FAQs Asked to the New Grad Student Who Moved Halfway Across the World

After being in Pittsburgh for a couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that every day feels like a press conference: you will always be answering questions. Sometimes, the questions are coming from a place of care and concern. Other times, the questions are there because the other person really doesn’t know what to say. Having been dealing with these questions for awhile now, I have compiled two sets of the most common questions I’ve been asked (so far).

And yes, I do appreciate the questions (yes I know it shows you care, and I appreciate the caring) but also, unless you’re really interested in hearing what I have to say, then maybe more interesting and directed questions would also be appreciated. I mean, only if you really want to know. If not, then the list below should help you find a question you can ask me.*


People from home will ask you the following questions. Do prepare your own answers, depending on how often it is asked of you, and the people who are asking. If, like me, these questions have been asked of you time and again, feel free to provide links, or prepare a slideshow for ease of explanation.

  1. How are you? [I’m okay.]
  2. Have you adjusted to the timezone/jetlag? [Yes. Melatonin works wonders.]
  3. When does school start? [Here.]
  4. Where are you studying? [Good luck explaining this if it isn’t an Ivy League school or a name-brand school.]
  5. Have you been to [insert name-brand place that they assume exists everywhere in America]?
  6. Do you have furniture/item/thing [that we use at home but may not have the exact same counterpart over there] already?
  7. How are you, really? [Dear lord.]
  8. Are people really [insert cliche assumption about human beings based on popular culture and stereotypical representation here]?
  9. How are your studies? [Calibrate your answer depending on who your audience may be – parents, partner, friends, the distant Tita who just really wants to know if you’ve seen a celebrity walking along the street.]
  10. How are they dealing with Covid-19? [Assume that they have seen the news about Americans not wanting to get the vaccine/problematic policies about school re-openings/rallies against mask mandates/the increasing potency of the Delta variant, etc. Bonus points if they get their news from MSNBC or CNN, and not some link reposted on Facebook.]
  11. Are you excited to go back to school? [As someone with a severe case of imposter syndrome, I’m never excited to go back to school. I am filled with a sense of dread.]
  12. No, really, how are you? [facepalm]

Conversely, people who you meet in the new place will ask you the following questions. Feel free to calibrate your answers depending on the culture and your comfort level.

  1. So where are you from? [Answer honestly.]
  2. Oh, so where’s that? [Bring out your Powerpoint presentation. Make sure you’ve included animation.]
  3. How did you learn how to speak English so well? [Colonialism.]
  4. Where are you studying? [Name your school. The other person will mention that they know someone in that school. Remind them that you have not started yet.]
  5. What are you studying? [Name your program. The other person will nod, as if they understand what you are studying. Try to explain. They will explain to you what you just explained.]
  6. How was your flight? [Choose a short yet witty anecdote about your flight. Avoid using the phrase “plague plane” even though that was how you felt after 15 hours trapped in an aluminum tube, breathing recycled air.]
  7. Have you been to [insert local tourist attraction that you haven’t been to because you’ve been busy moving into your apartment]?
  8. Have you tried [local delicacy or meal you are unfamiliar with because you’ve been busy moving into your apartment]?
  9. Do you have Chipotle? [No, but we have Shake Shack, which I am told gets me bonus cool points.]
  10. Have you met [insert name of person you’ve never met because you’ve been busy moving into your apartment]?
  11. Did you know that [insert random trivia about the new place because you’ve been busy moving into your apartment]?
  12. So, how are you? [internally screaming]

* I hope it’s clear that THIS IS A JOKE okay, don’t get your panties in a twist.

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