Beating the First Day Jitters: 5 Simple Steps to Overcoming Anxiety

anxiety ecardIn my experience, starting a new job is rarely anything short of nerve wracking and overwhelming. Getting acclimated to a new environment is difficult and it’s hard to prepare yourself for such a transition, since it’s nearly impossible to know what to expect from your new job. Personally, leading up to my most recent first day of work, I was a mess. My confidence level waned as my uncertainty increased, and I was preoccupied with the thought that my arrival at the office would be a disaster. Somehow, I managed to pull myself together just in time, using these five tips, and rocked my first day on the job. Here’s how you can too:

  1.    Plan Ahead

Since much of your first day is likely to be a mystery until you get to the office, make a plan for the parts of the day that are in your hands. Set an alarm so that you have enough time to really wake up before you head out. Designate the amount of time you need to get ready, and decide exactly when you want to leave. Make sure that you give yourself ample time for your commute so that you’re not rushing to make it on time. Laying out plans ahead of time will give you the sense that more of your day is in your control.

  1.    Do Your Research

To prepare for an interview, it’s important to familiarize yourself with a company and what they do. Why not do the same for your first day? Even if you conducted previous research, look up your organization, your superiors and co-workers, and your own job description to refresh yourself before you arrive. Aside from looking at information concerning the company and the role that you will be playing in the workplace, make sure that you double check where your office is, the best way to get there, and roughly how long it will take you to get there. It can only help you!

  1.    Pump Yourself Up

Remember, starting a new job can be daunting, but it is also an amazing opportunity for growth and improvement. You will get so much out of this experience, and even if it ends up straying from your expectations, the skills that you will develop and refine will be an incredibly valuable asset to you in the future. Get excited to learn and get your hands dirty with something new!

  1.    Then Calm Yourself Down

Whether you’re excited to the point of shaking or you’re just plain nervous, chances are that you’ll need to take a step back and center yourself. Take some deep breaths, listen to music, stretch, take a hot shower, or sit down with a nice cup of coffee or tea before you head over. Your body and your brain will thank you for taking care of them later.

  1.    Fake It ‘Til You Make It

If all else fails and you’re still feeling the nerves, feign confidence. Even if you’re not completely convinced, walk into your office and give your co-workers the first impression that you are ready to take on the world. Being at ease in a new environment takes time, but acting comfortable will help you settle into your niche much faster than allowing yourself to be nervous would.

Joining a new office is a very intimidating experience, but don’t worry, if I can survive it, you can too. Now, follow these steps, get out there, and show them who’s boss!

Rosie Kay is a sophomore at Northeastern majoring in Communication Studies and minoring in Business Administration. She is currently on her first co-op at the Governor’s Press Office at the Massachusetts State House. This past summer, she completed a dialogue in London where she explored two of her interests: English history culture and documentary filmmaking. Email her at kay.r@husky.neu.edu with questions or comments.

Tips and Tricks: Navigating Being “The Intern”

hello name internLike many other Northeastern students and young professionals, I am currently “The Intern” of my office. To me this is neither a good nor bad title, but one that I have had to grow and adjust into. The word intern often comes with predisposed judgements- especially in an office. What I have come to learn is that a confident, knowledgeable person can always make their work count, regardless of whether they are an intern or not.

Here are some tips for being an absolutely unforgettable intern:

1) Never be afraid of asking questions.

When you are new to an office, it is always better to ask than to be unsure. As much as we all want to find our new groove at work, it is essential to first learn the basics. Never be afraid of coming off needy or dependent- questions show that you want to learn how to do your job, the right way. Your supervisor is there to help you!

2) Remember: quality, not quantity.

Efficiency is absolutely essential, but never feel as though you need to prove your worth as an intern. If more time is necessary to get a project done, ask for the time. It isn’t impressive to turn in rushed work, and or to sacrifice your own mental health in the process. This can also be applied to your personal relationships with coworkers: Start with creating quality relationships with individual coworkers, instead of trying to meet your entire office all at once.

3) Find a project that you can call your own.

