study abroad

Worried about the U.S. student visa process? 10 tips to help you prepare

Everyone has heard a story of a friend, or friend of a friend, who has been denied a student visa to study in the U.S., right? Well, the truth is, yes, prospective students can be turned down at this next to last hurdle to realizing their dream of attending a university in the United States. While this can be a cruel end, it doesn’t have to be. The reality is that over the last 5 years, the global average of students being APPROVED for a U.S. student visa has been over 80%. The good news is with the right preparation, honest answers, and appropriate documentation you can give yourself an excellent chance of being granted a student visa. Here are the steps you will need to take as U.S. consulates and embassies reopen after the pandemic.

1. Got your I-20?

Make sure you have received the I-20 and admission letter from the college/university you plan to attend. You may have been accepted and received I-20s from more than one school. We recommend that you make a decision as to which institution you will attend before starting the visa process.

2.  Check your passport

  • Make sure your passport will be valid for at least six months after your initial planned entry into the U.S.
  • Is your name spelled the same (and in the same order) as is listed on your passport? It has to be!

3.  Pay your SEVIS fee

Students can pay this $350 fee online. You will need an e-receipt for next steps in the process.

4.  Complete the Visa Application Form

You can do that online DS-160 (non-immigrant visa application). You will need most of the following items to complete this form:

  • Passport
  • SEVIS ID (from your I-20 form)
  • Address of the college you will attend (usually on the I-20)
  • Travel itinerary to the U.S. if you have made arrangements already
  • Admission letter from the college you will attend
  • Proof of funding – bank statements, scholarship award letters, etc.
  • Dates of your last 5 visits to the United States (if any)
  • Profile names on your social media accounts over the last 5 years.

After completion the online DS-160 application, print off the DS-160 Bar Code page. You will not need to print the entire application.

5.  Plan ahead!

You can schedule your visa appointment up to 120 days in advance of the start date listed on your I-20 (when your new school requires you to be on campus). In some countries there may be a substantial wait time to get an appointment, and, more importantly, to process your application. The good news is that student visa applicants are given priority.

6.  Schedule your visa appointment

Schedule your visa appointment at the U.S. embassy/consulate nearest you. Using this site you’ll learn whether you can make your appointment online or by telephone. You will also need to pay the visa application fee.

7.  Attend a Visa Session

Attend a visa session at an EducationUSA Advising Center in your country. EducationUSA works closely with the U.S. consular officers that conduct the visa interviews. At these sessions they will make it clear what they are expecting from successful student visa applicants, and the kind of questions they will ask.

8.  Enjoy the experience

A few years ago our friends at the U.S. Embassy in London put together a great video to help ease your fears, Mission: Possible – Get Your U.S. Student Visa.

9.  Talk to your friends 

Are any of your former classmates studying in the U.S. now? Ask their advice about their interview experiences and ask for their recommendations. You can also check out how successful students help demystify the student visa process.

10.  Breathe, relax, and be honest

You have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources to get to this visa interview. Try not to be too nervous. You are almost there. Answer the visa officer’s questions honestly – Why did you pick the particular college you want to attend? How are you funding your studies? What are your plans after you finish your studies?  You may not know the exact answer to this last question, but be thinking about how you might answer that question.

Good luck to you as you take this important next step!

The View From Campus – How Welcome Are International Students on U.S. College Campuses?

This month we hear from Dana Brolley, Director of International Services, at the University of Idaho, on this very important and timely topic that is likely on the minds of international students considering study options in the United States.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?

A: Welcoming, safe, research, beautiful campus, land-grant

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?

A: Top 100 public school in the USA, two thirds of undergraduates conduct research, lots of attention from faculty and staff, focus on innovative solutions for global warming and environment challenges,

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?

A: Engineering, Agriculture, Natural Resources, Architecture, Music

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/How international is your institution?

A: China, Saudi Arabia, India, Nepal

Q: How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?

A: We require a 6.0 for undergraduate and a 6.5 for graduate applicants. IELTS is a great tool and we like that we can verify results!

How Welcome Are International Students?

Q: Given the current administration’s America First policies, are international students still welcome in the United States?

