simple problems has taught her a lot.
"Once you come here, you’re on your own. Nobody is going to back you up. Nobody is going to lend you a shoulder to cry on. And you’re no longer in your parents’ home, where your parents would figure out everything. So it has transformed me from a girl to a woman, I think."
Agha now wants to return to Pakistan after her studies and create financial tools for people living in poverty.
I’m Pete Musto.
Pete Musto reported on this story for VOA Learning English. Adam Brock produced the video. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.
We want to hear from you. How do you keep a good balance between your work and your social life? What do you think life is like as an international student at Tulane? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.