Dear Student Union community,

When we launched the Student Union almost exactly three years ago, we didn't really know what we were doing. Or, more accurately, I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that it should be a place for international students to share their stories - stories to help other students who were going through the same things and to inform prospective students who were just starting to pursue their dreams.

Some of our very first bloggers visiting VOA

I think the only guidance I gave writers at the beginning was: "Make it more profound than your diary and more personal than an advising service."

Not exactly the most refined concept. But boy, have you guys run with it.

You've shared stories about unexpected and fascinating cultural differences - like seeing a left-handed professor for the first time, or the way Americans complain about every perceived inequality - and the tension between embracing these differences and retaining your own identity.

Hamburgers v. Vietnamese food, by Nick
Nick's brilliant illustration of his struggle with Americanization

You've given firsthand perspectives on some very real concerns - like whether Muslims are discriminated against, whether Americans actually like international students, or how high the extra costs of studying in the U.S. can actually get - and told inspiring stories of persevering through adversity.

You've shown how you've succeeded and how you've failed - both in and out of the classroom - so others can learn from your efforts.

Joy with friends at Clown Town
Joy and her international friends at Phillips Academy. Just one of the many amazing people who've been part of the Student Union.

I hope that in return we've been able to give you an honest account of the positives and negatives of studying in the U.S., to help you formulate advice that's right for you and your unique path, and to impart to you that success in life is about your own drive and resilience and not about achieving any specific goal (not even if that goal is studying at a U.S. university).

And I hope we've been able to have some fun together. I'm pretty sure we've at least succeeded at that one.

Chaotic Fun - abhushan
e Abhushan certainly had fun. This is him after Dashain celebrations at his school.

I feel profoundly lucky to have met so many amazing students from all over the world through my role as editor of this site. You have all inspired me and taught me and pushed me to do better, and I cannot thank you enough for that.

So it is with some separation anxiety, but also a lot of excitement about the future (both for myself and for the site), that I am turning the Student Union over to a new editor, Doug Bernard.

Doug is a talented journalist and a great guy, and I can't think of better hands to put the Student Union into. I can't wait to see where he - together with you - takes the site in the future. (Seriously, check out how cool he is!)

Anyone who's written for me over the past three years knows, and has probably come to dread, my rules for giving advice. "Don't write 'you should' and tell people what to do," I remind writers all the time. "Write 'I did' and let your readers learn from your experience." So I'm not going to leave you with any profound advice, but just share one last thing that I've learned from this experience.

It is this: People want to help you. Every EducationUSA adviser, every professor, every university official, every student, every alumnus I've met has been genuine in their eagerness to guide others. Most people are. Don't be afraid to reach out to those in a position to advise you, direct you, and help you when you need it.

But remember, when you do ask for someone's time or assistance, it's your responsibility to show that you're deserving of it - that you're making an effort to help yourself. Do your own research first using all the resources available (and there are many - our weekly events list and resources page can direct you to some of them) so you come in armed with knowledge and ready to ask the important questions.

Few people are braver and more tenacious than an international student. You kind of have to be to decide you want to move to a new country with a new culture and language, no less to actually do it and thrive there. So be brave in reaching out to those who can help you, and be tenacious in taking advantage of everything that's already out there to help you help yourself.

... Okay, maybe I lied. That edged into "you should" territory, didn't it? Oh well. In that case, I'll break my own rules completely and end with one final "you should."

You should: Apply to write for the Student Union during the 2013-2014 school year! Send resumes and writing samples to Doug if you're studying in the States and interested in being a regular contributor. (Of course, you're always welcome to share your stories, even if you're not on our staff.)

Getting to meet Tom and Annisa, two of the 2012-2013 writes (who, incidentally, bravely suffered many "you should" corrections ... and many other of my pet peeves)

Thanks again for an amazing three years, and I can't wait to see this community grow and flourish with more stories, more experiences and more advice ("I did" advice, of course) in the years to come.

Your grateful and humbled former editor,