My RD2Be Journey as an International Student

My RD2Be Journey as an International Student - Food & Nutrition Magazine - Stone Soup
Photo courtesy of Joo Shan Ooi

My name is Joo Shan Ooi and I am an international dietetics student at Rutgers University. I was born and raised in Malaysia, across the globe from where I live now. My RD2Be Journey as an International Student - I had the pleasure of being raised in a country abundant with traditional herbs and spices, which make our cuisine so unique and delicious.

Since I was young, I’ve dreamt big. I wanted to find a new experience in a new world, so I flew abroad to America to pursue my bachelor’s degree in dietetics and to embark on my journey toward becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist. My whole life has revolved around nutrition and I believe the food we eat impacts our quality of life. Healthy eating is a big part of my life.

I moved away from Malaysia to New Jersey, to take my didactic programs in dietetics courses at Rutgers University. When I left my home country, I was only 19 years old.  You could say I was a greenhorn to everything! Where do I even begin? The weather? The people? The school? The difference in cultures? The food? Coming from a humid and tropical country, you can imagine how drastic the weather change was for me. In 2017, I experienced snow for the first time ever and I’ll never forget the snowstorms.

The exposure to various cultures in New Jersey was quite an overwhelming experience at first, especially because I was not accustomed to the casual way people spoke. It was one challenge I did not know I would have to overcome.

I travelled to California and a few other states during my summer and winter breaks and realized every state has a vibe of its own. I developed a sense that people on the West Coast are much more approachable than those on the East Coast — maybe it has something to do with the brisk weather. East Coast people are not afraid to speak what they think, and it took me some time to get used to this. Now I’m comfortable with the hustle way of life and the sense of urgency that comes with living here. It is bizarre how much I have adapted coming from a much smaller city, Kuala Lumpur.

My biggest personal challenge was moving here without much support. Embarking on this journey alone and having to depend solely on myself taught me greater independence and how to be resilient. Making friends is not the difficult part, as I think I am pretty easy going, but maintaining friendships is another story. I am sure part of this is due to the “temporary” status of an international student, but it is also a challenge to develop a relationship with people you didn’t grow up with. Unfortunately, I do not have the opportunity to spend time with family and childhood friends here. Therefore, it was an isolating experience at the beginning, though I do not regret it because I learned so much about myself. This time led me to question myself, my aspirations and future career goals.

I came here mostly to further my education, but I will always be a student of life. There is so much I have learned the last four years outside of academia and I am constantly challenging my perspectives and evolving.

All that said, being an international student is not an easy path. My overall college experience has been positive, and I enjoy being a student at Rutgers. The American education system is much different from the Cambridge education system, which I am more accustomed to. I find the American education system’s multidisciplinary approach to be more holistic. As I progressed into my senior year, I really appreciated that the education system and courses value overall balance and not just theoretical work. It pushed me to challenge my limitations and dive deep in my pursuit of becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist.

I do not plan on returning to Malaysia after graduation because I will be applying for dietetic internships in the United States. I am hoping that I will land an internship program of my choice with an emphasis on clinical nutrition, as this is the field I am most interested in.

Throughout my childhood, my mother taught me to always give back to others and this had shaped me into the person I am today. It is why I am pursuing a career in the medical field. I aspire to become an RDN because I want to inspire others to obtain good nutrition within their means. I believe everyone has the right to good health. However, I realize it may not be accessible to everyone and this motivates me to help alleviate health disparities that exist.

The team behind Food & Nutrition Magazine® aims to amplify the voices of people of color and other underrepresented individuals in nutrition and dietetics and highlight the experiences of RDNs, NDTRs, dietetic interns and nutrition and dietetics students. Our goal is not only to stand in solidarity, but also help inform our readers and increase awareness about the importance of diversity in the field of nutrition and dietetics. We know it’s not enough, but we hope it’s a step in the right direction that will support meaningful conversations and a positive change in the profession.

Joo Shan Ooi
Joo Shan Ooi is a senior dietetics student at Rutgers University. She was born and raised in Malaysia and is proud to be Malaysian. Joo Shan is an aspiring registered dietitian who is devoted to helping others achieve a healthful lifestyle within their means. After graduating in May 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics, she hopes to pursue a dietetic internship with a clinical emphasis, as she wants to become a clinical dietitian who practices evidence-based nutrition.