Whether you are starting school across the state or across the globe, the transition to this next stage in your life can be stressful.
While preparing to travel to the United States for university, you might think you are the only person with mixed emotions. Know that you are not. Students of all backgrounds face the start of university with anxiety and anticipation. While your new U.S. classmates will share many of your feelings, you may face an additional challenge—culture shock. You will not only be transitioning to college, but also to a new culture and potentially a new language of instruction. Here are some insights and tips on easing your transition and making the most of your new adventure.
While each higher education institution in the United States has its own personality, so does each region of the country. Before you arrive in the States, there are a variety of things you can do to begin to understand the country and your new school’s customs and traditions. One source of information that can be found in your home country is the EducationUSA office (more info on page 28). These offices host pre-departure orientation meetings to introduce you to the U.S. educational system and to other students from your country that will be studying there. Through these meetings you will be able to voice your questions and concerns with a group of people sharing the experience.
Prior to arrival, another way to experience the personality of your chosen university is through social media. Universities host Facebook groups so students can begin to connect with their fellow classmates. You will find students with similar interests making plans for social, athletic, and academic activities, and upperclassmen often join the discussions to provide guidance and advice. International students are often met with special enthusiasm. American students are curious about your background and culture and eager to share their perspectives as well. Explore your university’s other social sites or forums. You have been offered admission because your voice and experiences are valuable to the university, so begin sharing and connecting.
Arriving on campus
The first days on campus are an adventure. Many schools have an enhanced orientation session for students coming from abroad. The orientation covers information that you as an international student need to know, whether this is your first time in the United States or not. From an introduction to academic life to working on campus and in the United States to SEVIS and immigration issues to adjusting to your host city, the sessions provide a wealth of information. The orientation also offers a wonderful opportunity to meet other international students. At Loyola University New Orleans, orientation sessions include an International Buddies Program (inBUS). By pairing “buddies” from Loyola with incoming internationals, students create long-lasting friendships and support systems that are of mutual benefit.
Perhaps the most obvious way to learn a new culture and make friends is to get involved. During orientation you will be given a host of opportunities to do so. From special-interest groups to sport teams to resident hall activities, there will be many organizations vying for your participation.
While the pull of extracurriculars can be strong, remember that academics are the reason for your enrollment. At orientation you will usually meet your academic advisor, explore the support services provided, and finalize your class schedule. The support services offered can be very important to a successful academic career, as the academic atmosphere and expectations may differ from your previous experiences. Academic counseling can provide not only tutoring and English language support, but also time-management and study skills to provide a foundation for academic success.
After the first couple of weeks, most students begin to experience some homesickness. It is quite natural to miss friends and family. For students coming from a different culture this can also extend to foods, sights, and sounds. While all students will experience some level of these feelings, you may find it more pronounced. The differences that were quaint and exciting at first may become irritating and distracting. This is a normal reaction, and there are a number of strategies you can employ to address these feelings.
Studying in the United States will provide you with experiences and friends that will last a lifetime. While the transition may be bumpy at times, know that it is worth the investment. There are a host of people and programs dedicated to your success. Colleges and universities in the United States recognize the value of your background and unique perspective. Get involved in your new community. It is an opportunity to not only experience a new culture but to act as an ambassador of your culture. And though living and studying in another country can be stressful, remember that the success of your experience will balance largely on the investments you make. From the trivial to the profound, there will be adjustments to be made and lessons to be learned.