Congratulations, you've been accepted to a college or university in the United States! You're now joining the ranks of over 1 million international students studying in the U.S. as of 2020. We understand how overwhelming it can be to leave your home country to live in a place you may have never even visited before, but don't stress! Your freshmen and subsequent years will be filled with thrills, excitement, adventure, and a sense of growth and accomplishment with the help of a little pre-planning first!
Your first year as an international student is critical. Below are some practical ways to help you prepare for cultural differences, plus other changes that will catapult you out of your comfort zone throughout your stay in America! Get ready; this is going to be fun!
Bringing the correct documents
When arriving in a new country, make sure you have all your documents ready to go so you can easily enter the United States and start at your university.
Here is a shortlist of must-haves before getting on the plane:
Getting your budget in order
Since this may be the first time you have to manage your money, it's essential to start right with a budget. The last thing you want is to be under financial stress while managing a college course load. Before leaving, research living costs in the town or city you're moving to because you might be surprised to find that food, books, and tuition are more expensive than you expected.
Here is a budget breakdown of what you can include and some useful budget apps:
Convenient budget apps
The international office at your new university will quickly become your home away from home. If you're unsure where to go or who to ask specific questions, these are the people who can give you the best advice on next steps. These advisors are expertly trained and there to guide you, so be sure to be in contact with them before leaving home.
Beyond the international office, U.S. universities offer a surplus of student support services, specifically designed to ensure all students have the network of support they need to succeed in their education. You never know when you'll need help writing a paper, need medicine when you're feeling sick, or need someone to talk to if you feel overwhelmed and stressed. Make it a priority and remind yourself to visit these critical resources like housing services, counseling, student health, tutoring, writing, etc., once you get to campus.
For many international students, adjusting to American culture can be difficult, and at times frustrating. One of the hallmarks of U.S. culture is personal independence and freedom. These concepts may vary drastically from your home country, so you'll want to familiarize yourself with American culture before your departure to ease your transition.
Independence: As mentioned above, Americans strongly believe in the concept of individualism. Most consider themselves separate individuals, control their own lives, and emphasize personal freedom.
Equality: While this can be a tricky subject to navigate in America, most Americans believe that all people are of equal standing. Everyone should have the same rights and opportunities as the person standing next to them, regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic background, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or otherwise. Americans celebrate diversity and appreciate learning about new cultures.
Directness: When you're new in the U.S., you may be taken back by the frankness and openness of how Americans deal with each other. Most believe in conflict resolution using forthright discussion among all involved. If you face a conflict, the best thing to do is address it clearly and directly so you can quickly resolve the issue.
Another way to learn about American culture is to research and review some of the holidays celebrated throughout the country. Below are just a few during the calendar year:
01 January - New Year's Day
14 February - Valentine's Day
17 March - St. Patrick's Day
01 April - April Fool's Day
04 July - Independence Day
31 October - Halloween
4th Thursday in November - Thanksgiving
25 December - Christmas
You may have heard the term "melting pot" when people refer to the U.S. The reasoning behind that is because people come from many different backgrounds and cultures, which creates a wide variety of beliefs, values, and traditions. Customs vary from one region to another and even family to family. If invited to a cookout in California, that might mean grilling on the beach; in Texas, it could mean a barbecue competition in a park or a block party in the middle of the street in Chicago. So really lean into your adventure abroad and experience whatever your host community has to offer!
Think BIG (food)
You'll find that most things in America are larger, so prepare your appetite for that as food is not excluded from the "bigger is better" list. You may be shocked the first time you're out to eat in America to see the portion size on your plate. Americans often prefer large and luxurious, while other countries emphasize being practical and compact, Americans actually view larger things as practical. It's not uncommon for someone to order a sizable meal and then take the remainder home as leftovers, which is great because that will help you save money since you're paying one price for two meals.
International students who prepare at home adjust faster in the U.S. with more confidence and skills to earn higher grades, live healthier lifestyles, develop English skills more quickly, and become more professionally ready for internships and employment. While you'll likely be required to complete academic and cultural training at your university, that will happen once you're already in America. So we hope these tips will help you in advance to coming to the states so that when you're here, you'll maintain a higher quality of life, make lifelong friends, and gain extraordinary adventures!
Research and resources:
Israel, E. I., & Batalova, J. B. (2021). International Students in the United States. Migration Policy Institute, 1. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/international-students-united-states-2020#:~:text=Enrollment%20Numbers%20and%20Trends,-The%20number%20of&text=Beginning%20with%20just%2026%2C000%20international,6%20percent%20in%202019%2D20.
S. (2019b, August 1). The Ultimate International Student Freshman Survival Guide. Sprintax Nonresident Tax Preparation. http://blog.sprintax.com/ultimate-international-student-freshman-survival-guide/
Durrani, A. D. (2018, July 17). Maximize International Student Services at U.S. Universities. U.S. News & World Report. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2018-07-17/maximizing-us-university-international-student-services-after-enrolling
The USA “Way Of Life.” (2021). International Student. https://www.internationalstudent.com/study_usa/way-of-life/