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Janani’s Story: Thriving as an International Student

M.S. Applied Behavior Analysis, ‘15


Your background?

When Janani Vaidya first came to The Chicago School from her family home in Muscat, Oman, she admits feeling completely overwhelmed. The lifestyle was different. The social etiquette was different. And winters were the coldest she had ever experienced.

But it didn’t take long before the international alumna began to navigate—and thrive—in this new and vibrant culture.

“What I learned is that it is OK to feel all of those emotions of uncertainty and self-doubt in the beginning,” says Vaidya, who received a M.A. in Applied Behavior Analysis in 2015. “Make use of all the resources the school has to offer and you will find your place at The Chicago School.”

What did you study? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

Born in India, Vaidya grew up in Oman as part of a largely Indian community, and even returned to India to earn a bachelor’s in psychology from Ethiraj College for Women in Chennai. But when it was time to continue with a specialization, she was quickly drawn into the scientific study of human behavior, and programs that would bring her to the other side of the world.

“I stumbled into the behaviorism rabbit-hole,” she says, explaining how a search of the best programs in the U.S. led her to The Chicago School. “I liked that it was a school in a major city. That was one of the more comforting things to me in having to move to a very unfamiliar country, being a minority in that country, and having to navigate everything that comes with that.”

What was your practical training like?

Vaidya’s success at The Chicago School allowed her to secure an Optional Practical Training (OPT) position at a Chicago agency that supports people with developmental/intellectual disabilities. This position allows her to extend her time in the U.S. by one year and launch her professional career in Chicago.

“I was very lucky with the experiences I had with the ABA department as well as my practicum, so I have no regrets with my decision to come here more than two years ago,” Vaidya adds. “The faculty is fantastic. They are champions for learning, research, teaching, and geeking out on ABA, so you’ll make amazing connections there!”

She says international students who dream of taking this path should be prepared to feel unprepared, and never be afraid to ask questions.

“The people who support international students at The Chicago School do not mind answering your questions or discussing the minutia of paperwork, so always get in touch with them when you need help,” Vaidya says. “Most importantly, get ready to learn and expand your world view. It won’t be easy at first but it’s definitely worth it.”