Attending a U.S. university is an exciting prospect for new international students. But as you embark on a new chapter as an international student abroad, you’ll need to make some adjustments.
“You have jumped through a lot of hoops, as we say, to come to another country to study. It’s a new adventure full of excitement and challenges,” says Anne Mongillo director of international student affairs at Hofstra University in New York. “Set small goals for yourself every day. Meeting these small goals will lead to bigger successes down the line. You’ve got this.”
Here are some of the more common challenges international students may face and how to overcome them:
— New kinds of assignments and expectations.
— Less formal professor interactions.
— General education requirements.
— Meeting people with similar interests.
— Finding healthy food options.
— Understanding cultural nuances.
New Kinds of Assignments and Expectations
At a U.S. university, international students will be exposed to a new education system with assignments and expectations that they may not be accustomed to — like writing research papers that require citing sources and formatting your paper in MLA or APA format.
“When completing assignments, it is essential that students cite, or give credit to, the work of other researchers in order to avoid plagiarism,” says Mongillo.
The concept of plagiarism is often a new one for many international students, and a misunderstanding of it can result in disciplinary actions ranging from failing an assignment or class to being expelled by the university.
Mongillo recommends students ask their professor for guidance when unsure about how to cite or give credit to an author for an idea or quote being used in an assignment. Your professor can also help explain the format students should use for papers.
“When in doubt, ask. Your school may also have a writing center that can assist you,” says Mongillo.
Less Formal Professor Interactions
Some international students may come from academic environments where instructor-student engagement is more formal.
“In a U.S. classroom, dialogue and conversation, challenging ideas (and) asking questions are important parts of the learning process, so it’s important for international students to understand these expectations to fully engage in their education,” says Jonathan Kratz, director of international student and scholar services at James Madison University in Virginia.
Many professors have office hours where students can visit them to discuss any questions or get guidance on assignments.
“If your schedule does not match your professor’s office hours, either send them an e-mail or talk with them after class to ask when a good time would be for you to meet,” says Mongillo.
General Education Requirements
Some international students may be surprised to learn that they must take general education courses apart from their courses for their major. These GE courses help expose students to a wide variety of subjects.
“I usually talk to our students about the advantages,” says Andrea Steifvater, director of international admissions at Ball State University in Indiana. “Maybe you’ll find something that you are really interested in and you didn’t even know it. Maybe you’ll meet someone interesting that you wouldn’t have otherwise met. Perhaps your course will be easier to navigate than you think and will improve your GPA.”
Meeting People With Similar Interests
Joining an academic club, sports team or social organization can be a good way to make new friends.
“One of the most daunting factors when coming to any new school, new neighborhood, much less a new country, is making new friends,” says Sandy Furth, certified educational planner for World Student Support, an educational consulting company.
She recommends students look for clubs that might be of interest, such as an international club or sports clubs and to check with the school’s student union.
“I also try to point students to the possibilities of finding or creating affinity groups,” says Steifvater. “Does your university have an e-sports program? If you like cricket and there’s no cricket club, can you create one?”
Finding Healthy Food Options
Americans have a term — “the freshman 15” — to describe the weight gain college students often experience in their first year, as many develop unhealthy eating habits away from home. While studies show that the typical weight gain is closer to 4-10 pounds, not 15, experts say this is not inevitable.
“If you are on your school’s meal plan, there will be healthy food choices you can make, even if those choices are different from the foods you are used to eating,” says Mongillo. “Take advantage of the nutritional counseling that your dining service offers.”
Students can also find local grocery stores that carry foods and ingredients for home dishes, she says.
“Make these dishes for your new friends. And be sure to use your campus recreational facilities to stay healthy,” Mongillo says.
Understanding Cultural Nuances
The transition to college can be tricky for any student, and campuses provide a wide variety of resources to help. For international students trying to adapt to a new culture, begin with your school’s international student office.
“I try to help international students understand some of the quirks of U.S. culture,” says Steifvater. “For example, I love to talk to students about what I call ‘the drive by hello’ — the American phenomenon where we walk by someone and say ‘Hey, how are you?’ but never stop to hear the answer to our question.”
Giving students the tools to understand small but impactful interpersonal situations like this can help build their confidence “to explore the new culture that they’ve chosen to live in for a few years,” she says.
Kratz recommends students engage as much as they can with faculty, their academic advisor, the international office and other international and domestic students.
“In whatever way possible, engage with people who can help you understand the U.S. culture,” says Kratz. “Being curious will help to learn the culture.”
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6 Challenges for International Students in College originally appeared on usnews.com