Tips from Successful Students!


If you're new to UH-Manoa (and particularly, if you're new to studying in a different culture), you may find it helpful to see tips and strategies that others have found especially effective. The following people are students who have been highly succesful in their studies at the university, and have also been able to balance being a student and other aspects of their lives (check their photos -- they're all smiling!)

Mizuho Suzuki (Mizu)
Undergraduate, Second Language Studies


Sirichoke Namsong (Sam)
Graduate, Educational Technology


Yukiko Watanabe (Yuki)
PhD, Second Language Studies

Thanh Vu (Thanh)
Undergraduate, Electrical Engineering

Thuy Nguyen (Thuy)
Graduate, Public Administration


Munehiko Miyata (Mune)
PhD, Second Language Studies

No picture available

Mun Hee Song (Munhee)
Graduate, Travel Industry Management


No picture available

Yukari  Akatsuka (Yukari)
Undergraduate, Peace and Conflict Education




Yoko Kusumoto (Yoko)
Graduate, Second Language Studies


Read about these successful students’ strategies in dealing with obstacles, stress, and time management in their school life. It will help you to maximize your academic experience at UH.

Click on a question to see their answers (or browse the entire page, to get lots of tips).

1. What obstacles did you encounter while studying here at UH? How did you overcome them?

2. What are your favorite learning strategies?

3. How do you deal with stress?

4. In face of coursework, research, and a life, how do you manage your time to increase efficiency?

5. What is your tip in maintaining a balance between your social and academic life?





1. What obstacles did you encounter while studying here at UH? How did you overcome them?

: “If you are a piano player, for example, you need to move your fingers to produce music and also pay attention to what other people are playing. It’s about comprehension and production at the same time. Or you can learn to read music. But if you never play music, you don’t really know what it is as if you’d never joined the conversation.” When he first came to UH, Mune found vocabulary to be his one of the obstacles in his study. He then applied the concept of his early training in music to deal with his struggle in language learning. This helps him to realize that you can never build vocabulary if you don’t know how to use it and make meaning out of it.

Yuki: “Writing, conference presenting, and conducting research were the main issues I had to deal with in my first semester at UH.” For academic writing, she figured out that the best way is to find articles related to her research work and compare across multiple papers. She then found out how people express things through extensive reading. Yuki also uses a tool called “wordsmith” ( to build her own corpus of research papers, which allows her to quickly search for expressions, ideas, and words people use. Also, talking about her writing with friends assists her in clarifying ideas and refining her writing as a result.
As for conference presenting, she improves her presenting skills by going to conferences. By paying attention to how people set up visual aids, introduce topics, and deal with question and answer session, Yuki takes mental notes of mistakes she needs to avoid and tips she can use in her presentations. She would free write her ideas and have practice talk before presentation. And when it comes to conducting research, she believes that she learns by doing it. She takes initiative in her learning as she explains, “Unless you do it, I’ll say you don’t learn.” According to her, you learn how to do research by making mistakes, by utilizing different resources, by asking questions, by thinking aloud, by talking to other people about your research.

Thuy: “Studying in English is the most difficult part.” After she started her graduate program at UH, Thuy realized that listening and speaking were her weaknesses so she set goals for English learning during her first semester. She spends at least one hour on listening and speaking every day on two websites: Randall's ESL Cyber Listening lab ( and English Daily ( The websites allow her to choose materials appropriate for her level and monitor her progress as a result. Besides these efforts, she tries to make local friends and ask help from them whenever she has problems with her English. “Always ask!” she said. In view of her persistent learning, her friends are now proud to contribute to her progress in learning. As for public speaking, Thuy mentioned that she benefits a lot from her ELI classes in particular. The skills she learned in these classes allow her to build her confidence and overcome anxiety of speaking in public.

Yoko: “The student-led discussion was kind of difficult for me to adjust to at the beginning.” Yoko mentioned that the dominant student-centered discussion for the whole class time was new to her. Feeling frustrated with her own participation in class, Yoko decided to get together with other classmates and have discussion on readings before class. They exchange ideas on how they understand the readings. This pre-discussion gives Yoko an opportunity to develop her own interpretation of readings and, at the same time, to become an active participant in group discussions.

Sam: “If you read bananas, I read strawberries. I don’t need to read bananas because you are going to summarize that part for me.” Sam considers himself a slow reader, so reading is the most challenging part for him. In the face of the demanding reading load, Sam started a study group with people who want to work together on class readings. Group members use email, skype, and google docs to coordinate responsibilities, divide readings, and exchange ideas on what they read. Everyone is assigned a different reading. Once they are done with their readings, they contribute their understanding of it to the on-line discussion. In this way, the reading burden is greatly reduced among group members. 

