Bedspread and linens? Check. Entire wardrobe? Check. Laptop? Check. Passport and F-1 Student Visa? Check.
For international students looking to come to the United States for college – and there are now tens of thousands of students who do so, for both undergraduate and graduate degrees – it’s a very exciting adventure. But, it can also be quite complicated.
First, International students should familiarize themselves with the International Students office at their university. This office will be familiar with any questions that might arise, ranging from visas to cultural differences to transportation issues. International students will also find others from their home country or continent at this office – it’s a great way to meet students who are in a similar situation.
Prior to arrival on campus, international students should prepare themselves, as much as possible, for life in the U.S. by reading websites, talking to other international students currently on U.S. campuses and participating in message boards to learn about campus life, classroom and social etiquette and expectations of professors.
In the U.S., learning is hands-on and interactive, and college students need to become independent learners. Here, students take fewer classes than abroad but cover subject matter in greater depth. U.S. college students are also expected to participate in discussions if the class size is up to, say, 30 or 40 students. Many international students will often shy away from participating, especially if English is a second language or if their culture dictates that students not disagree with the professor. But professors in the U.S. often encourage discussion and they like new opinions and perspectives; classmates will also appreciate the viewpoints of their international peers.
Professors at all colleges make themselves available each week during “office hours.” Most students – U.S. and international – do not generally take advantage of this. It is important, however, that students introduce themselves to their professors, as faculty can be a valuable resource for graduate studies or careers.
It is also important for international students to research the location of their institution. The first time they arrive on campus will likely be their first time ever visiting campus. Is the campus in an urban center? Rural? Or somewhere in between? Is international travel difficult?
Finally, international students should look into the diversity of students at their college. Is there a critical mass of students from the same country or nearby countries? What about student organizations and clubs? Will it be easy to acculturate to life in the United States? Will there be opportunities to learn about other cultures?
Studying in the United States as an international student can be an enriching experience filled with wonderful and new opportunities. And for U.S. students – consider a study abroad program to explore new adventures of your own.