International students studying in the U.S. have the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world and share in different cultures and traditions. One way to make the most of the American college experience is by having an active social life, which can also help students better adapt to their new home and keep homesickness at bay.
“The social aspect of college is really important, because it’s hard to be successful if you don’t find people you relate to,” says Jennie Kent, an educational consultant based in Bogotá, Colombia and Stonington, Connecticut. “I encourage students to take some time before they head to college to reflect about who they are and identify their core values.”
Once students arrive in the U.S., here are some ways to develop a full and active social life, beginning in your freshman year.
Make Friends With a Wide Variety of People
While international student freshmen may gravitate toward their own communities, it’s important to branch out and meet a variety of students.
“Universities have hundreds of opportunities for students to get involved and make connections,” says Patricia DeBolt, dean of admission at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.
She recommends students attend on-campus activities, including orientation or welcome events that apply to the student, such as sessions specifically for undergraduates, graduate students and international students. She also advises living on campus.
“Residential life offices host a variety of programs year-round for students who live in university housing. These are usually fun and often informational events that help students mix and mingle and make new friends,” DeBolt says.
Joining campus organizations can be a good idea too, she says, since most universities have a variety of groups ranging from cultural to academic to professional.
Mateo Pardo, from Colombia, who is studying finance and computer science at New York University in New York City, says he met a lot of people his freshman year, which helped him develop his closest friendships.
“The best way to have active social lives is to be open, especially at the beginning,” Pardo says. “To do this you need to be open to new people and experiences.”
Don’t Be Embarrassed About Being Different
The U.S. is a nation of nations, so international student freshmen should embrace and share their differences.
“It is great to be yourself. During your academic career in the U.S., international students will find many opportunities to share their cultures,” DeBolt says.
These opportunities may arise in the dining hall or student union during a casual conversation, in a classroom with a professor or at an event with other students, she says.
“Many campus community members find cultural differences to be one of the best parts of a diverse global college or university and would enjoy learning about your perspectives,” says Lisa D. Swaim, director of global programming at the University of California–Santa Cruz.
For example, Swaim says the school encourages cross-cultural conversation with events called “Story Circles,” where students can learn about each other’s experiences and traditions.
“International students should absolutely share their culture. One of the reasons that universities want international students as part of their communities is to make them more vibrant,” Kent says. “Embrace what’s special about you and share it.”
Speak Slowly, Ask People to Repeat
Attending a U.S. university is a perfect time to practice your English skills with fellow students.
International students should “accept and acknowledge” that they may be weak in communicating in English, Sushil Sukhwani, director of the India-based education consulting firm Edwise International, wrote via email. “Only then will they be comfortable in asking others to speak slowly or repeat statements.”
DeBolt says learning a language takes practice and that most students, faculty and staff are kind and patient with international students who are not fluent in English. She says students can also contact their school’s international student office about whether there are any special study sessions for non-English speakers to practice their English skills.
“I think that it’s really important to practice English in general,” says Anita Videla Solá from Argentina, a journalism major at Emerson College bsp;in Boston, Massachusetts. “Watching movies and listening to songs in English is great practice.”
Don’t Stay in Constant Contact With Home
There is nothing like home, but international freshmen should focus on being a part of their new home, too, experts say.
“It’s important to engage in campus life and not get caught up in what you are missing out on at home,” Kent says. “College is a time to build self-confidence so that students can successfully navigate adult life.”
Swaim says it’s OK to be in contact a couple of times a week, but students need time to explore and make connections in their new community and being in touch too often can delay a student’s adjustment.
“I would recommend setting up times to connect with your loved ones at home, but also push yourself to make new relationships,” Swaim says.
Staying in touch with loved ones at home is extremely important for Solá.
“On the other hand, staying focused in school and just enjoying the experience is also key to a great college experience,” Solá says. “I think it’s key to find the right balance for each person.”
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4 Ways International Freshmen Can Develop Active Social Lives originally appeared on usnews.com