One of the biggest complaints I have heard concerning internships is that the tasks provided for interns are both menial and far removed. If you begin feeling this way about your internship, see this is as a sign for change. Look around for something new or exciting happening at your workplace, and ask to be involved. More often than not, your coworkers will love the help and fresh face.

4) Be comfortable with your Intern title, and take the time to understand your role.

Adjusting to a new role is difficult, no matter what it is. With internships, interns sometimes feel like they are at the bottom of the food chain and struggle to find their purpose in the office. These problems can often times be solved within the first few days of an internship, by having a conversation with your supervisor. Come in with questions about your responsibilities and duties as an intern, and ask the questions necessary to understand the who, what, where and why of your position.

Daniella is a sophomore at Northeastern with a combined major in Human Services and International Affairs, and a minor in Spanish. She is currently on her first co-op working for a youth development nonprofit organization in Cape Town, South Africa. Daniella is passionate about social change, travel, and good food- and can’t wait to see what Africa has to offer her both professionally and personally. Email her at emami.d@husky.neu.edu. Look for Daniella’s posts every other Tuesday.

Image source: Camp4Collective

What is the Professional Etiquette for an Informational Interview?

This guest post was written by Heather Fink, a former Career Development Intern now working at Wellesley College and the Hiatt Career Center at Brandeis University. She is a graduate student in the College Student Development and Counseling program at NU expected to graduate in May 2015.

So everyone has been telling you that in order to further your career goals, you have to network. Here are some tips on how to keep it professional and ensure success during informational interviews. If you are unsure of what an informational interview is, feel free to check our website for more information about it.

source: staples.com

source: staples.com

Come prepared!

If someone is willing to meet with you for an informational interview, you should come prepared with questions. Consider what you want to learn from the person you are meeting with and bring a pen and notepad to take notes during the meeting.

The questions you ask should be tailored for the person you are meeting with. The questions also should not be information that can be easily found on the Internet, such as where they have worked in the past (which is often on their LinkedIn profile) or what their job title is. Instead use the time to ask questions that are more in depth or are difficult to find out online. You may want to ask about industry trends or what that company seems to look for in their employees.  Be sure to refer to our blog post Strategies for Researching Companies for more advice on that.

Dress Code:

Depending on the field, an informational interview doesn’t necessarily require a suit but if you think that a Boston Bruins shirt is appropriate for an informational interview, you are mistaken. Remember that although a suit isn’t mandatory, you want the person you are networking with to take you seriously and should dress accordingly. Business casual is appropriate for an informational interview. Avoid the jeans and instead stick with slacks or a dress skirt with a sweater, blouse or button down shirt on top. This shows that you’re taking the meeting seriously. Also be sure to wear a watch to keep track of the time, you are conducting the informational interview and should make sure that you don’t make the contact run late for their next meeting.

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I thanked the contact in person should I bother writing a thank you letter?

Thanking someone in person does not supplement a thank you letter. If someone is taking time out of their day to speak with you and provide advice for your career advancement, than you should take the time to write them a thank you letter. Send the contact you met with a thank you note (via email or snail mail) within 24 hours thanking them for their time. The best way to show your appreciation is to mention something you learned from the meeting so the contact feels the advice they gave was helpful.

Afterwards….

Keep in touch! Networking isn’t about contacting someone once, it is about expanding your professional network. Send the contact emails every few months with articles related to your field or mention updates if you took their advice and was successful from doing so.

Another way to keep in touch is to ask the person you meet with for suggestions of who else you should contact for an informational interview. This increases your chances of someone’s willingness to meet with you since you now have a mutual connection.  If you end up meeting with someone your contact suggested, let the contact know that their advice was helpful. This enables you to stay in touch with the contact and lets them know that their referral was helpful.

Heather Fink is a former Career Assistant at Northeastern Career Development and now currently works as the Interim Asst. Director at the Wellesley College Career Center and as a Career Counseling Assistant at the Hiatt Career Center at Brandeis University. SHe has a passion for networking and empowering others and is pursuing her graduate degree in College Student Development Counseling. Follow Heather on Linkedin at www.linkedin.com/in/HeatherFink and Twitter @CareerCoachHF. 

​Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions! Branching Out in the Workplace

hello my name isEveryone who has worked in an office, whether that be for a co-op, internship, or full time job, knows that the first month in a new setting can be overwhelming, intimidating, challenging, and full of surprises. You still don’t know what’s good in the cafeteria or who it is appropriate to address by their first name. You’re still labeled as the “new person” and it can be exhausting making sure nothing goes wrong your few few weeks or months in the office.

But now we’re halfway through the semester and everyone is getting a little more comfortable with the work and with their colleagues. I know at least that I feel much more comfortable at my co-op at US Embassy Quito and I’ve established a rhythm for both my personal and professional life abroad. I’ve figured out the difference in addressing my supervisor, the Ambassador and the Marine Security Guards who protect us. I can easily get around the Embassy compound without getting lost. And I feel like I finally understand the nuances of the Ecuadorian political system, making my actual work 100 times easier!

I’m sure most of you who are out there on co-op, whether it be domestic or international, are finding your rhythm too. But for those of you who still feel a little lost, or those who have been lost int eh past, here are a few tips on branching out in the workplace so that you have the most enjoyable time possible.

1. Introduce yourself and ask questions.

This might seem obvious, but the first week or month of co-op can feel a bit like freshman year all over again. If you are the only co-op or intern at the company, lunchtime can feel lonely if you don’t feel comfortable asking coworkers or your supervisor if you can sit with them. Here’s my advice coming from someone who felt that exact same way a month or so ago – lunchtime doesn’t need to be the first time you approach someone. If there is someone who does something you’re interested in in the office or someone who you aren’t quite sure what they do, approach them during the workday and introduce yourself! If knocking on their cubicle wall isn’t really your style, shoot them an email asking if you can sit down for a short meeting to find out more about what they do. I guarantee almost everyone will say yes, and just like that, now you know someone else in the office!

I want to join the Foreign Service when I graduate from Northeastern and am seizing the opportunity while here to sit down with every Foreign Service Officer and ask them about their job and their career path. Since I am the intern, no one has said no yet and it has opened my eyes up to all the different tracks I could pursue at the State Department as well as providing me with personal networking connections.

2. Form personal connections with your colleagues.

This means extending beyond small talk about the weather outside or if it is going to rain later. Ask your coworkers about their weekend when you come in on Monday. Find out what sort of sports your supervisor likes. It shows you are interested in who they are as people, not just someone else you email about the status of your latest project.

A word of advice however, don’t bombard people with questions and be very careful not to sound insincere. I have seen interns try too hard to become best friends with their supervisors and it can hurt you professionally and personally. Make sure you share a bit about yourself too, so your coworkers can get to know who you are as well.

I’ve found this is be very helpful in making my overall time in Ecuador as enjoyable as possible. One of my coworkers invited me to a friendly soccer game of Foreign Service Officers and Marines against the local Ecuadorian staff a few weeks ago. Even though I hadn’t played soccer since I was 8 years old, I went and had a great time even if I was awful at the actual game! As we approach the next match, colleagues have been approaching me all week asking if I am coming again – we were able to form an outside of work connection over this game and it can serve as the base for other conversations and stronger connections as the months progress.

3. Take initiative.

If there is an event or meeting that you see on the calendar, ask if you can attend too! Unless it is inappropriate for you to be there, most supervisors or coworkers will be impressive at the initiative you took to ask about the meeting and let you tag along. Use these opportunities to meet colleagues in different departments or from other offices. You’ll learn a lot from the experience and it will give you a more broad understanding of the organization you work for and the people you work with.

Recently, I was asked to do outreach to local Ecuadorian high school students about the United States and Presidents’ Day. Even though this was not my department, I thought it would be a cool experience and agreed to present. Working with my colleagues in Public Diplomacy opened my eyes to the events and programs they sponsor and gave me a strong base connection that I plan to build off of in my last two months in Ecuador. And as an added bonus, I even made it into the Ecuadorian newspaper as a promotion for the Public Diplomacy programs the Embassy has!

