Congratulations, you’ve decided to study in the United States! Studying abroad is a very brave and adventurous undertaking. International students are often excited to begin their new experience; however, the first few months of adjusting to a foreign land can be difficult and overwhelming. I arrived in the United States from China three years ago to pursue an education, and based on my experience, I’d like to provide some tips to help you not only survive, but thrive.
Tip 1: Fully prepare before you arrive
There are some essential things you must try to figure out before arriving in the United States. Take some time to learn about the city you’ll be living in, the airport where you’ll arrive, and the college you’ll be attending. Study and prepare maps and immigration documents. I highly recommend that you use the Internet to create a “must-know” list and make some notes before leaving your country of origin. Bring this list with you, because it could be a while before you have a phone or Internet access in the United States.
Tip 2: A homestay family can be a great start
If you don’t have relatives in the U.S., and you are taking this amazing adventure all by yourself, I suggest you start your journey with an American homestay family. A homestay will allow you to rent a room from an American family, which will help you learn the lifestyle here.
Do a little research online – you’ll be amazed by how many kind people are offering homestays for international students. If you’re lucky, you might find some offered for free! A homestay family will not only provide you a place to live, but they may also take you to visit neighborhoods in your city and introduce you to new people. These experiences will allow you to practice your English language skills in “the real world.”
Tip 3: Register for classes and be sure to attend orientations
For the first few days after arriving in a foreign country, you might have no clue where and how to register for classes. Do not panic. Here is the good news: you should be able to find all of the information you need on the school’s website, usually under the “Students” or “International Students” menu. Some schools offer volunteers to help you. Be sure to use these resources.
Orientation is a must-attend event. Not only does it help you to get familiar with your school, but you will also get to know faculty, staff, and classmates – and you’ll probably start making new friends. This is very important as you are about to build a life here.
(For CCA: Information for international students and New Student Orientation)
Tip 4: Study extra hard at school
Language and cultural barriers are the main challenges of studying abroad. No matter how good you think your English abilities are, you might find that you do not understand some concepts in your first semester. In addition, don’t forget that the education system in the United States can be very different from your home country.
I know it can be scary, but don’t be scared! As an international student, you have to work harder than others. I recommend you make an appointment with your instructor to talk about your concerns before the semester begins. I also suggest that you preview and review the syllabus and textbooks for your classes before they begin, ask American students to help you revise essays, and be brave and confident to speak your opinions and ideas in class. Even if you don’t say things correctly, your main point will come across, and native students will enjoy hearing your international perspective on different topics.
Tip 5: Making friends is very important
There is an old Chinese saying, “在家靠父母，出门靠朋友”, which means that you can rely on parents when you are at home; but when you are far away from home, you need to rely on friends. Many international students feel that it is difficult to break into American social life and make friends with Americans. You will need to make an extra effort in this area. Don’t wait for other people to come to you and talk with you; instead, try to be more open and welcoming. Initiate conversations with them! Be friendly and curious about their stories. Try to find a group who shares the same interests as you, and expand your social group beyond other international students.
Joining clubs at school is a very good idea. Even with cultural differences, you should be able to find a club that shares some of your interests. Once you break the ice, you will find that people are very friendly and willing to help you with language and cultural challenges. So be brave, work hard, and smile – and before you know it, you’ll be at the end of a fun and successful first semester abroad.