A: Absolutely! Moscow, Idaho where the University of Idaho is a welcoming town that values and celebrates diversity. The city earned the coveted #1 spot on Livability’s 2018 list of the Best Places to Raise a Family. This is reflected through our student and scholar population who have approximately 180 dependants living here while they complete their academic programs. The community is very environmentally focused and engaged in solutions to climate change.

Q: What steps do universities take to help international students feel welcome on campus?

A: The International Programs Office provides centralized services to our international population from an intensive English program, tutoring, student events, scholarships, immigration support, advising, study abroad and more. Our largest annual event, Cruise the World, attracts approximately 1500 campus and community members who come together to celebrate cultures from around the world. This year’s event is coming up on Feb 1, 2020.

Q: What is the role of an international student office on campus?

A: We provide full wrap-around support for all students, scholars, staff, and faculty in the US on visas as well as assist with all extracurricular needs of the community to connect them to resources available on campus and in the community. Everything from snow-shoeing to scholarships – we’re here to help!

Q: How seriously do U.S institutions value having international students on campus? Give examples.

A: We provide special international student scholarships, have dedicated staff to assist international students and support many international student clubs and activities as they promote their home cultures.

Q: What advice would you give prospective international students considering U.S. colleges to help them understand what life would be like for them in the U.S.?

A: Beyond rankings, academic programs, and costs – which are all very important! – it is important to consider the community where you will live for years. Moscow is very safe, very accessible (I walk to campus every day!), welcoming, surrounded by beautiful nature where you can experience wildlife, skiing, river rafting, hiking, climbing etc. and access to larger cities is very convenient. Students who came here from large cities have told me how much they love living here. Coming the US to earn a degree opens doors for life changing experiences both in and outside the classroom. Make the most of your adventure to learn!

The View From Campus: How to Research U.S. College Options

This month, Marci Fradkin,, Director of International Outreach and Admission, at Valparaiso University in Indiana, discusses how international students can best approach finding the college or university in the United States that is right for them.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?
A: Experiential learning, Connections, Result Driven, Friendly, and Beautiful.

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?
A: Being a STEM paradise and being a top 20 undergrad engineering program.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
A: Undergrad-Engineering, Computer Science, Biochemistry, Psychology, and International Relation.  Grad-MS Information Technology, MBA,  MS Analytics and Modeling, Public Health, and MS Economics and Finance.

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?
A: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Nigeria, and China

Q: How does your institution use an IELTS result in the Admission Process?
A: We use it for undergrad and graduate admission and it is taken into consideration in awarding scholarships for both.

Q: What is the most significant challenge most international students have when considering the U.S. for post-secondary education?
A: What is the best fit university for me, because we have over 4,000 universities in the US.

Q: How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for study?
A: I recommend students start their planning for studies overseas in their sophomore year so they have time to research university options and to prepare to have the proper courses.  Also that will give students time to prepare for taking test and to save money.

Q: What factors should students use to narrow their range of choices from over 4000 accredited colleges and universities down to a manageable shortlist of institutions? 
A: I always encourage students to look at the success of the graduates, for instance Valparaiso University 97% job or graduate school placement.  I also encourage student to look at class size, Valparaiso average class size is 19, student to faculty ration, we are 11:1, and to look for research and internship opportunities are available.

Q: If international students come across self-described “liberal arts colleges” in their search what do they need to know about these institutions?
A: Liberal Arts Colleges can have strong STEM programs, they teach students to make connection in their education, and they teach their students to be leaders in their fields.

Q: What kinds of students can be successful or “good fits” for liberal arts colleges in the United States?
A: The student who is a best fit for liberal art college are inquisitive, like to make connections, and to be part of a community.

The View From Campus – How Do U.S. Universities Help International Students on Campus?

This month, we hear from Krista McCallum Beatty, Director of the International Students and Scholars Office, at Michigan State University, on the very timely topic of the ways international offices assist overseas students adjust to life on a college campus

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?

A Top 100 Global University

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?

