Tips for Assimilating as an International Student in the U.S.

Moving away from a sheltered existence at home to attend college, is a life-altering step. Now imagine that your chosen university or college is in another country where people speak another language. That’s the daunting situation that thousands of international students in the U.S. face each year.

When you join a U.S. university as an international student, you are bound to feel a little homesick, especially in the initial months. Even if you consider yourself somewhat familiar with the American way of life (by watching U.S. based TV shows and movies or reading American literature), you may feel overwhelmed by the differences in cultural norms, teaching style, and eating habits in the U.S., compared to your home country. For some international students, the language barrier can make getting through routine tasks like buying groceries or opening a bank account, a challenge.

But, having worked hard to get the opportunity to study at a U.S. university, it’s important that you assimilate well in your new environment. Here are a few things you can do to overcome challenges when you come to study at a U.S. university:

  1. Take an English-Speaking Class

The English-speaking environment in non-English speaking countries rarely matches the advanced English competency required on a day to day basis in the U.S.; understanding American colloquialisms is another ‘ball game’!

Although most international students attain significantly better English speaking skills within a year of stay, taking an English-speaking class will build your confidence, improve your social interactions, and help you assimilate faster in the academic and social environment on campus. Also, being a confident speaker gives the impression of ‘a strong personality’ and ‘individuality’, which are traits that are highly respected in American culture.

  1. Meet with the Faculty Regularly

The pedagogy in U.S. universities consists of classroom discussions, on-the-spot tests, individual assignments, and group projects that require a fair bit of research and independent thinking. International students, used to a more textbook-based and instructional teaching style, find it difficult to cope with this new learning environment. Moreover, students from some Asian cultures may feel reticent about interrupting the professor for questions, as it’s seen as a mark of disrespect in their home country.

If you find yourself lagging in understanding the course content, or if you need extra guidance with an assignment, don’t hesitate to meet with the faculty. Students can walk-in to meet professors during designated office hours at most U.S. universities and colleges.

  1. Make an Effort to Socialize (cultural assimilation)

Chinese school students spend most of their time studying, especially when preparing for the gaokao (the standardized college entrance exam). Even when in the U.S. for a college degree, they tend to spend considerable time studying in the library or their rooms.

In contrast, the American upbringing encourages a life that balances work and pleasure, which is why you will find that American students study, party and play sports with equal fervor. As in most societies, in the U.S. those who do not participate in social gatherings and group activities, tend to feel excluded.

While befriending other Chinese students may feel like a safety net, it’s important to try to socialize with your American class and dorm mates. You will find ample opportunities to meet new people on campus, so dive in. Trying new things such as a taking a contemporary dance class, or working with a volunteer student group.

Experimenting with diverse activities will also develop you as an all-rounded personality, and that’s something that American companies recruiting on campus actively seek in college graduates.

  1. Work on Your Time Management Skill

As you get involved with academics, extracurricular activities, part-time job on campus, and your social commitments, you may begin to feel overwhelmed. Now is the time for you to develop time management skills. Whether it’s an online calendar, a paper diary, or your smartphone, find an organizing tool that works well for you. Every weekend, make an effort to chart your plan for the week ahead, adding your list of priorities to it.

  1. Seek Help from International Student Associations

Approach the local international student association for information on things like finding a place to live, opening a bank account, the necessary paperwork as an international student in America, or familiarizing yourself with U.S. culture and customs. In fact, you can connect with the student associations before your arrival in the U.S. so you are prepared for your new life here.

If you are having a difficult time as an international student, discuss your concerns with an advisor at Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISSS) at your U.S. university.

  1. Connect with Your Community in the U.S.

Are you still feeling homesick? Celebrating a festival from your home country, or sharing your experiences with other international students from your community, may help. Some universities have organizations based on ethnicity or religion. For example, the Asian Students in America at Syracuse University (New York State), or the Chinese Student Association at Berkley University. In the larger cities such as Washington DC, or Los Angeles, you may also find an embassy from your country. Embassies often host cultural events where you can connect with other students from your country.

Although studying at a U.S. University can be daunting in the beginning, remember that majority of international students in the U.S. go on to have a successful stay and make friendships that last a lifetime. Your academic journey will be much more rewarding if you are open to trying new things and getting to know the people around you.

The U.S. is a beautiful country, so use your academic breaks to travel to different states to experience the diverse facets of American culture first-hand.