Student Corner: An international student experience

From London to London: My experience as an international student in Canada

Written by: Swarali Patil, MA Candidate, Western University

My journey as a graduate student is unlike my peers. I was born in India. I grew up near Mumbai (Bombay) before moving to New York. This was followed by a move to the United Kingdom for my undergraduate degree, and a year each in Malaysia and the Philippines. Presently I’m a second-year master’s student in Canada. Here are some of my tidbits as I navigate my journey in graduate school as an international student.

Choosing a School – Graduate school can be daunting, and with the incredible choices available, how can you choose the school that’s right for you? Research! I spent almost a year researching schools online, spoke to my lecturers at Coventry University, and contacted various schools before making my choice. It is a time consuming task but if you plan to spend two or more years taking on rigorous academic work, you should be well prepared to do it. The NASSM website is a great source of sport management programs available in North America. Identify the schools and programs that appeal to you, make a list of potential supervisors and read some of their work, contact the department for additional information about funding and other pertinent details before making your choice.

Choosing Classes – Your classes are meant to help you gain a deeper understanding of concepts you’ve previously learned, and introduce you to some new ones. Your classes can be a fantastic means to meet your fellow graduates, learn about interesting research happening in your department or faculty, participate in an exchange of ideas with your peers, and work on projects that can help you hone your presentation and writing skills. Classes are also a great medium to explore your interests that may lead to a potential thesis topic. Choose wisely but don’t overburden yourself.

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Professional Development – Take advantage of every opportunity presented to you, whether it is volunteering, attending conferences, presenting at symposiums, or being a teaching or research assistant. I have volunteered at conferences on campus, presented at symposiums run by different faculties, participated in 2-minute and 5-minute presentation contests, and more. I have also been a teaching and research assistant, which has helped me add to my repertoire of skills and experiences for my CV.

Teaching and Learning – If your school has a Teaching and Learning Resource Centre, utilize their workshops to add to your knowledge base. Most programs will also provide a certificate of completion. Grab every opportunity you can to augment your CV. I’ve found several workshops to be incredibly helpful, particularly when I was a first-time TA. Several workshops provide video recordings of your presentations, which can be a great tool to showcase yourself to a potential employer.

Swarali at SCRINetwork – If you attend conferences or volunteer at social events on campus, take the time to meet faculty and students from different universities. This can lead to interesting contacts, friends in new cities, collaborations and other opportunities. Conferences are also a great way to discuss your research interests with experts in the field. Register early, utilize the student rate, and plan your schedule with ample time to socialize.

Appreciate and Have Fun – Take the time to appreciate where you are. Appreciate different perspectives, new experiences, new friends, new food, and new places. Graduate school provides unique opportunities, which can not only help you identify your future avenues but also provide a sense of accomplishment. Yes, time management is key, and work-life balance needs to be achieved but there is a feel-good factor in accomplishing what you have set out to do.

Graduate school is incredibly daunting and time consuming but it can also be very satisfying. As an international student, whether you plan to stay in your new city for a long while or move back home, you can enjoy the journey and the discovery. I have found my first year to be quite different from my expectations but I’m happier for it. I’m moving full steam ahead in year 2 but deciding if I want to sign up for 4 more!

Paying it Back: The McCormack Octagon Bowl

By Elizabeth Delia, Ph.D.

As current or former students, we all have classes we look back on with fond memories: the class that eloquently combined classroom and experiential learning; the class that challenged us to think outside the box; the class that ignited our competitive spirit; the class that makes us proud to call ourselves alums. For graduate students enrolled in the Masters program in the McCormack Department of Sport Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass), one such class is Sport Marketing and the Octagon Bowl.

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Each fall semester for the past decade, the graduate Sport Marketing class at UMass has partnered with the global sports and entertainment agency Octagon for what has been termed the Octagon Bowl. Students in the class work in groups on a semester long project with Octagon to create an integrated marketing campaign for a real-world Octagon client. Following the Octagon Bowl, Octagon incorporates ideas from the student groups into the actual campaign, illustrating the value Octagon places on the work of the students.

This year’s project is with Mastercard, in conjunction with the company’s sponsorship of the British Open, and will conclude with the 2016 Octagon Bowl on December 16. During the Octagon Bowl, students present their proposed campaigns to a panel of judges comprised of representatives from Octagon and Mastercard, who question each group of presenters and then vote on a winner. The presentations test the knowledge, preparedness, and professionalism of the students. As Dr. Matt Katz, the instructor of the course, commented, “The judges are tough. They come to campus and expect professional presentations with professional insight. Their questions are challenging, and their expectations are high. We have mock presentations, ‘dress rehearsals’ of sorts where we record a practice presentation and force the students to evaluate themselves, and we try and simulate the types of questions the judges will ask. It makes for a great learning experience because our students know the level of excellence expected from them – and they prepare accordingly.”

This year’s panel of judges is relatively unique, as it includes Michael Goldstein and Noah Kolodny, both graduates of the UMass MBA/MS Sport Management program. Goldstein graduated from the program in 2007 and is now Vice President of Global Sponsorships at Mastercard. Kolodny graduated from the program in 2006 and is now Vice President at Octagon Marketing. In addition to their participation in the Octagon Bowl as professionals, both Goldstein and Kolodny participated in the Octagon Bowl as UMass graduate students.

“The Octagon-UMass relationship has been a win-win partnership,” Kolodny commented in reflecting on the Octagon Bowl. “Octagon has provided the UMass students an opportunity to gain real world experience in developing 360-degree marketing programs for leading corporate sponsors including Mastercard. Throughout our decade-long partnership, students have been given the opportunity to demonstrate research abilities, creative thinking, and written communication and presentation skills. Our agency has been able to leverage the students’ strategic thinking to enhance our clients’ initiatives and generate innovative solutions.”

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2015 Octagon Bowl winners with representatives from Octagon and UMass

Providing students with experiential learning opportunities prepares them to enter into the sport industry as professionals, but the case of the McCormack Octagon Bowl shows us how such learning opportunities do more than just that. As Kolodny noted, “The benefits [of the partnership] are not limited to specific projects. The partnership has helped Octagon and our clients to identify and foster the next generation of marketers and strategists.”

The Octagon Bowl illustrates how experiential learning can allow students to realize the value of their educational experiences, such that as they progress upward in their professional careers, they remain connected to their alma mater, allowing alumni networks to thrive. These networks are not only advantageous in the industry, but also back “home” at the university as well. These networks motivate our former students to periodically turn to their alma mater and pay it back.