Michigan State University is known worldwide as a top research university, home to renowned scholars and scientists from around the globe and a vibrant and diverse community of undergraduates and graduate students. MSU has a legacy of collaborating with international partners to create new knowledge and explore innovative and practical solutions to the world’s most pressing problems—particularly in the areas of food and agriculture; education and capacity building; global health and nutrition; and water, energy and the environment.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad and grad)?

Michigan State University is ranked in the Top 100 universities globally. Individual academic programs ranked number one include:

  • Supply Chain/Logistics
    • Elementary Teacher Education
    • Higher Education Administration
    • Secondary Teacher Education
    • African History
    • Nuclear Physics
    • Industrial and Organization Psychology
    • Rehabilitation Counseling
    • Agricultural and Applied Economics Departments (Global)

In addition, Michigan State University has over 30 individual academic programs ranked in the Top 25, and many more academic programs ranked in the Top 100.

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/How international is your institution?

The countries with the most students enrolled at Michigan State are China, India, Korea, Taiwan and Canada.

Q: How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?

Michigan State University uses IELTS scores to determine whether an international student whose first language is not English meets the university’s English proficiency requirements. Assessing English proficiency is essential in helping international students to be successful while studying at Michigan State.

Q: What is the role of an international student office on campus?

At Michigan State University, the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) is a comprehensive office, meaning we provide a wide range of support for international students and scholars. Examples of the support OISS provides include new student orientation, immigration advising, assistance with obtaining a driver’s license, individual support for students experiencing personal difficulties, lots of great social activities including trips around Michigan, leadership development programming, and a weekly Coffee Hour, that is a long-standing tradition.

Q: What steps do universities take to help international students feel welcome on campus?

Universities start helping international students feel welcome before they even arrive in the US. For example, at Michigan State new international students complete an online orientation program prior to traveling to the US. Once students are on campus, universities provide an orientation program that includes important information about classes and immigration regulations as well lots of information about student life, other laws and policies, and lots of great opportunities to meet other new students, both international and US. Universities also have many staff committed to helping international students feel welcome and part of the community. Many of these people work in a department commonly known as student affairs or student life. International student offices work very closely with student affairs offices to help international students feel welcome on campus. Examples include opportunities to be involved in student organizations, social events, trips, leadership programs, and campus traditions.

Q: How seriously do U.S institutions value having international students on campus? Give examples.

International students are highly important to colleges and universities. They enrich the campus in so many ways – through their academic work, their leadership, sharing their perspectives which may differ from domestic students, and the many informal and formal ways they contribute to all students learning about the world.

What advice would you give prospective international students considering U.S. colleges to help them understand what life would be like for them in the U.S.?

Do lots of research! The U.S. is a large and diverse country and there are many different colleges and universities to consider. Don’t make your decision based on rankings and cost alone. Those are important factors, but you should also consider the academic programs, size, faculty to student ratio, opportunities to get involved on campus, leadership programs and career development support, living arrangements, and opportunities for research. Whenever possible, try to talk with a current student and a graduate of the university to learn first-hand about their experience.  Alumni are a great resource not only to learn more about the university, but to network after graduation and stay in contact with your alma mater. Michigan State has a large and active alumni association with local chapters all over the world. In addition, the alumni association offers many opportunities for alumni ranging from social activities to career support and networking events to opportunities to mentor current students.

Q: What is the most common challenge new international students face when adapting to the academic environment at U.S. colleges?

International students will face challenges adapting to the US. However, international students face different challenges depending on their backgrounds and experiences. Common challenges include:

  • adjusting to being immersed in an American English language environment 24/7;
    • learning to eat new foods and at the same time find ways to get familiar food from home;
    • making new friends, often from around the world;
    • adjusting to different culture norms.

The best advice I have for meeting these challenges is to be patient. You will be in the US for several years, and with time you will adjust and thrive as a student here. You will be amazed at how much you learn studying in the US not only about your area of study but about the world and about yourself. My absolute favorite part of my job is talking with students about their experiences and listening to them reflect about how they have grown during their time here.

