Making College Feel Like Home As An International Student

Being an international student in the U.S. is a great academic opportunity, but adapting to a new culture can be very challenging. Consider these tips when settling in for the school year.

Jul 11, 2018, 15:13 PM

There are over a million international students attending college or universities in the United States. If you are one of these international students, you know how exciting, challenging, and different this experience is from being "home." Here are some tips to help you adjust during your time away.

Combating Culture Shock

Culture shock is a real thing. You may feel overwhelmed, left out, or homesick. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. There are several stages that you may experience when adjusting to a new culture.

  1. Honeymoon Phase – This is when everything seems amazing! America is great! School is incredible! You are looking at every situation with rose-colored glasses. This is the best time to introduce yourself to new people and join some clubs or intramural sports.
  2. What Am I Doing Here? – Once you remove the glasses, reality sets in. Perhaps you are having trouble with the language barrier or find yourself getting frustrated finding your classes. This part of the process is totally normal. Remember to lean on those around you and ask for help while you settle into your routine.
  3. Where is Happy Hour? – This is the phase when you have adjusted and feel accepted. You're catching on to American sarcasm, you understand cultural references, and you're participating in "American" traditions.

Be Patient and Remember Your Goals

One of the strongest ways to fight being homesick is to stay focused. You are not going to feel at home overnight, and you are not alone in these feelings. More than likely, your roommate is feeling the same way! Everyone is trying to navigate through classes, scheduling, clubs, parties and football games. Focus on your schedule and sticking to it. You have come so far with huge education and career aspirations. You do not want to lose sight of any of those because you feel uncomfortable. Every time you attend class, it will feel a little more like your new normal. Build a routine and you will be surprised how “normal” it will feel within a matter of weeks. Make sure you do not overbook yourself – downtime is important too!

Decorate Your Dorm

You will spend a lot of time in your dormitory. It Is wise to invest in your living space. Bring things that you would have from your actual room at home. If you like burning candles, there may be a similar scent to fill your apartment with that will make your space smell like home. Dorms come with florescent lighting. Consider bringing fun string lights or purchasing a table lamp for your desk to offset the harsh coloring. This creates a much more relaxing mood. It is also worth investing in a nice sheet and bedspread set. You want to make your room feel comfortable and cozy. Decorating your dorm should be a fun experience.

Join an International Organization or Club

It may be scary to attend a group call-out meeting by yourself, but the possibilities the group can offer are endless. It may depend on the University that you attend, but most offer several international and multicultural groups and organizations. Indiana University offers 172 different groups including the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, Hungarian Cultural Association, and Uzbek Student and Scholar association. These groups promote seminars and events with a common interest in mind. Student groups are a fantastic way to meet people outside of your classes and potentially form lifelong friendships.

Explore the Food Scene

It may be hard to find a meal that measures up to your mother’s home cooking, but you should take a trip off campus to see what the ethnic food scene is like in your town. You may be closer to a familiar taste of home than you think. This is also a great opportunity to invite American students to come along and try something new.

Book an Adventure with An American Friend

It can be very tempting to only make friends with those that share the same culture. Remember to keep an open mind. One way to dive into American culture and do some sightseeing along the way is to take a road trip. The U.S. is huge and there is so much to see. If you are near a large city such as Chicago or New York, plan a weekend trip into the city with a friend. These cities are bursting at the seams with different cultures. If you are not close to a big city, take a trip to the country. The countryside can be very relaxing. If you are close enough with a friend to visit their family, take them up on their offer. Trips are very eye-opening experiences to seeing how other people live. Make sure to stay stateside to avoid violating your F1 Status.

Give It Time

If you feel like you are really struggling and cannot seem to get a hold on this new experience, reach out to your university’s counseling services center. Everything gets better with time. The best thing you can do is try your best to get involved, stay busy, and focus on school. Before you know it, you will be missing your college life like crazy once you have graduated.

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