Higher education in an American college or university is a dream for many around the world. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Purdue, Caltech – these are schools that draw the most brilliant from across the globe. At last count, a million international students were studying in the USA.
Naturally, international students who come to the U.S. to study can find it challenging to blend in. Though the USA is a very accommodating nation, every student requires some time to acclimate.
This process is easier if you are aware of the possible issues you could face, and how to deal with them accordingly.
Problems Faced by International Students in the USA
It is one thing to score high in TOEFL, but quite another to use American English 24/7 as a medium of learning. For those students who have never used American English as their first language, the learning curve is quite steep.
The problem can cause deep insecurity in the mind of an otherwise brilliant student. Education is based on seamless communication, and when that breaks down, other forms of dysfunction can arise.
The best way is to practice before you set foot in the USA. Watch a lot of American news (CNN, NBC, CBS, PBS) and movies. However, the latter does not prepare you for life in any way. Many podcasters such as Tom Bilyeu own YouTube channels that feature hour-long interviews with productivity and life skills experts. Joe Rogan, another famed podcaster, hosts interviews with top-rated CEOs and business people. Use these forms of media to better understand common ways to speak and communicate in the U.S.
The U.S. style of classroom instruction can hit international students quite hard when they have been used to memorizing several thousand pages and regurgitating them during an exam.
The U.S. educational system wants you to develop an inquisitive frame of mind. This is why you will often be asked about your opinion on a particular topic or line of thinking in class. Developing analytical thoughts about complicated subjects can be quite hard at first.
In the same context, plagiarism is considered a serious offense in U.S. classrooms. The first time you might get away with a warning, but if it repeats, you will surely face disciplinary action that can even include expulsion.
Before you move, make it a point to ask questions about what you are studying. Develop an inquisitive mind that can take an idea and build upon it, rather than just memorize the subject matter.
Research the topics that grab your interest. For example, you might like to learn from Google Scholar about the latest advances in your field. You don’t need to understand these highly advanced concepts entirely, but try to follow the method of learning that led to it. Doing this will surely help you once you start the semester.
As for the plagiarism problem, it’s essential to check every assignment before you submit it to ensure it is original work. Research your school’s requirements for plagiarism, and use their recommended online plagiarism-checking website or tool to review every paper you write before you turn it in. This way, you can avoid any unexpected trouble.
In colleges and universities, a social life is essential. You cannot retire to your dorm and put in long hours and do all of it yourself unless you are a genius.
You need to have friends who are in your class that can help you out at times. It is a good idea to make friends from all backgrounds and ethnicities. The U.S. is indeed a melting pot of various cultures. There is much to learn by being around people.
Don’t shut yourself in your room between classes. Get involved in student activities and meet others. Join the campus gym, go jogging, or join the college photography club. Don’t limit yourself to social media, since it can present a very one-dimensional view. It’s only natural to have a few awkward moments when meeting new people, but this all part of the learning process.
For those from warmer climates, winter in the U.S. can seem brutal. The northern half of the country is freezing from November through March, and snowstorms can be quite common.
This can make it difficult to travel, and require you to bundle up whenever you venture outdoors. Even walking to class can present hazards, as there can be ice-covered walkways and stairs.
However, the good news is that every dorm, residence and building on your campus will likely have excellent indoor heating to keep the cold at bay.
If your college or university is in California, Texas, Florida, or another part of the southern U.S., consider yourself lucky. You likely won’t have to deal with cold winter temperatures too often. However, if you’re in the Northeast or the Midwest, you will experience cold temperatures not long after the fall semester begins.
Luckily, you can prepare for the cold by dressing right and limiting your exposure. Invest in a good coat, hat, gloves, and insulated footwear. If you aren’t sure what to buy, ask a classmate from the local area. The trick is to dress in layers and not spend too much time outdoors unless it is essential.
Higher education is expensive in the USA. The average student can have upwards of $30,000 in educational debt by the time they graduate from school. While U.S. schools provide an excellent education and have top-notch facilities and resources, there’s no getting around the steep price. On top of this, the cost of living and price of healthcare in the U.S. is extremely high as well.
There are numerous scholarships that are available. These are merit-based or need-based. All of these cannot be accessed from outside the U.S., and often being present and doing the research is needed.
You could also look into the possibility of on-campus jobs. There are positions that are regularly advertised on campus job boards. If these tie into your area of study, the experience could be helpful.
No matter how independent you are, there are times when you’ll feel homesick and alone when studying in the U.S.
Besides this, there are daily chores that need to be done: Washing and ironing clothes, preparing your meals, maintaining your budget, and so much more. If you are used to your family helping you out with these things, it can take a lot of adjustment.
It’s important to think of your time studying in the U.S. as valuable life experience that will help you grow and progress in many ways. Missing home is natural, but also be sure to take pride in all the new skills you are learning.
When you are missing home, modern technology is there to help. Thanks to WhatsApp and Skype, your family members are no more than a call away. Imagine the plight of all those who went through your experience for a century but had no way to communicate back home other than sending letters!
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