It is the end of the academic year at Michigan State University right now. This is a joyous time on campus when we celebrate our students, especially our international students. The campus is filled with students getting ready to graduate, and the commencement ceremonies are about to begin. Families and friends have travelled from all over the world to celebrate. Students are walking around campus taking photos in their favorite places, while reminiscing about their time here. They will carry their stories of the ups and downs of life as a university student with them the rest of their lives, knowing that they have grown and changed for the better.

Why Work Part-time When Studying Abroad (Part 2)

In a previous blog post on the topic, we identified two benefits of picking up a part-time job while at university: improving language ability and getting to know more people.

Here are some more reasons why working part-time can be good for you.    

Becoming culturally aware

When living abroad, especially in a country whose culture is quite different to yours, there could be umpteen ways in which your words or actions may upset those around you. This is because what is seen as normal behaviour in your country may be considered inappropriate in another society.

One of the quickest ways to improve cultural awareness is by being in a cosmopolitan work environment, where you get to observe people from other cultures first-hand. Often work stress brings out the worst in people, highlighting differences in how cultures cope with tricky situations. You get to know why different people behave the way they do. In the long run, this will enable you to respond appropriately to cultural differences by being more sensitive to them.

Now, there’s no doubt that most universities too have diverse international student communities. However, students often confine themselves to small groups which make them feel comfortable. The workplace, therefore, is a much better place to learn about cultures, as it forces you to work with all kinds of people, even those whose behaviour you might find odd or annoying at first.

Getting introduced to the world of work

Working part-time is a great way of getting to know the world of work and the challenges it throws up, before formally beginning your career. For one thing, you become aware of various do’s and don’ts when working for a business. As well as this, you also learn to deal with office politics, which is an absolute must to survive as an employee. And if you don’t happen to enjoy certain kinds of part-time work, at least you’d know what to avoid later on in life. 

Overall, part-time work experience is invaluable, as it helps you understand yourself as well as the workplace better. So, when such opportunities come your way, make sure you grab them with both hands.    

The View From Campus: Finding Your College Needle In The U.S. Haystack

In this View from Campus blog post, Stefano Papaleo, Director of Undergraduate Admission at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, shares his best advice for international students who are beginning their search for the right college or university. When confronted with the enormous range of options for higher education in the U.S., it is easy to become overwhelmed. Finding that right institution where you wish to study, can be compared to the difficulty of finding a needle in a haystack. No easy task. Here are some helpful tips from Mr. Papaleo.

Q. How would you describe your institution in 5 words?                                                                                  
A. International, Individualized, Innovative, Well-Placed, Safe

Q. For what is your institution best known overseas?
A. For being one of the most international universities in the country and for providing excellent services to international students

Q. What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
A. Undergrad: International Business Management, Entrepreneurship, Sports Management, Psychology, Biology.

Grad: MBA Marketing, MBA Financial Valuation and Investment, MS Applied Psychology, MBA International Business Management, MA Communication and Media.

Q. What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?
A. Venezuela, Brazil, Canada, Colombia and China.

Q. How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admissions process?
A. minimum of 6.0 is required for undergraduate admission, and a minimum of 6.5 is required for graduate admission.

Q. What is the most significant challenge most international students have when first considering the U.S. for post-secondary education?
A. I believe it is a very complicated system with an even more complicated admission process. For someone without the help of a high school counselor or an educational consultant it is very hard to navigate the system.

Q. How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for study?
A. No later than the equivalent of their junior year in high school.

Q. How should prospective students begin their research when considering higher education in the United States?
A. If they have no help in the process they should look at online resources and guides that can help them narrow their choices.

Q. If a student needs help narrowing down their choices of schools, where can they turn for assistance?
A. If they do not attend an international high school with an experienced high school counselor it is not very easy. EducationUSA can help. There are also several educational consultants around the world that can guide the students for a fee.

Q. There are a lot of possible tests international students might need to take. How can students find out which ones they must / should take for each institution?
A. From the universities’ websites

Why Work Part-time When Studying Abroad (Part 1)

Looking for a part-time job is one of the very first tasks that international students take on once they set foot on foreign soil. For many, it generates a handy income that can go some way towards helping them meet their expenses. Some use it to fund activities which they think are beyond their limited student budget.

