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10 Mistakes First-Year International Students Make (and How to Avoid Them!)

Going abroad for university can be stressful enough without worrying about having a bad experience. Here are 10 mistakes to avoid for a good first year.

According to a report by the Institute of International Education in 2015, the amount of international students in American colleges and universities increased 10% from the previous year. And the percentage of international students attending college in the US will only continue to increase in the future. The opportunity to expand knowledge and cultural boundaries is an important opportunity for many, although there can be various obstacles along the way. Just like other first-year university students, international students must adjust to a brand-new atmosphere and culture. Here are 10 common mistakes to avoid when you’re studying in a foreign country.

1. Hanging out with too many people from your country

As humans, we’re naturally drawn to people who are similar to us. While there’s nothing wrong with developing strong friendships with people who share the same culture, language, and identity, the challenge is learning how to break out of that circle to intentionally meet different people. University is the ideal time to meet people with different perspectives and lifestyles. One possible way to avoid the temptation to spend time with only people from home is to have different friend groups that you rotate your time around.

2. Too much communication with family and friends from home

Similarly, it’s normal to be homesick and want to communicate with your family and friends from back home when you first move to a new country. With social media, it’s so easy to talk with anyone at any time, but you may lose the opportunity to broaden your horizons in the community you’re currently in. Instead of cutting off all communication with people from home, set a schedule where you only talk with them a few times a week, making sure your communication doesn’t hinder your other friend-making opportunities on campus.

3. Poor work-life balance

When traveling to a new place, students can either be too focused on academics or too focused on having fun rather than receiving a good education. Students should strive to find a middle ground where they’re able to balance school and work with other important aspects of university life, like socializing, religion, and hobbies. A great way to have a good work-life balance is to plan ahead, either using a traditional hand-written agenda or your smartphone. Students should also be realistic about how much time they need to accomplish certain activities and not feel ashamed if they need to step down from something if they can’t handle it. Part of university is learning how to take control of your own schedule and managing your time wisely.

Related: The Best Ways to Get Involved at US Universities

4. Not getting off campus enough

Every university is different—some are centered in a more urban environment, where everything is within walking distance, while others are more spread out and require cars as the main mode of transportation. You may be concerned about how you’ll get around if you can’t get a license and/or purchase a personal vehicle. Even if you don’t have your own car, there are still ways to explore off campus. Ride sharing, carpooling with friends, public transportation, and campus shuttles are other alternatives. Students should research the area and ask upperclassmen about the best spots to visit in the area.

5. Not asking for help enough

Not understanding something, whether in the classroom or about university procedures in general, can lead some students to feel ashamed or embarrassed. As a result, many simply fail to ask for help out of fear they’ll be ridiculed or looked down upon. By not asking questions, students miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow their confidence. Although self-reliance is important, it’s better to ask a professor, faculty member, or fellow student to avoid unnecessary mistakes. In general, people on university campuses are happy to help. College isn’t meant to be a journey you do on your own!

Related: The Best On-Campus Resources for International Students

6. Being afraid to give their own opinion in class

As universities become more political and discussion based, some students may be afraid to voice their opinions in class. You may hesitate to ask questions out of fear of being ridiculed for not understanding. Likewise, other students may hesitate to voice their opinions in fear that it’s too radically different. But college should be a place where students can disagree and learn from different perspectives. Make it a goal to participate at least once every session (if classes are participation based) or to talk to the professor about changing the atmosphere if you feel the environment isn’t welcoming to a diverse set of opinions.

7. Not knowing how to professionally communicate with professors

Unlike secondary school, you’ll most likely need to communicate with your professors outside the classroom via email or phone. Because this skill isn’t really necessary before university, many students struggle with basic professionalism and may inadvertently create a bad impression of themselves. In addition, those who still don’t feel confident with their English may worry about sending professional emails. In this case, you should ask a peer to edit your emails before you send them. It may also be helpful to write a list of questions beforehand to ask your professor in person if you’re worried about what to say.

8. Not looking into available internships or scholarships

Unfortunately, because many internships or scholarships are only for American citizens, some people don’t bother to look into opportunities available for international students. While most government-sponsored programs are only for Americans, many privately sponsored opportunities are open to all students. Students should research online or ask their college for specific resources.

Related: Great Scholarship Opportunities for International Students

9. Bringing too many things from home

While this temptation isn’t as strong for international students, it’s easy to want to take all the comforts of home to your campus dormitory. The reality is, you won’t end up needing most of the stuff you think you’ll need. Having a crowded room can be overwhelming (and troublesome for your roommates) and can also create unnecessary stress during the move-in process. Additionally, most international students will need to find storage in the summer, and storing a lot of things can be troublesome and costly. To avoid this, create a list and think honestly about how many times a school year you’ll actually use an item.

10. Going over your budget

When moving to a new country, it’s normal to not know how much you’ll spend on things. In order to prevent going over budget, students should write down estimated monthly costs and how much they plan on receiving. Will you be making money from an on-campus or part-time job? Will your parents be giving you a set monthly allowance?

It’s important to know exactly how much money you think you’ll receive and how much you think you’ll spend, always overestimating your spending. Students should separate expenses into categories (food, clothes, entertainment) and stick to those numbers.

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