Attending an American university is an exciting prospect for new international students. But as you embark on a new chapter as an international student abroad, you’ll need to make some adjustments.
“You have taken many steps, as they say, to come and study in another country. It is a new adventure full of excitement and challenges,” says Anne Mongillo, Director of International Student Affairs at Hofstra University in New York. “Set small goals for yourself every day. Achieving those small goals will lead to bigger successes down the line. You’ve got that.”
Here are some of the most common challenges that international students may face and how to overcome them:
- New types of missions and expectations.
- Less formal interactions with teachers.
- General education requirements.
- Meet people with similar interests.
- Find healthy food options.
- Understand cultural nuances.
New types of assignments and expectations
At an American university, international students will be exposed to a new educational system with duties and expectations they may not be used to – such as writing research papers that require citing sources and formatting your paper in MLA or APA format.
“When completing their work, it is essential that students cite or give credit to the work of other researchers in order to avoid plagiarism,” says Mongillo.
The concept of plagiarism is often new to many international students, and a misunderstanding of it can result in disciplinary action ranging from failing an assignment or class to being expelled from college.
Mongillo recommends that students seek guidance from their professor when they are unsure how to cite or credit an author for an idea or quotation used in an assignment. Your teacher can also help explain the format students should use for articles.
“If in doubt, ask. Your school may also have a writing center that can help you,” says Mongillo.
Less formal interactions between teachers
Some international students may come from academic backgrounds where the instructor-student commitment is more formal.
“In an American classroom, dialogue and conversation, challenging ideas (and) asking questions are important parts of the learning process, so it’s important for international students to understand these expectations to fully engage in their education,” says Jonathan Kratz, director of international student and scholar services at James Madison University in Virginia.
Many professors have office hours where students can visit to discuss questions or get advice on homework.
“If your schedule doesn’t match your teacher’s office hours, email or chat with them after class to ask when would be a good time to meet you,” says Mongillo.
General training requirements
Some international students might be surprised to learn that they must take general education courses outside of their major courses. These GE courses help expose students to a wide variety of subjects.
“I usually talk to our students about the benefits,” says Andrea Steifvater, director of international admissions at Ball State University in Indiana. “Maybe you’ll find something that really interests you and you didn’t even know it. Maybe you’ll meet someone interesting that you wouldn’t have met otherwise. Maybe your course will be easier to navigate than you think and improve your GPA.
Meet people with similar interests
Joining a college club, sports team, or social organization can be a great way to make new friends.
“One of the most daunting things about moving to a new school, a new neighborhood, let alone a new country, is making new friends,” says Sandy Furth, Certified Instructional Planner for World Student Support, an education consulting firm.
She recommends students research clubs that may be of interest to them, such as an international club or sports clubs, and check with the school’s student union.
“I also try to show students the possibilities of finding or creating affinity groups,” explains Steifvater. “Does your university have an esports program? If you like cricket and there is no cricket club, can you start one? »
Find healthy food options
Americans have a term – “freshman 15” – to describe the weight gain college students often experience in their freshman year, as many develop poor eating habits away from home. While studies show that the typical weight gain is closer to 4-10 pounds, not 15, experts say it’s not inevitable.
“If you follow your school’s meal plan, you’ll be able to make healthy food choices, even if those choices are different from the foods you’re used to eating,” Mongillo says. “Take advantage of the nutritional advice offered by your catering service.”
Students can also find local grocery stores that offer foods and ingredients for homemade meals, she says.
“Make these dishes for your new friends. And be sure to use your campus recreation facilities to stay healthy,” Mongillo says.
Understand cultural nuances
The transition to college can be tricky for any student, and campuses offer a wide variety of resources to help them. For international students trying to adjust to a new culture, start with your school’s international student office.
“I try to help international students understand some of the quirks of American culture,” says Steifvater. “For example, I like to talk to students about what I call ‘drive by hello’ – the American phenomenon where we walk past someone and say, ‘Hey, how are you? but never stop to hear the answer to our question.
Giving students the tools to understand small but impactful interpersonal situations like this can help build their confidence “to explore the new culture they’ve chosen to live in for a few years,” she says.
Kratz recommends that students engage as much as possible with faculty, their academic advisor, the international office, and other international and domestic students.
“Any way you can, engage with people who can help you understand American culture,” says Kratz. “Being curious will help learn the culture.”