However, if you thought money was the only motive behind this, think again. Even those with the means to put themselves through college comfortably apply for part-time vacancies. Wondering why?

Here are some pluses of working part-time as a university student.  

Improving language skills

As a foreign student, the chances are you may not be fluent in the local language, whether it is English, German, French, or Polish. Being at the workplace presents the ideal opportunity to hone your language skills, as it is usually full of native speakers.

There’s enough evidence to suggest that putting yourself in real-life situations and forcing yourself to communicate is perhaps the best way to learn a foreign language that you barely know. When you are thrown in at the deep end, you may struggle initially but will very quickly learn to cope. That way, you learn a language faster than you would ever manage in a classroom. 

Meeting new people

Undergraduate or postgraduate students make up a sizeable proportion of part-timers employed by businesses such as pubs, restaurants, supermarkets, and call centres. So, if you’re feeling all lonely in a new country, your workplace may be the best place to start looking for like-minded people. As many among them may be facing the very same challenges as you, it becomes easier to connect with one another. What’s more, mates from work are usually more fun, as you tend to forget academic pressures in their company.

And don’t be surprised if some of these friendships last a lifetime. Many international students continue staying in touch with their foreign friends even years after returning to their country.

We’ll be back soon with more on the benefits of working part-time while at university.                     

6 Things to Pack When Going Abroad to Study (Part 2)

 

Picking up from where we left off in a previous post, let’s look at us some more essential items that would help an international student settle in quicker at a foreign university. 

 

3. Formal wear

Being a graduate or postgraduate student is more than just coping with academic demands. Thankfully, it also offers opportunities to socialise, helping students find the right balance between work and play.

Depending on where you’re studying, some of the campus events you get invited to may have a strict dress code, such as dark suit for men or evening dress for women. Formal clothing doesn’t come cheap, so it’s sensible to buy something appropriate beforehand.

 

4. Over-the-counter medicine

University life is a whirlwind of activities, and a lot of it is fun. That said, the exertions of such a busy life can leave you exhausted, so be prepared to deal with minor ailments. Most people have a list of go-to medicines that they take in order to fight minor illnesses such as the flu or cold. Such medication may be hard to find in foreign pharmacies, especially if they happen to be herbal, so carry adequate supplies along.

 

5. Raincoat, anorak, or travel umbrella

No matter which part of the world you choose to study in, the possibility of rain can never be waved aside. Unless you don’t mind being caught out by unexpected showers, get yourself a raincoat that’ll protect you from the elements. If you prefer something shorter, anoraks may just be the thing for you. And for those who do not like the idea of walking around wrapped in plastic, a quality travel umbrella should do.

 

6. Universal plug adaptor

There are several gadgets out there which are designed to ease academic work, and all of them are powered by electricity. The trouble is pretty much every region across the globe has a different shaped power outlet. Voltage requirements vary too. A universal plug adaptor can be a lifesaver in such situations, as it lets you charge multiple electronics simultaneously irrespective of the design of the power outlet.

 

All in all, studying abroad does throw up challenges, so do not forget to take along a positive attitude as well. Good luck!

The View From Campus: How to Research U.S. Undergraduate Colleges and Universities

 

This month we hear from Sofia de la Garza, Adviser at EducationUSA Mexico City. Sofia has been advising students on U.S. study opportunities for several years through her work in Mexico.

 

Q: Describe your role at EducationUSA?

A: I’m an adviser at the EducationUSA Mexico City office. My role is to assist students to be successful in their intention to study in the United States. We offer them all the information they need and guide them through the process from teaching them how to search for institutions that are a good fit, preparing a financial plan and finding financial aid, navigating the admission process in general and all of its requirements, to pre-departure orientations where students learn valuable information that will make their transition to study and live in the U.S. a lot easier for them and their families.

 

Q: What are the most common academic programs that prospective international undergraduate students seek out in the United States?

A: It varies from region to region. In Mexico, it varies from city to city too! Commonly, students are interested in engineering or business because students usually look for what they know or have heard of. Here in Mexico City, you will find that students are interested in a variety of programs related to fine arts, sports, entertainment, international affairs, etc. As advisers, our job is to explain to the students the concept, the value and benefits of education in the U.S., where you can combine programs (majors and minors) to get exactly the program that they want.

