Attending college in the United States can be an exciting but scary time for an international student. It is likely that you were exposed to enough U.S. culture through the media in your home country for some things to feel very familiar, and yet there will be lots of other things that will surprise you.
by Ashika Brinkley
Attending college in the United States can be an exciting but scary time for an international student. It is likely that you were exposed to enough U.S. culture through the media in your home country for some things to feel very familiar, and yet there will be lots of other things that will surprise you. I remember not being able to figure out why I kept bouncing into people all the time. It never occurred to me that at home we both drove and walked on the other side. As you begin this journey it is important to remember that you control the college experience you have. Sure there will be unexpected bumps in the road but you control your response to both the unexpected and mundane. A positive outlook will allow you to connect with others and seize opportunities in ways that will truly enrich your experience.
College is a time to acquire knowledge and some expertise in a subject matter of your choosing but more importantly, college is a time to learn new things about yourself. With that in mind I would like to share my top three bits of advice for a positive international student experience.
- 1 . Pursue Excellence-It is likely that a lifetime of rigorous and stressful academic preparation has brought you to this point. Continue to challenge yourself in the classroom and keep those grades up. Strive to be on the Dean’s list, and look for those honor society invitations in the mail. That being said excellence is not just about academic performance. Excellence means fully immersing yourself in your college experience and challenging yourself to find opportunities to be well rounded. Get involved in campus life. Most campuses have an international student organization that you can get started with, but don’t stop there. Get involved in student government, find a place to practice your faith, read your campus newspaper, attend athletic events, pay attention to local politics and volunteer. Excellence means bringing your best self to every situation and challenging yourself to move beyond your comfort zone in and out of the classroom.
- 2 . You’re an Ambassador. . . deal with it. Whether you like it or not you are an ambassador for your country. Pay attention to superficial things like your dress and deportment, but more importantly pay attention to how you respond to others. People will make assumptions about your culture and ask what may seem like ridiculous questions. Use these opportunities to invite others to get to know you better. I remember being asked why we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving at home. I thought about the story of the first Thanksgiving and the Mayflower and was incredulous at the thought that someone could not understand why this was not a part of my culture. In the end it was just a well intentioned albeit awkward invitation to spend the holiday with their family. By and large you will find that people are well intentioned. Even when they may seem ignorant about the rest of the world, or even xenophobic, most people do want to connect with others. If you are open to that possibility you will find yourself having made friends in the oddest of places at the end of those four years.
- 3 . Get out of your dorm room! – International students don’t corner the market on loneliness and homesickness. Home does not have to be thousands of miles away for you to miss it. Chances are most other students are feeling scared, anxious and alone just like you are. An empathetic new friend can often be found right across the hallway, in the cafeteria, in the television lounge or in the quad. Force yourself out of your dorm room. It is normal to want to hold on to your culture for dear life when you’re feeling the loneliest. Resist the urge to insulate yourself from U.S. culture as a way of holding on to the culture and comforts of home. Connecting with others is the best way to mitigate homesickness. If you’re shy, start off making small talk with cafeteria staff, the people in the mail room and shuttle bus drivers. Either way make a conscious effort to have meaningful human contact everyday.
So there you have it. Here’s to a good first semester and a great four years!
Ashika Brinkley is originally from the island of St. Lucia. She graduated with honors from Morgan State University with a bachelor of science in chemistry, and earned her master of public health at Yale University. Ashika is also the Owner of Funding Finder Consulting, which works with organizations to help them maximize their fund raising potential. She is also a member of the higher education community serving as an Adjunct Instructor of chemistry at Tunxis Community College and of chemistry and public health at Goodwin College.