In conclusion, ask questions, put yourself out there and take the initiative to learn more about your surroundings! You’ll be happy you did!

Rose Leopold is a third-year political science major currently on international co-op with the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador. Prior to this experience, Rose spent her first co-op in the office of Senator Elizabeth Warren in Washington, D.C. Follow Rose’s adventures through her blog justsittingontopoftheworld.wordpress.com and on Instagram @roselandis.

Image source: LinkedIn, How NOT to Introduce Yourself by Bernard Marr

How To Prepare For A Vacation From Work

ski

Obviously, vacation is a delight. Sometimes, though, you forget it’s happening amidst everything happening at the office. Take steps before you leave to make sure your vacation is stress-free for you and your co-workers:

Tell people. First, make sure everyone who needs to know knows. Make sure your boss knows far enough in advance to be able to plan. Make sure your co-workers know so you can help split up project work.

Keep people informed. Make a list of all the upcoming projects you are working on and their status. What tasks are up next? Who is doing what? If there are specific situations you anticipate in your absence, write them down with detailed instructions on who should handle them and how.

Don’t let yourself be the bottleneck. If there are too many tasks to get completely finished before you leave, focus on the ones that require your work specifically to progress. Don’t let yourself be the person who prevents a project from moving forward.

Empower others. If you aren’t around to make decisions, empower others to make them on your behalf. Especially for smaller tasks, let people know they make decisions without feeling the need to hear back from you.

Make a to-do list. After a week of perfect disconnection has set in, it’s hard to remember what priority tasks have to be handled right when you get back. Make a to-do list right before you leave for vacation, and then be done. Don’t think about work until you come back and tackle that to-do list.

Don’t forget your out-of-office! Keep it simple: “Thank you for your message. I will be out of the office (out of the country if you will have limited access to Internet) until Monday, March 16th. I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.”

And then, once everything is set, be done. Leave. Have fun and don’t think about work. Enjoy your time out of the office so you can enjoy your time in the office. Have fun on vacation!

Lindsey Sampson is a junior International Affairs major with minors in Social Entrepreneurship and Writing. She enjoys writing about Millennials in the workplace and social media as a marketing tool. Follow her blog here and tweet her @lindseygsampson

How to Excel in Your Co-Op

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As most people jet off for spring break or head home, co-op students remain at their jobs. Whether or not you are enjoying your work, it’s a reality check that half of 6 months is gone- time really flies! So how can you make good use of the remaining time to excel and succeed at your co-op? Seize the opportunity to push yourself and make a lasting impression, from getting a callback to using this experience as a leg up, you will never know how this job will evolve in the future. Here a few tips based on my personal observation on how to do well:

1. Ask Questions

There are no stupid questions, so ask away if you need clarification on your assignments. Employers actually appreciate it, because first, it means you are thinking and proactive, as opposed to just performing the task passively. Second, it leads to fewer mistakes and unnecessary confusion that eventually lead to greater efficiency and productivity. Moreover, questions don’t have to be related to the tasks in hand. After assignments are completed, you can also ask how the project you were working on is being utilized in the company. What is good about asking these types of questions is that it allows you to understand more clearly your role and the impact you are making in the overall functioning of the company. Plus, this knowledge can also enhance the bullet points on your resume!

2. Make Friends with Co-workers

Do not underestimate the power of allies and friends in your office. This is very important, because having a good relationship with them will help you down the line, be it learning their ways of succeeding or observing office etiquette, culture, etc. Moreover, who knows, one day if you were sick, they will be the one feeling you on the details of a meeting or helping you out in something. It’s all about connections and networking after all. Even after you leave your job, they might be able to recommend you or say a few good words to enhance your career.

3. Dress the Part

Just as Oscar Wilde has once said, you can never be overdressed or over-educated. While there is some truth in this, my advice will be to dress the part, and to dress smart. Observe how your boss/supervisor dresses and follow suit. Each office is different, and the dress code differs by industry, so be sure you don’t stand out in a bad way. If you are not a morning person (like me), consider preparing the clothes you want to wear the night before, so you don’t have to spend time ironing it or deciding in the morning- when you are not fully awake, and it also saves time too.