Munhee: “I learned so much from ELI 82 and 83 classes. I’m still using the same strategies I learned.” Munhee considers reading and writing her major obstacles to academic success. Therefore, she is thankful that she took ELI classes a semester before enrolling in her core courses. Even now, she still uses the reading and writing strategies she learned in the ELI. For example, whenever she reads, she skims through headings of the article to get the main idea and goes back to read it in detail. At the same time, she makes notes on the margins about key points and definitions, which serve as effective reminders when reviewing the article. Because of the training from ELI 83 class, she understood clearly instructors’ requirements for term papers in terms of structure, genre, and style while other students were struggling with how to go about research papers. Munhee explained that in her 83 class, she was asked to find resources from library and analyze research papers in her field. This experience provided her with the opportunity to get familiar with the process of writing research papers and be aware of the academic conventions.

Mizu: “I couldn’t say a word in group discussion because I couldn’t catch up with native speakers’ speed.” Mizu found it difficult to understand what her classmates were talking about when she first went to Maui for college. Unable to participate in discussion, she decided to put herself out there and started to talk to people. She found a job on campus that allows her to use English for communication. In addition, she moved in with people outside of the Japanese community, which creates opportunities for her to use English on a daily basis. By finding a job and changing her housing situation, Mizu took initiative for her own learning. 

Thanh: “When I first came to UH, I didn’t feel comfortable with my language skills.” Thanh pointed out that language was the biggest problem for him during the first semester at UH. However, after taking ELI 80 and 82 classes, he was able to gain his confidence in speaking and reading and be more aware of the strategies that work best for him. For example, he uses highlighting and skimming skills to pick up his reading speed and get the main idea during the shortest amount of time. This strategy helps him read more effectively.

Yukari: “I didn’t have confidence in my language so joining group discussion was difficult.” Before transferring to UH, Yukari spent two years at a community college in Southern California. At that time, she found group discussion challenging while adjusting herself to the new learning environment at the community college. Without enough confidence in her command of English, she was intimidated to speak up in front of her native-speaker classmates. In order to participate more fully and actively, Yukari read all the required readings beforehand and took time to prepare for what she wanted to share in the discussion. This helped her organize her thoughts and thus communicate her ideas more effectively to the group. For international students, Yukari thinks that it is important to recognize that learning in a non-native language takes much more effort. Therefore, you should give yourself credit and allow the freedom of making mistakes. Bearing this in mind often boosts her confidence and reminds her to celebrate her accomplishments once in a while.

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2. What are your favorite learning strategies?

Mune: “It’s not about the strategy, but about the efforts. If I don’t understand how to do something, I do it many times until I get it.” Mune gave an example by saying that whenever he runs into a new word in English, he doesn’t rely on a dictionary only. He also googles the word and finds out examples to understand how people use it, and in what contexts. His strategy is to utilize multiple sources to make sure that he gets the word right. Not only that, he pushes himself to use the word in real life, thereby enhancing the vocabulary learning process.

Yuki: “When I read an article, I don’t just read it. I also learn to generate ideas about research.” Yuki found it helpful to generate ideas by raising questions about the article, which in turn enhances her critical thinking and deepens her understanding if it.

Thuy: “Study five to six new words per day and no more than that.” In order to build her vocabulary, Thuy sets a manageable goal for herself and tries to learn words in context, such as newspapers or her class readings. In so doing, she learns how these words are used and in what contexts. She then reviews these words while she is cooking. Gradually, it becomes a habit to her. For writing, she would find a short piece of news in her native language and translate it into English. Then, she asks a native speaker to proofread it. Thuy does this about twice a week and she believes this practice improves her writing a lot. In the end, she thinks she enjoys learning and seeing her own progress makes her even more motivated to learn. Besides, she creates an excel file of all the citations and authors based on different categories. By building her own little library, she has easy and quick access to information she needs when writing up a paper.

Yoko: “I read the on-line writing samples on the department website to figure out what academic writing style is.“ By reading other students’ sample writing, Yoko has a better sense of what professors’ requirements are and what she needs to do to meet these requirements. As for organization of writing, she often turns to the Writing Workshop in the English department for help. Tutors there are able to give her suggestions on the overall structure of her papers. Yoko also recommended the benefits of having a study group. “I think study group is quite effective.” Having her own group to do homework with, Yoko found it more effective than to work on her own. During the study group discussion, she gets to ask questions and clarify any misunderstandings she might have.

