For international students looking to come to the United States for grad school – it’s a very exciting adventure. But, it can also be quite complicated. Here are 5 pre-departure “things to know” for helping students transition to life in the United States.

1. Know your resources
International students should familiarize themselves with the resources offered at their respective university – the International Students Office is a great first step. 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 that their office can assist in local networking and connecting students to clubs and organizations on campus.

2. Know how to embrace change
Living in a foreign country is, as would be expected, a foreign experience. International students will undoubtedly encounter differences in campus life, social etiquette and expectations of professors and administrators. This change can be a rewarding experience long-term; however, it is important to be aware of such variations before your arrival. Use the International Student Office to help connect you with current international students at your university – ask questions, and take note of the advice they can provide.

3. Know the classroom
In the U.S., learning is hands-on and interactive, and students need to become independent learners. Here, students take fewer classes but cover subject matter in greater depth. U.S. 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 enjoy new opinions and perspectives; classmates will also appreciate the viewpoints of their international peers.

Professors often make themselves available each week during “office hours.” International students 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.

4. Know your strengths
As a graduate student in the U.S., you should be aware of the value of your diverse background and unique language skills. Avoid being a spectator in the classroom and let yourself be heard. In the job market, be sure to highlight your language skills and continue to improve your English along the way. Companies of all kinds find bilingual speakers to be a valuable asset, even in their U.S. based offices.

It’s perfectly okay to “embrace change” as we saw in tip #2 – just remember to balance this with who you are as well.

5. Know the area
While you may envision spending the majority of your time ‘on campus,’ it is equally important for international students to research the area in which their school is located. The first time they arrive on campus will likely be their first time ever visiting. Here are some questions to consider alongside your own goals and interests: Is the school in an urban center? Rural? Or somewhere in between? Is international travel difficult? What sort of cuisine options are nearby? Will this area allow you to acculturate to life in the United States? Beginning to uncover these questions will make for a smoother transition.

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!

About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

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