International students add valuable diversity to a university, enriching the experience of other students on campus. Schools with a strong global presence often have a wealth of cultural groups and events, allowing international students an opportunity to share their food, music, and traditions with their classmates. But first you must decide if you want to ‘fit in’ or ‘stand out’ on campus.
How to Fit In
Imagine that you have just arrived in the United States on a college campus that will be your home for the next four years. How do you enjoy your experience as an international student, away from everything familiar, alone and possibly homesick at first? You will have to make an effort to fit in but remember that everyone in your first-year/freshman class is new on campus and trying to adjust to their environment. Don’t be afraid to talk to other students in the dorm, dining hall or classroom. Practice your language skills and make new friends. Ask questions about classroom discussions, homework assignments, campus events, and offer your name and where you are from. Be friendly and smile to show self-confidence and to put the other person at ease.
To help you fit in, you can join clubs, attend social events on campus, and play sports for recreation and exercise. Do you play tennis? Do you dance or do yoga? There may be classes or exercise groups where you can find like-minded people. If you want to join a cultural interest group, such as The Asian Student Association, popular at many schools, and there isn’t one, consider forming your own chapter. Talk to a few friends who might be interested in the club and then check with the university administration to find out how to register a new club with the school.
How to Stand Out
Many applicants write about sponsoring cultural exchange evenings where everyone takes turns creating meals unique to their culture. Introduce classmates to the music, films, food or literature of your culture. That is how you stand out from the crowd.
In class, offer to work on group projects. Talk to the professors, during office hours or after class. Speak up in class, too, if only to ask questions. Find an adviser, a mentor, preferably in your major. Join a study group for support in a challenging class. Offer to teach your native language to a class. This helps you fit in and stand out from the crowd.
American universities offer many resources on campus to help international students adapt to life in a new culture. For example, James Madison University in Virginia advertises its Summer Springboard orientation program for both international students coming to the US and for JMU students traveling abroad to study. The link to the school’s website below shows the vast amount of information offered to international students during orientation, including details of daily life that will help the student adapt quickly to a new culture. This includes a group shopping trip to a local grocery store so the international student will be comfortable with what could be a daunting initial experience, including encountering unusual food items and paying in a foreign currency.
Another school that offers a special Summer Session popular with international students is Columbia University in New York City.
These are only two examples of the numerous American universities that provide information and assistance for international students to deal with ‘culture shock.’ There are many resources on every campus to help you adapt to life in a new culture, including learning about school health insurance, extracurricular activities and sports, on-campus jobs to learn about the community while earning some money, and the potential for internships to experience careers in your field.
So, should you try to fit in with everyone else or stand out from the crowd? Both, of course! Learn to be a good team player while you acquire leadership skills in college. Strive for the maximum experience as a student abroad. These are lessons that will last for a lifetime.
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