 

Q: What is the most significant challenge most international students have when considering the U.S. for undergraduate education?

A: I think the application process time frame is the most challenging element. Studying in the U.S. requires planning, preparation, and research. It takes time to learn about the process you need to go through in order to be accepted at a university or college, and after that you need to develop an action plan to achieve it. This plan includes studying for the tests, writing essays, requesting recommendations, etc.

 

Q: How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for undergraduate study?

A: Prospective students should consider at least 1.5 years in advance to the time they want to start the program. The earlier they start the better. Ideally, 2 years would be enough if students are really following the action plan.

 

Q: How can international students seeking undergraduate study in the United States begin their search?

A: We usually recommend to start searching for schools in the College Board search engine, but besides finding the schools in that web page, they need to visit each institution’s website to find requirements, deadlines, financial aid, campus culture, majors, etc. Another key resource is talking directly to the institutions through fairs. Another great opportunity to learn about institutions is attending the events at EducationUSA centers. These events could be either virtual or in-person.

 

Q: What are the most important factors prospective international undergraduate students look at when reviewing U.S. colleges and universities?
A: Prospective students usually start by looking at the majors offered and financial aid. They also look into extracurricular activities, campus culture, location, weather, etc. After they determine the institutions that would be a good fit for them, they look into the admission requirements and deadlines among other things.

 

Q:What role do English proficiency tests like IELTS play in the admissions process for international undergraduate applicants?

A: English proficiency is very important not only to thrive at college, but also to make friends and have an easier adjustment to the campus life. When an institution is requesting these tests, they are trying to make sure a student is proficient in English for the student’s own good and success in their program. Some institutions have programs for students that did not make the minimum English requirements, where they can start taking classes on campus during or after an English program. Tests like IELTS provide a working reference of the students skills, competencies and readiness for academic engagement. Additionally, in some cases, language proficiency can be factored in for financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

 

Q: What does finding a “good fit” mean when it comes to finding the right college or university in the United States?
A: A Good fit is when a prospective student researches beyond rankings and names of institutions to find his/her goals, expectations and needs aligning with a university or college. Each individual should determinate what are the important aspects, characteristics and conditions an institution should offer to put it in the “right fit list”. We can only determine if an institution is a good fit or not if we have done comprehensive research about it.

Six Things to Pack When Going Abroad to Study (Part 1)

 

Being a foreign student can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many. It’s one exhilarating journey, along which you make new friendships, explore new places, and experience different ways of life. And at the end of it all, you earn yourself a valuable degree that opens doors for you.

 

Prepared for the journey?

As exciting as it all sounds, it isn’t uncommon for students to feel a tad worried on the eve of departure. The thing is, stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new things can appear daunting. And the best way to avoid a jittery start is by simply being well-prepared for life in a foreign land.

In this post, you’ll read about some essential things you should pack before catching that international flight to your study destination.

 

What to pack?

1. Daypack

Student life abroad is hectic and packed with activities, many of which entail travelling short distances. For example, if you live off campus, you’ll need to travel to university or the place where you work part-time every other day. Obviously, right from day one, you’ll need something reliable to carry your bare essentials in (e.g. handhelds, water bottle, uniform, books).

Invest in a decent daypack, the smallest in the backpack family that can hold most items you’ll need over a day. And remember to choose a design that fits your needs, not something that just looks great.

 

2. Portable charger

The twenty-first century student has a range of electronic devices at their disposal to help them achieve academic success, be it a smart notebook, tablet, or portable printer. Now, the thing with devices is, they all run on batteries that need frequent recharging, depending on the extent of use.

Imagine you are in a packed lecture hall, and you notice your smart notebook’s battery dwindling. All you could possibly do is watch the device die in frustration, as you’ll have a better chance of finding a date for the weekend in such a place than an empty wall socket. Such a scenario is all too common on campus, so a portable charger is a must, especially if you use a lot of technology to study.

 

We’ll be back with some more must-haves for students hoping to study abroad.

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