International student adjusting to life at a US college

International student adjusting to life at a US college

You’re moving to the U.S. to study. I bet you are realizing that an education is much more than just what happens in the classroom. Here are some tips to make sure your experience abroad will be successful both in the classes and outside of them.


Do visit professor’s office hours if you have questions

You may have many students in your class and may not feel comfortable interrupting the professor with your questions. The best time to have these questions addressed is during office hours. There are official times that the professor has designated to meet with students in his/her office. Most times you don’t even need an appointment, but if you have a question about this, feel free to check with the professor. Remember, this is time for you to get additional help from the professor on course material, so be prepared with specific questions instead of generic problems. You have the right to ask for the door to remain open if that makes you more comfortable. During peak assignment times, or just before a paper or exam, you may have to wait to see the professor if there are other students getting help as well.

Do make friends with others in your neighborhood

If you are studying at a US institution along with your family, it is important to let them develop relationships with other families. This might happen easily if you choose university housing, since often married graduate students are housed together. The playground, pool, or gyms are possible gathering spots to meet new people as well as orientation sessions that are organized by the Graduate Student Association or international clubs.

Do connect with international student organizations

If you are in a major city like Washington DC, Miami, or Los Angeles, the chances of an embassy from your country being in the same city are very high. Often these embassies have cultural events where you can meet others from your home country or even Americans who are interested in learning more about your country. Most campuses will have a few clubs or organizations such as an Asian Student organization or Muslim Student Council, or similar ethnic, regional, or faith based groups you can join. Also, the umbrella organization that provides services to international students or study abroad programs, can be a good resource.

Do research the city and surrounding areas

The U.S. is a very large country, so taking time over the various breaks (summer, winter, spring) to travel to another city, state, or coast, is another way to experience the diversity of life in America. Most cities are accessible through the Greyhound bus system, Amtrak, or airplanes. If you have an American driver’s license you can also rent a car, which can be cost effective way to explore the regions nearest to you.

Do attend campus activities to meet other students

When possible, try to engage in the social activities that are popular on campus – this will allow you not only to meet more people, but also experience the full range of American academic life. Sporting events, such as basketball and American football, for example, are a common way to feel pride in one’s institution. Theater, dance, and singing are other performances which are relatively cheap for students to attend and also a way of supplementing your academic experience.


Do not lurk after class

Don't lurk after class to bombard the professor with questions. After class, faculty may be busy with other students or have to go to their next class. Don’t linger and ask complicated questions that may be better handled in their office during office hours. If you are unsure of when to stop by or where the office is, it is okay to ask for an appointment or for further clarification.

Do not shy away from interactions with classmates

American culture favors strong personalities, good public speaking skills, and individualism. These values are also present in American education at the undergraduate and post graduate level. Many international students, particularly those from East or South Asian countries, tend to favor extrovert personalities.

Do not overwhelmed by homesickness

Loneliness or homesickness is a common ailment for foreign students. There are several solutions to maintaining connections with family and friends through the use of technology such as Skype, web based instant messaging, or social media sites including Twitter, or Facebook, or phone based instant messaging applications such as WhatsApp or BlackBerry messenger which all allow you to communicate with friends and family in real time.

Do not allow the professor or classmates to do all the talking

If you are an introverted person, bear in mind that speaking up in class (which is considered part of the grade) is an important part of being a student, particularly at the graduate level where classes tend to be smaller, and the professor has more time and attention for each student. Professors are experts in their field, but they like to have dialogue and discussion with their students. It is not considered rude to debate in class and in most instances this is expected.

Do not forget you are subject to American laws on campus

Remember that the laws of the United States apply even on university campuses. This includes speeding if you are driving a car (or riding a bike) as well as other state and federal laws regarding drug abuse, violent behavior, or domestic issues. The campus police are the first round of response for any potential violations (including suicide attempts) and then the calls are referred to the public authorities of the greater city or state.

Jumping cartoon

The American university has a unique identity that is known around the world as an environment that develops creative thinking, encourages innovation, and provides a context for lifelong friendships.

Being an international student is an exciting challenge and opportunity. The successful student will sample American culture through on-campus activities and organizations, and perform well academically in the classroom.

More expert advice about Undergraduate Programs

Photo Credits: Cultural Diversity - Flickr SLU Madrid Campus; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Mohanalaskhmi Rajakumar, PhDWriter

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a writer who has lived in Qatar since 2005. She has a PhD from the University of Florida with a focus on gender and postcolonial theory. Her dissertation project was published as Haram in the Harem (Peter Lang, 2009) a...

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