 4. Ask for Feedback/ Evaluation

This is related to asking questions. Be sure to ask for feedback from time to time, and after an assignment is completed to reflect on your performance. Since it is mid co-op season, now is a good time to do that. Not only will it be useful for you to gauge yourself, but knowing how you do will also help you improve and add value to the remainder of your co-op.

5. Make a List of your Tasks

It is always wise to keep track of your tasks and assignments. When your co-op is completed and you are looking for a recommendation letter from your supervisor, this will be helpful in aiding them write it. Moreover, as you are compiling the list of things you have done during your co-op, you may find some areas, say social media, that you have not fulfilled according to your learning objectives. With the remaining time, if possible, you can ask for new ways to get involved.

Good luck everyone!

Scarlett Ho is a third year International Affairs and Political Science major with a minor in Law and Public Policy. During fall 2014, she studied abroad in Belgium where she interned at the European Parliament. The summer prior to that, she interned for Senator Warren on Capitol Hill, and previously Congressman Lynch in Massachusetts. She can be reached at ho.sc@husky.neu.edu for any questions ranging from resume writing, job searching to her experiences. You can also email her for article ideas, suggestions, and comments. 

Photo source: Young Upstarts

 

First Impressions, Or How Job Interviews Are Like Tinder

tinder gifSwipe right or swipe left? Most users of the dating site Tinder take mere seconds to decide whether to connect with a potential partner or to banish that person to the reject pile.  Would you be surprised to learn that it doesn’t take a potential employer much longer than that to form a strong impression of a job candidate? Being invited to interview for a job means that you and just a few other candidates were chosen, possibly out of hundreds of other applicants, to make your case in person.  Given this chance, it’s important for your in-person performance to be as flawless as you can make it. And that begins, and unfortunately sometimes ends, with your first impression.

gross cher reactionIn one study, 33% of hiring managers surveyed said that they knew within the first 90 seconds of an interview whether or not they would hire a candidate. In the same study, conducted by Monster.com, 65% of bosses said that appearance could be a deciding factor when two of the candidates being interviewed are otherwise very similar.  Appearance includes not only clothing but hairstyle, hygiene, makeup and jewelry.

What you wear must fit well and be clean and in good repair, including your shoes. Select and examine your outfit before the interview so if cleaning or mending are in order, you will have time to do it.  If you’re planning to wear something new, make sure you remove the tags and stitching in the pockets or pleats. Be conservative with makeup unless the job you’re after requires big floppy shoes and a fake red nose.  Likewise, jewelry should be unobtrusive except if the norm for your industry says otherwise. Regardless of industry, skip the cologne or aftershave; you have no way of knowing whether any of your interviewers have allergies or sensitivities. If you smoke, you may not be aware of the tobacco smell clinging to your coat, clothing or hair, but your interviewer will be, and most likely will not be impressed.

Knowing what to wear can be tricky. Your goal is to dress like you belong in the organization where you’re interviewing, preferably on the more formal side. For consulting, financial services and legal positions, that means wearing a suit for both women and men.  In other fields, it is up to you to do a little sleuthing to find out what is the norm. You may look crisp and professional wearing your suit, but if you’re meeting with people in a much more casual environment, they could take one look at you and decide that you don’t understand their culture. Dressing up may not score in your favor if it isn’t what other employees do, since an interview is largely about determining fit.

When you walk into the interviewer’s office, be aware of your posture. Convey a confident attitude by standing up straight and walking purposefully. A natural-looking smile is also important, as are a firm handshake, a heartfelt “Pleased to meet you” and good eye contact.  Practice these things with a friend until they are second nature.

If this seems like a lot of work for the first 90 seconds of your interview, don’t forget that without that great first impression – swipe left! – your well-prepared interview talking points may fall on deaf ears.

Author Susan Loffredo began counseling NU students well before the iPhone was invented and owns socks that are older than the class of 2015. Email her at s.loffredo@neu.edu.