Sam: “I download podcast from ESL podcast website ( and put it on my ipod. I listen to it all the time.” The website offers a variety of topics for Sam to choose from. Being one of the only two non-native speakers in his class, Sam found listening particularly challenging in either small group or whole class discussions. By listening to the podcast on a regular basis, Sam believes that he gradually sees improvements in his listening. As for speaking, Sam’s best suggestion is not to be afraid of making mistakes. If people don’t understand you because of any mistake you make, you get to negotiate that. Besides, the more you negotiate, the more you get to think in English. Therefore, in his opinion, there is no need to feel intimidated in speaking up.

Munhee: “I’m the ‘listener’ type of learner. So if I listen, I learn better.” Through a task she did in one of the ELI courses, Munhee realized that she is a ‘listener’. For this reason, she reads out loud when she comes across text that confuses her and then the meaning becomes clear to her. Same with vocabulary building, Munhee not only writes down the new word, but also records herself pronouncing and spelling out the word with its definition. By listening to her personal recordings, she memorizes vocabulary much faster and more surely. Also, she found out that she reads better and more at quiet places. For this reason, she plans her readings accordingly and saves important readings for the times when there are no distractions around her. According to Munhee, understanding what type of learner you are is beneficial to effective learning.

Mizu: “I don’t really care about mistakes because I think mistakes would eventually become successful through learning.” Mizu thinks that being brave enough to speak up is essential to her improvement in speaking English fluently. Building a positive attitude towards her own mistakes helps her to get over the anxiety of public speaking, thereby increasing her confidence in interacting in English with others.

Thanh: “When I don’t understand something, I’ll just ask the professor to repeat.” Thanh believes that asking questions improves learning. Even after class, Thanh raises questions during professors’ office hours and grabs the opportunity to clarify and recognize his own thought processes. He encourages students to take initiative in their learning and not shy away from asking questions about what they still need to understand. For Thanh, it is a vital part of the learning process.

Yukari: “I asked for sample writings to figure out the requirements for term papers.” Besides seeking help from writing centers, Yukari would ask professors for sample writings or ask permission to read her classmates’ papers. By comparing her writings with others, she then understands weakness in her writing strategies and further realizes the possibility of using different styles to present her ideas. Yukari also learned from ELI class to use a thesaurus when writing a paper. It is a useful tool not only for avoiding repetition of words, but also for exploring nuances of an idea and shades of meaning. As a result, she is able to enlarge her vocabulary bank through writing.

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3. How do you deal with stress?

: “Don’t procrastinate! I think procrastination is the source of stress.” Mune has a clear awareness of what could cause stress for him. For him, the best way to reduce anxiety and avoid burnout is to keep track of the assignments and never fall into a procrastination trap.

Yuki: “Actually, stress is helpful for me. It translates into motivation. Sometimes too much stress is no good, but stress works really well for me. If I don’t have stress, probably I’ll not do anything. I deal with stress by taking action.” Yuki thinks that stress comes from thinking about it too much. And by taking action she feels better about it no matter whether she succeeds or not.

Sam: “When I feel stressed from study, I shift my attention to something else, such as cooking, listening to music, talking to friends, and come back to my study later.” Having a break from study is essential for Sam to come back to study with a fresh mind. He also encourages students who are under stress to think ahead—what they are about to accomplish at the end of the journey. Because of his positive thinking, Sam always counts his blessings and appreciates the opportunity to be able to study at all. His attitude towards life helps him get over the stress.

Munhee: “Whenever I couldn’t figure out how to write the next paragraph, I take a walk to refresh my mind.” Munhee thinks that a study break helps her brain to go back to the study mode. After intensive periods of studying, letting her mind wander for a while can prevent her from feeling overstressed.

Thanh: “Taking fun classes is quite helpful.” Thanh enjoys taking classes from department of Kinesiology & Leisure Science. Because of these classes, he gets to work out regularly, clear his mind, and make friends outside of his field. This helps him enhance concentration and reduce stress from school work. Now he is thinking of taking weight-training and tennis courses.

Yukari: “Think positive!” Whenever she feels stressed, Yukari thinks of why she is here to study at the first place and what she wants to accomplish in the future. Yukari said that her career plan is to work in non-governmental organizations and help people in developing countries. By projecting her future and visualizing her goals, she feels more motivated to dedicate herself to school work. For Yukari, focusing on the positive effects of stress is beneficial to her goal achievement.

