We interviewed Melissa De la Cruz to learn about her experience being a masters student studying abroad in New York City. Melissa is 22 years old and finished her undergraduate degree in Political Science majoring in International Relations at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City. She worked briefly as a Policy Adviser for the Vice Mayor’s office in Cebu City. She is currently taking up her Masters degree in International Affairs with a concentration in Development and Applied Quantitative Methods at The New School in New York City.
Melissa enjoys routine early morning swims and spending time on the weekends exploring New York City with her camera.
- What made you decide to study abroad in New York? Was it always part of your plan?
I decided to study abroad in New York because I was offered a scholarship at The New School that would cover more than half of my tuition. Although I was still working for the Vice Mayor of Cebu City at the time, I did not want to pass up the opportunity to study at the cradle of international politics.
On a practical note, I was working while I was actively looking for graduate schools. I wanted to gain experience while thinking long term. I knew beforehand that to be competitive in my field, I would need to have at least a Master’s Degree. It was a challenge to manage both at the same time but I needed money to pay for the application fees in the universities that I was interested in.
I thought The New School was a perfect fit for me as I had access to School of Design and the New School of Public Engagement’s Media Studies Program while still involved in my niche of International Affairs. The scholarship was offered to me during my acceptance to the university. During the application process, the school allows applicants to choose several scholarships to apply to depending on one’s eligibility. Additional questions would be added to your application form.
- How did you come by your scholarship?
My scholarship was awarded based on academic merit (from my previous school) by the Provost’s Office at The New School. During the application process, I had applied to be considered for a full scholarship. However, I was notified that this was only eligible for American citizens. Instead, I expressed my need for a scholarship to the Graduate Admissions Officer. I was in constant communication with the officer while waiting for the school’s decision.
- What’s your greatest takeaway from your experience?
My time in New York has made me more self-aware and more willing to take risks. The city has so much to offer but at the same time, my time and resources are limited as a student. I had to learn very quickly to be smart about managing my time and choosing activities that I thought would best benefit my own growth as a person.
Caption: Melissa and her colleagues presented the findings of their year-long research project and represented The New School during the Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador
Last year, I started Our Turn, a youth media platform with Bianca Rogers, a fellow grad student at The New School. We worked tirelessly to film youth activists from around the globe and produce monthly episodes on an array of topics relating to the issues that the young people are facing today. The city became our makeshift studio, from interviews in rallies to filming episodes in our living room spaces. With no experience in professional film making, I dove head first and experienced all the challenges of filming. It also served as an opportunity for me to learn how to strategically use social media as a way to reach out to different sets of groups.
- What was the biggest myth about studying abroad that you were able to debunk while you were in New York?
Myth: Studying in New York is expensive
Partly true, but scholarships and working in the university will help you shoulder the expenses of getting an education in New York. There are several scholarship portals available to international students.
Myth: You need at least two years of experience to apply for a Graduate Program in the USA.
Wrong. Graduate schools all over the world are looking for students with or without experience. Make sure to make clear your commitment to finish your studies and contribute to the common good. There will be a school that is right for you.
Myth: Philippines education system is of lesser quality than the American education system because we finish our studies at an earlier age.
Wrong again. The quality of one’s education is up to the person and not to the institution that they are in.
Myth: Getting a graduate degree early = career in academia
Wrong. I have met many students that have become successful practitioners in the international development field or elsewhere.
- Do you have any tips for fellow Filipinos that want to study abroad, especially for those who are hesitating?
Ask yourself three questions, if you find yourself set at pursuing a graduate degree abroad.
First, what do you want to study? This is a practical question. Think about job market and what you want to get out of the degree. Would you like to work in the field or pursue a career in academia? As a graduate student, there is more room to shape your course load depending on where you envision yourself to be. Of course, academic advisers will come in handy but they come in much later when you reach your university of choice.
Second, where do you want to study? Location matters as much as the university that you choose does. Deciding to study in Asia, USA or Europe will determine the kind of opportunities available to you, so do the research beforehand. In addition, make sure that your personal paradigm aligns with the university that you would like to be at. I was witness to many instances where classmates have dropped out of the program because their paradigms do not match up with the university.
Finally, have you actively been searching for opportunities? The trick here is to be pro-active about searching for opportunities. Scholarships abound and universities are actively looking for international scholars or researchers. Exhaust the deep ends of the internet and I guarantee you will find something that will interest you.
- What was the application process like? Was it difficult?
The application process was simple. The New School unlike most universities does not require applicants to report their GRE scores as part of the application. They only require applicants to submit TOEFL scores. Taking and submitting the scores on time was probably the most challenging part of the application process because this was time sensitive and there was a deadline.
- How did you finance your studies/living expenses? Did you have to work part time?
I think this is an important question to answer because this is a practical question for many who are not financed by generous trust funds.
My tuition and school expenses like books (that are not covered by my scholarship) are financed in most part by my family. For living expenses (i.e. rent, transportation and groceries), I have been working part-time for The Global Urban Futures Project and the Habitat Commitment Project . I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to be a researcher. Unlike most on-campus jobs available, I get to learn and apply my research interests as part of my job. Working with other researchers from 15 different countries in the group has also been an essential part of my learning at The New School. It has given me a wealth of experience and insight into the experiences in different parts of the world.
It is an important lesson for those who want are looking to gain experience and substantive work while keeping up with expenses abroad. I was lucky to have an adviser who was actively looking for researchers and there are many professors that are actively searching for assistants. Personally, I believe that this is one of the best ways to get the most out of your experience in grad school – to work with professors who are doing research in your field of interest.
- What was the hardest part about studying abroad?
The hardest part about studying abroad is being away from family and friends. I grew up in Cebu City with a close group of people around me and I can’t help but be jealous when I see photos of gatherings that I am not a part of. However, I recognize that in my profession there are more opportunities for me in New York than at home. I am thankful to have received my fair share of home when friends are in New York.
- What was the best part about studying abroad?
The best part about studying abroad is that I am constantly challenged to do my best work. This has meant having to constantly improve existing skills or finding new skills to learn.
I am glad that New York is as competitive as I am. My year went by so quickly and there were countless sleepless nights that went along with it but I have never felt so fulfilled with the work that I am doing. In addition, my fulfillment does not come from school and work alone. I have expanded my learning to pursuits outside the educational institution, applying what I have learned to the challenges of our world today.
Note: This article has been edited for clarity and conciseness.