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Back to School: The College Survival Guide for Lao Students

Back to college time for Lao students everywhere! By now you’re seeing guides left and right about what to bring, what you probably forgot, and tips on how to make the most of your college years without going broke. (Or super-broke, at least. Everyone goes broke. The secret is not staying that way.)

This week, our Little Laos on the Prairie correspondents and editors share with you the first installment of our irreverent 2017 LLOTP College Survival Guide, good for wherever you go. Except that one whack school (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE):

Don’t be THAT roommate.

If your parents trust you enough for you to live in a dorm, GREAT! But the same Lao house etiquette rules apply. Don’t be that roommate who never washes their dishes, clothes, or themselves except when it rains, who always eats other people’s stuff without asking and borrows money without repaying it. The one who constantly leaves the door unlocked and turns the room into Party Central ‘til 5am or having sex while you’re still in the room. You probably shouldn’t hold the Padaek Festival on your floor without asking, too.

Get those A’s AKA good enough grades for a good enough job.

True Facts: You’re not going to get the good jobs out of college if you’re constantly skipping classes and blowing off the reading. Laocrastrinating until the very last minute rarely gets good results. Don’t learn that the hard way. Professors have office hours for a reason, but no one owes you a good grade. You’re going to have to be an active part of class, ask questions and don’t assume you can get everything just by being in the room tweeting at Waka Flocka.  Don’t confuse getting a good score with really learning the material. You need to pace your learning process and see the questions from multiple angles. Study groups are great but you have to actually study in them.

Get involved and expand your horizons, but don’t forget where you came from.

You’ll be constantly encouraged to get involved, and it’s good advice. Take the time to get involved with your Lao Student Association (if you don’t have one– start one) and organizations connected to your major or a hobby you always wanted to try out. Get yourself some new skills and surprise yourself by finding out what you do or don’t do well. This is the time to explore, especially since mom and dad were too strict to let you do that. Don’t be afraid to step up and take responsibility and learn how to work well with others. Remember, colleges are filled with diverse opportunities, but they will never come looking for you. Want to get to know your professors? Go to office hours (this is crucial). Want to learn about another culture or connect with other underserved communities? You’ll have to actively search for them. You’d be surprised at how much those skills come in demand once you’re outside of college, and you’ll stand apart from the crowd in a good way for it. Just don’t burn yourself out and remember to take time out for yourself, too. And most importantly, as you grow into the adult the world hopes and deserves; remember your roots. Where you came from, how you got here.

Be street smart and don’t fall into debt prison.

The average college student is walking out with almost $30,000 in debt which really throws off your ability to start your first small business or travel the world to make the initial connections you need later in life in your profession. Making life even harder is that there are many scams and hustles that target gullible college students with promises of making a quick buck. So, besides the obvious advice of not getting into recreational pharmaceuticals distribution, watch out for multilevel marketing, excessive credit borrowing and other not so obvious rip-offs.

It’s great to find a good bargain on craigslist but if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Never pay to apply for scholarships, for example. Legitimate scholarships are free to apply to, especially the FAFSA. Don’t pay deposits on apartments you haven’t seen in person, which sounds obvious, but it happens more than you think. Watch out for jobs where ‘no experience is necessary’ where you have to pay for your own training and supplies. Don’t “save money” with illegal downloads or paying a website to help you cheat academically. If you get caught, it’s going to get much more expensive than it’s worth. Never give anyone your bank account, passport, or social security numbers, not even for a free vacation. Also, never get into that white panel van offering free candy or hugs (because what movie hasn’t warned you yet?!).

Internships and that barista job matter for the same reasons.

The original myth was that a college education equates to a job. Nothing could be more wrong. It’s the experiences, leadership and community involvement that makes your resume more competitive. You may feel like waiting for the ‘right job’ but sometimes the right job requires the right experience and the right relationships to build and network from. That barista job may one day turn you into a manager that’s necessary for skills in another place. Or volunteer your creative skills for good causes to build your portfolio. Find the people with backgrounds you want to take a similar career path on. Meet them for a cup of coffee. Mentors who are ready and able weren’t always around. Understand that even a little bit of volunteerism matters in the long game of you actually landing your dream job.

Have fun, study hard, and remember that it’ll be OK because as descendants of refugee immigrants, we know a thing or two about survival!

-Bryan Thao Worra, editor@littlelaos.org

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