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4. In face of coursework, research, and a life, how do you manage your time to increase efficiency?

Mune: “Allow time for flexibility. Don’t be too strict with your schedule.” Mune doesn’t follow a fixed to-do list. He considers his obligations, but at the same time, he allows time for interruptions.

Yuki: “Be realistic about how much you can handle.” Yuki thinks sometimes she puts too much on her plate. She then realizes it is important to set realistic goals and be able to say no to things when she takes on too much.

Thuy: “Study the syllabus carefully and take the time to plan and organize.” Thuy examines her daily and weekly calendar and notes upcoming assignments. Whenever she finishes one thing, she puts a check mark next to it. It is not only organized, but also rewarding!

Yoko: “I do what I need to do first.” Yoko usually breaks big assignments into smaller tasks and sets different deadlines for the tasks. This prepares her to allow time for attending writing workshop or asking for proofreading. She also uses three planners (calendar, schedule book, and notebook) to help her get organized. Assignments, deadlines, and appointments are indicated by different colors to enhance efficiency. Before she signs up for presentations or class facilitations, she always examines her calendar first and tries to spread out the due dates so that she is not overwhelmed with too many tasks at one time.

Munhee: “Plan ahead and create a schedule that works for me, not for others.” Munhee writes down a list of tasks required to complete a major assignment and puts her own due dates for each task. In so doing, the assignment becomes more manageable.

Mizu: “Prioritize my readings.” When overloaded with courses, Mizu looks over her reading lists and decides what’s most important and what needs to be read first. This enables her to prioritize her tasks and gain time as a result. 

Thanh: “Plan ahead. Never get behind.” Along with five major courses, Thanh has two part time jobs. Juggling so many tasks at the same time forces him to make choices about how to use time wisely. To achieve this end, he sets clear goals for himself and prioritizes his tasks accordingly. He notes that he likes to finish assignments at least one day ahead of deadline, so he leaves enough time to get help from TAs and clarify his answers if necessary. Besides, the strategy allows him to avoid cramming and reduce stress as a result.

Yukari: “Think about when you are at your best.” As a morning person, Yukari goes with the flow and enjoys working in the morning. She plans her day accordingly, which helps enhance her productivity. In addition, Yukari is not a procrastinator. For each assignment, she makes sure that she spares enough time for revision. In order to manage time well, she updates her to-do list every day, prioritizes the list, and crosses items off whenever she completes a task.

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5. What is your tip in maintaining a balance between your social and academic life?

Mune: “Enjoy the moment. Focus on living every moment. I don’t like that while you are eating, you are reading papers and playing with kids at the same time. You only ruin the moment.” Mune understands that he is not good at multitasking, so he does one thing at a time and never mixes his academic life with his family life.

Yuki: “I’ll schedule time for tennis or running ahead of time, so I would commit to it.” Setting time aside for social life helps her to dissociate with academic life and have time to relax once in a while.

Thuy: “Make friends outside of your national circle.” By joining the Lions Club in Hawaii, Thuy is able to do volunteer work, make local friends, and enjoy her life outside of school. Coming to Hawaii to study is such a valuable experience to her that she wants to enjoy her life here to the fullest. One suggestion she has for foreign students is not to make friends with only your own national group. In her view, being abroad is about stepping out of your comfort zone and learning different cultures. Moreover, making friends outside of her national circle pushes her to practice English as much as she can.

Yoko: “Saturday afternoon is ‘no studying’ time!” For the first semester in SLS, Yoko didn’t do anything for fun because she was overloaded with school work. Regardless of putting all her time in academic life, she realized that it didn’t help her study at all. Worst of all, she didn’t get to enjoy her life. From the second semester, she has spared at least one day a week for activities she likes and it is a day for her to enjoy life off-campus. Her investment in social life is able to keep herself sane when dealing with demanding course work.

Sam: “This is the only one life I have on earth. That pushes me to find my goal. It’s not just about study. It’s about my life as well.” With this in mind, Sam always tries to set time for his social life regardless of his demanding school work. He jokingly said that he doesn’t want to die in schools so that he wants to keep a balance between academic and social life. For this reason, he enjoys his time outdoors in nature during weekends and focuses on school work during weekdays.

Mizu: “I try to get my homework done by Friday and leave weekends for get-togethers with friends.” Setting a clear boundary between academic and social life is her tip to maintaining a balanced life. During weekdays, Mizu focuses on her school work to make sure that she gets to enjoy her social life during weekends. In order to finish her assignments on time, she makes a list of all tasks required to complete for each day and she also updates the list on a regular basis.

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