Diverse group of five students with books and bags smiling outside on campus

Your Best Resource for Adjusting to University: International Student Orientation

It's going to take time to adjust to your new US college campus, but one thing can certainly help you process your culture shock: student orientation.

Nothing compares to finally arriving at university as a first-time student after the long and grueling experience that is the process of applying. But it can be a little overwhelming too—especially if you’re an international student dealing with culture shock at the same time. Surrounded by other new students and staff on a campus bustling with activity, you may wonder, what’s next?

Orientation is your introduction to everything at university. It may seem silly or unimportant, but you don’t want to miss these activities; they were designed specifically to address all your questions and concerns as a new college student. Administrators running orientation programs have many years of experience helping students acclimate to college, a lot of them were once even international students just like you. So what can you expect at your college orientation?

Learn your campus, meet your support

Orientation programs vary in detail between universities and colleges, but they all have the same intent of giving you the tools and understanding of everyday campus life that you’ll need to be successful. There will be tours of the entire campus and its facilities: libraries, bookstores, computer centers, gymnasiums, cafeterias, etc. There will be special interest sessions that will allow you to meet with academic advisors, counselors, psychological services staff, deans, and more.

If this feels like a lot during these orientation sessions, remember that you aren’t alone. All the other students around you are feeling scared, excited, nervous, and anxious too. Sharing a common experience like international student orientation is a great way to make new friends. Try to enjoy the orientation process; you will get out of your orientation experience exactly what you put into it!

Related: The Best On–Campus Resources for International Students

Prepare for your emotional response

You may already expect to experience some culture shock. Moving to another country and having to adapt to a different culture can be stressful, as the assumptions and values you bring with you from your own culture may not be immediately translated to your new environment. However, while you might feel culture shock in some circumstances, it’s more likely you will experience a variety of different emotions as you adjust to your new life.

Although no one can tell you exactly how you might feel while adapting, just being self-aware during the adjustment process may make your adjustment a little easier. Imagine the process as a journey with signs to mark your progress. Each person’s road will vary, but you’ll meet any number of fellow travelers on the journey headed for the same destination.

Phase one: New and exciting

When you first arrive, everything will seem like a novelty. The food, clothing, and customs may be unfamiliar, maybe even a little strange, but it won’t matter—you’ll just be taken in by all of the different things to see and do. You’ll likely feel happy and excited at first, as everything around you will be new and positive.

Phase two: The shine wears off

Sooner or later, the reality of everyday life will creep in. You may begin to feel frustrated or homesick. You could develop temporary problems like insomnia from a time change or difficulty adjusting to new foods. These reactions are normal, and these problems will most likely pass in a few weeks. But you may start to believe that everything about home is better than anything about where you are right now! These feelings are coping mechanisms, a response to the many changes in your life. They too will lessen with time.

Step three: Coping skills

Be sure to use the campus resources available to you to rest, refuel, and build self-care skills as you continue on your way. Talk about your feelings with a counselor, your advisor, or other students who have been through this process themselves. Ask for help. In time, you will begin to feel more hopeful and confident that you can live independently in your new situation. When this happens, you’ll know you’ve reached a major turning point in your journey.

Eventually, you’ll achieve a sense of balance, independence, and well-being in your academic and social life. You will find food that you like, activities that you enjoy, and friends to support you and find yourself living comfortably in your new community.

Related: A General Guide to Mental Health Awareness for Students

It is very important that you be kind to yourself when you arrive on campus. Give yourself time to adjust to and succeed in your new environment, but also give yourself the tools to do so. You’re about to embark on a new kind of adventure—a chance to be on your own at last—but it’s an adventure that comes with new responsibilities as well. Your ability to utilize your resources, like an orientation, and adapt to new ones will serve you well during your years on campus. These qualities are the backbone of success in many aspects of life, particularly in your educational experience.

Struggles with acclimating to University life in the States is common among international students—that's why we have a ton of content to help you through your culture shock

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