Image Source: Tinder Gif; Cher Gif

Keeping a Mentor, and Being a Great Mentee

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The biggest piece of advice I received when arriving at Northeastern my freshman year was, “find a mentor.” And this advice seemed to come from everyone- whether they be professors, advisors, friends, or sorority sisters. Finding a mentor is a process on its own, however, once you have found one it is just as important to maintain your mentor-mentee relationship. Here are some tips for sustaining a meaningful relationship with your mentor, and being a phenomenal, unforgettable mentee.

1. Be open.

This is not to say that a mentor should know every detail about you or your personal life. However, a mentor cannot guide you unless they know where you want to go. Be open about your goals, aspirations and dreams, and just be yourself. Remember that this goes both ways- so listen to what your mentor says about themselves. The more you both understand about each other, the more successful and purposeful your relationship will be.

2. Questions, questions, questions.

Many mentees feel as though it is impressive to constantly keep up with their mentor. However, this “fake it until you make it” attitude actually benefits you the least. Don’t forget why you sought out your mentor in the first place- to learn, grow and move forward in your field or in your studies. Embrace curiosity, and take advantage of your mentor’s knowledge and experience.

3. Be prepared.

Before any meeting with your mentor, keep these things in mind: What are your goals for this meeting? What questions do you have for your mentor? What needs to be done on your end, and what needs to be done on their end? Having a list of concrete objectives and actions when meeting with your mentor can go miles- it shows that you find your mentor important, and find their time and energy important as well.

4. Reciprocate.

Reciprocation is absolutely key to any relationship, and especially important in a mentor-mentee relationship. No mentor wants to feel taken advantage of or taken for granted. Watch the amount of time and effort your mentor puts into helping you, and give them that same time and effort back- and then some. Being a great mentee means valuing and respecting your mentor, and all that they do for you.

How To Avoid Co-Op Autopilot

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The first month of co-op is always jarring, to say the least.

You get up early, force-feed yourself breakfast, work for eight (or more) hours straight, then ride the T (which is most likely disabled or running late or not running at all) home. Then, you have to do that four more times before you get your first weekend.

A full-time work schedule means sometimes our favorite habits get pushed off or fall off of our calendar altogether and we find ourselves on autopilot. But it doesn’t have to be that way – it’s possible to balance working and staying involved in the things you love.

Find something to pump you up in the morning. Working full-time means waking up is even more difficult than normal. Do something you’re excited about in the morning to wake yourself up and start your day. Most major cities have a November Project tribe – this is a free morning workout tribe that meets at 6:30am with hugs and positivity and a seriously killer workout. In the morning, I like to go outside and run or workout somewhere, but maybe you prefer a leisurely breakfast or the morning news cycle. Whatever you do, wake up a little earlier to do something that makes you feel good.

Get involved in a group. Whether it’s a book club or a group on campus or a community theater troupe, do something. Having an anchor or two in your week will prevent you from coming home every night, ordering pad thai, and watching reruns of Cops until midnight. Don’t overload yourself with responsibilities, but try to keep yourself somewhat engaged and entertained throughout the week.

Plan weekend adventures. Co-op provides a unique opportunity to do things with your weekends other than homework. You have very few responsibilities and for two days out of seven, the world is completely open to you. Go on a weekend trip to New York City to see your friend on co-op outside of Boston. Plan that all-day hiking trip you’ve been dreaming about. Spend an entire day reading and picnicking in Boston Common. Do things that homework and studying prevented you from doing before. It will make the weekends more fun and exciting and, most of all, intentional.

Start a project. Co-op is the perfect time for a passion project. Have you always wanted to write a cookbook? Start a blog? Finish a Tough Mudder? Paint your apartment? Plan a summer backpacking trip in South America? Being on co-op means you have from 5pm until you fall asleep every day to do as you wish. Starting a project keeps you engaged and ready to take on the world, and could even open exciting doors for your future.

