The transition from high school to college can be difficult, especially if you have to move thousands of miles away to attend college. I was overjoyed to be going to college in another country because it would give me the push I needed to get ahead in my career. However, I didn’t think about the challenges of being an international student. I didn’t understand that being in a strange environment, and being so far away from home would affect me. As I struggled through my first semester, I found some things to be extremely useful. Here are 10 ways to adjust to college as an international student.
1. Research where you are going
When I started my first semester, all I knew was that I was headed to a small town just outside of London. Upon arrival, I was stunned and confused as to how I was supposed to live there for the next three years. Google was indeed my best friend! Google has a street view for most countries. Do a quick search about the university, the culture, the location, etc., to help ease the culture shock of when you first arrive. This is also important to help you get an idea of where you can find things. As an international student, how much you can take with you is dictated by your airline’s luggage allowance. Do a quick search of the shops, the medical centers, entertainment venues, banks, post office and all other essential places you might require to make your time there more comfortable.
2. Find friends with similar interests
Making friends is difficult, especially when they are crucial in making your time abroad memorable. At my school we had “Fresher’s Week,” a week dedicated to different events to welcome students to college life. Going to the different events helps to connect with like-minded people. Having friends who are interested in the same things can take your mind off being so far away from home. In addition, my university was very accommodating to international students and even hosted an international students mixer. You aren’t the only one in the international boat, so they probably understand what it’s like to be homesick, and will be there for you.
3. Join a group, society or sports team
Similar to the tip above, get involved! If you have hobbies or enjoy being part of a team, look to see if your university offers the activity. I found that my university offered a range of different activities I enjoyed at home (like kick boxing), and new ones I was willing to learn about. In my opinion, the best one they had was an international ambassador program to help international students get settled.
4. Keep in touch with old friends
You, just like me, might find that you only have one friend after the first couple of months as an international student. It takes time to make friends, so why not keep in touch with your friends from high school during the process? With today’s technology it is easy to keep in touch with people regardless of where they are. The occasional Skype session with your best friends to have that constant confidante can be an important pick-me-up. Having someone familiar that you can open up to, can be the difference between depression and surviving university’s initial months.
5. Take time to explore your surroundings
As an international student, the landscape is foreign and new and there is nothing scarier than trying to find something quickly and not being able to. Take the time to explore the city/town you will be staying in for the next couple of years. For my first week, I took different buses around town to get a better idea of my surroundings. I also walked the area to find the essential places like the doctor’s offices, hospital, etc. It helps knowing where everything is.
6. Take a piece of home with you
Part of getting comfortable in a new place is making it your own. I watched multiple tutorials on how to achieve the perfect dorm room, but the finished result always reminded me that I was in a foreign place. To make it feel more homey, I put up little trinkets I had collected from home. Put pictures on the wall or something traditional that reminds you of where you come from.
7. Leave your comfort zone and be adventurous
It can be scary to venture outside of your little bubble, but how will you know if you can do it unless you try? This is a motto I lived by for my first semester. It helped in everything from making friends to discovering things I did not know I liked. When we are in a foreign place, doing the same things makes us feel comfortable, like something is still familiar. However, leaving your comfort zone and getting involved in something new broadens who you are as an individual and allows you to fully enjoy your experience wherever you may be.
8. Get a routine
For the first couple of months while you are still getting used to the surroundings, having a routine can be vital. Plan your days out according to classes and other things required for your course. After all, you are abroad for school. Having a semi-strict routine helps create something constant which is important when you are away from home as you can better keep your priorities straight.
9. Take it easy!
You aren’t the first international student and probably won’t be the last. So take it easy! It’s never easy to move, but panicking and over reacting never gets anyone anywhere. It is difficult, but you’ll survive, so take a deep breath and keep calm.
10. Be yourself
College is a time of self-discovery, but being away from home with nothing to remind you of your previous self can be damaging. Stay true to you and your values. Trying to fit in can be challenging and you may be willing to compromise for what you think is the greater good; but being yourself worked before, why wouldn’t it work now? There is no one else like you, and that is perfect. Only you can be you, so celebrate that!