We all know it’s hard to leave home and attend college. You know what’s even harder? Leaving home and attending college in another country.
According to the Los Angeles Times, in 2016, a record high of one million foreign students came to America for higher education.
So do you want to study in the U.S.?
If so, as someone who attended a boarding school in the States for the last four years and is now a freshman at an American college, I have tips to share with you.
Regardless of your major, where you’re from or what degree you’re pursuing, these tips can help you make an even smoother transition into your American college life.
Learn the “American” Culture
Honestly there isn’t an “American” culture. The cultural scene in the United States is based off a variety of different languages, cuisines and religious beliefs. On one hand, its diversity offers everyone multiple perspectives on the same subject and encourages conversation.
Nevertheless, at the same time, it can create tension among certain groups that hold contradictory opinions.
Therefore the best way for international students like us to “learn” its culture is to listen closely and to engage actively in all the conversations happening both within and outside of your community.
Yes, do go to that sports game. Do eat at the fast food restaurants. But don’t miss the opportunity to talk to people and hear their stories. Trust me. American culture is way more than football and fast food.
Don’t Be Shy and Make Friends!
When I first came to the United States in 2013, I was really shy. And you can imagine how surprised I was, in the first few weeks of school, to see my American friends saying hi to strangers on the streets, complimenting their clothes (“OMG I love your dress today!”) and making “friends” on social media sites like Facebook.
In many other countries, American culture is often compared to a peach. Like a peach it’s soft on the outside, meaning it’s easy for you to get to know people and make friends quickly. But it might take you a while before you know them well. In other words, getting to the “core” of the culture is much harder.
This by no means should scare you away. On the contrary, I encourage you to leave your comfort zone and embrace the “extroverted” American culture while still respecting both others’ space and, even more importantly, your own.
Be Proud of Where You’re From
As mentioned above, diversity can also cause trouble. Geographic distance sometimes oversimplifies the characteristics of other cultures. As a result, some Americans might have stereotypical opinions of your country.
For example, four years ago when I told my friends that I’m Chinese, they immediately assumed that I worshipped Chairman Mao and, at times, even pointed to the dogs on the street and asked jokingly, “Your dinner?”
I deemed it my responsibility to clear these stereotypes. So I wrote an article for my high school’s newspaper in which I asked American students to ask 10 questions about China and had Chinese students answer them. It might not have had a huge impact on my community. But it was a small step forward.
Be proud of where you’re from and who you are. Share your stories with others so they can know you and your home better. By doing so, you also get the chance to take a step back and see your country via the lens of another culture. As the cliché goes, the best way to understand a place is by leaving it.
Learn A New Language
You might find this surprising.
Yes, you are already in a foreign country speaking a language that’s very likely not your native tongue. Nevertheless, I can tell you from my personal experience that I’ve grown so much as a person and as a friend by learning Spanish.
Learning another language in the States offers you an even clearer understanding of both your native tongue and American English.
Furthermore, given the variety of languages spoken in the U.S., it’s needless to say that you will meet so many more interesting people by speaking another language.
Travel a Lot
Come on. The United States is a big country.
Take a road trip on Route 1 during Winter Break. Visit the Grand Canyon during Spring Break. Plan a hike in Yellowstone National Park for the upcoming summer.
There are so many things to do. So travel around to see and to be seen.
Keep in Touch with Your Parents and Friends at Home
We all know college is a great place to make new friends and form new relationships. You might call your parents and friends often during the first few weeks of school.
However, as time goes by, you might call them less and less often until you realize that you’ve lost contact with some of your closest friends back at home.
Don’t do that. Find a balance between your new adventures and your connections back home. Talk to your family and old friends on a regular basis. It can be once a week or once a month — it doesn’t matter.
Just don’t lose touch with them, for you definitely want to have someone to talk to about your exciting journeys abroad once you’re at home during vacations.
Relax and Enjoy
Finally, college is about having fun, meeting new people and figuring out what you really want to do.
Stuff like GPA matters. But in the end it is not everything. Try to relax and enjoy your life. Embrace everything that comes your way with curiosity and passion.
Whenever you feel lonely or frustrated, talk to the people around you. They are here to support you.