The important part of being on co-op is to be aware of the time that is available to you. You don’t have to fill every weeknight with activities, but don’t let six whole months pass by in a blur of time sheets and department lunches and evenings binge-watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Lindsey Sampson is a junior International Affairs major with a minor in Social Entrepreneurship. She enjoys writing about Millennials in the workplace and social media as a marketing tool. Follow her blog here and tweet her @lindseygsampson.

 

How Can I Really Improve My English Skills During College?

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This guest post was written by Maria Martin, an international graduate student currently on co-op.

When I fist came to Boston, about three years ago, I started to study English and I spent a considerably part of my time and money in writing, listening, speaking and grammar classes. I don’t regret what I did. But after being here for a while, I realized that the best way to learn English is through real experience with Americans. Here are a few tips that will help you to improve your overall English skills without spending tons of extra money and time.

1. Talk to your professors.

Do not be afraid to ask as many questions as you can during classes (what’s the worst thing that can happen? Nothing!). Many international students do not raise their hands because they do not have the words to say what they are thinking. Don’t be afraid. If you already got into college, then you are capable to find the words even if you make mistakes.

2. Volunteer.

I love to volunteer. There is nothing as gratifying as helping others. There are a lot of positive aspects of volunteering; first: you are helping someone, second: you can use it in your resume (for those who have no experience at all), third: it helps to improve your English skills. Boston has plenty of organizations you can work with. Google them, ask your advisor for help or connect with the Center for Community Service on campus. For example: I am volunteering as a Mentor in the Big Sister Association of Boston.

3. Mentors.

In my first year in Boston I found a really good person who mentored me for a few months while transitioning from my English course into my Master’s program. We spent hours and hours talking about a variety of subjects, and even thought it was difficult for me to understand, I tried my best to keep track of our conversations. Now, I can understand my friend perfectly and I can talk as if it were my own language. I encourage you to find a mentor in your area of study. There are a lot of professional organizations that offer mentorship programs, one being the Boston Product Management Association. Speaking with your mentor not only will help you to improve your English skills but also your career and networking.

4. Wise commuting.

Most of our commuting time is spent on our phone texting, listening music, etc. but do you think that this is worth your time? Why don’t we listen to NPR (National Public Radio) or read one of your favorite books in English? We need to realize that we have a barrier: language. So we should do everything we can to reach our goal. And if your goal is just going back to your home country as soon as you graduate, it will be pretty good to have a resume with a working professional proficiency level of English. On the other hand, if you are planning to get a job, well spoken English is a must.

5. Follow your instincts.

Most professionals recommend avoiding talking in your native language in order to perfect your English, but I believe that is a not realistic advice and honestly just 0.0001% of students apply it. It’s important to talk to friends and family back home and when living abroad, its comforting if not necessary to hang out with friends who share the same language and cultures as yourself. The key is to have balance. Make practicing and improving English a priority, but also make time to speak in your native tongue.

6. Small talk.

Every culture has its own small talk topics when networking. In my country, talking politics is common- that’s not the case in the US. There are plenty of topics you can talk about in American culture.

One of the most important: weather. It might not seem too interesting and very broad but Americans love talking about the weather- how can you not bring up the blizzard we just had?! Another topic: sports. Personally, I think talking about sports is boring. I know all of the major American teams and I can muster basic small talk around sports, but nothing too deep. If you don’t feel attracted to those topics you might want to get the Metro Boston Newspaper (Free in most MBTA stations) or just go to CNN.com. Small talk will help you make new friends and learn more about American culture- while simultaneously practicing your English!

7. Change your devices. 

Finally, change all your devices to English. Your phone, ipad, computer, etc. Everything should be in English. And be careful: Do not get use to just one American friend; there are a lot of accents (even inside Massachusetts).

Implement all of my tips, or start with just one that works for you. In a few months you will be able to understand and speak better. There are things that can’t be taught; practice is the only way to achieve what we really want.

Maria Martin is pursuing a Master in Project Management at Northeastern University. She is currently doing a full time paid co-op at NSTAR in the Marketing and Sales Department. You can contact her at mariajesusmartin13@gmail.com