For many international students, studying in the United States is the opportunity of a lifetime – but it’s also a time full of surprises. Students from outside of the country often don’t know just how different life in the US will be.
We talked to North Lake College international student advisors, as well as several former international students at NLC, to see what advice they would offer to students enrolling at an American school for the first time. Their answers ranged from matters of personal safety to comments about American food, water, and friendships.
Safety and Security
1. Scan important documents like your passport to an encrypted backup drive or store on a password protected place on your computer. If the documents get lost or stolen, you will have a copy while you request new ones.
2. Be on the alert for scams. Scams can start before you even leave your home. For example, never pay an “agent” to fill out your college applications for you. Apply directly through the college’s website, and don’t pay any application fees unless you are sure that they go directly to the college. If you receive news about your application from someone outside who does not work for the school, call the college to verify.
Scam phone calls are also a problem inside the United States. If you get a cell phone, download a caller ID app to filter out scams. The most common scammers pretend to be the IRS – the real IRS will never call you.
3. Report crimes if you need to – you will not get in trouble. Many international students in the US fear that they will be punished or even deported if they report a crime. You will not be punished simply for reporting a crime someone else committed. If you need help, call the police.
4. Learn American academic rules. Make sure you read your new school’s academic guidelines, and ask your professors if you need help understanding them. Plagiarism rules, for example, are different in the United States. What some students call “sharing,” American professors call cheating. Also, if you are struggling in a class, ask a professor how you can improve, or if you can earn extra credit. But do not ask professors to change grades they have already given. If you deserved a grade, your professor will not change it.
5. Be prepared for different teaching styles. All professors are not all the same. Some are strict, while others are relaxed. Some professors offer extra credit, but others do not. Classes can be different, too. Rote memorization is unpopular in the United States, and unlike lecture-based educations in some countries, you can often express your own opinion in class.
6. Learn the language of American schools. There are many new words to understand when you enter a college in the United States. Make sure you understand academic terms like semester, transcript, credit hour, credit transfer, syllabus, GPA, and probation. You’ll also want to confirm that you understand the grading system for class work, too.
Living in the US and Enjoying Your Stay
7. Know how to find a place to live. Many colleges and universities in the US have student housing – but many do not. If you attend a school with no housing, ask the international office (if available) if they can help you find a place to live, or if you must search yourself. Expect that many apartments will ask you to pay a month or two of rent in advance, and you may have to sign a contract to live there for 6 or 12 months. To save money, you may also have to live with a stranger, or multiple strangers, as roommates.
8. Take advantage of student discounts. Take your college or university-issued student ID card everywhere you go, and remember to ask if student discounts are available. Movie theatres, bookstores, museums, coffee shops, and sporting events all frequently give student discounts. Many colleges, including North Lake, also arrange for students to use public transportation for free.
9. Seek out familiar foods for a taste of home. Look for international or specialty groceries that carry foods from your home country. Visit farmers’ markets, where small businesses sell fresh fruit, vegetables, and bread from a variety of cultures. Some international students at NLC caution that American food can be much sweeter and saltier than you are used to. And even water tastes different here. Meals at restaurants are often huge in comparison to meals in other countries – a “large” meal may feed two or three people. You can always ask the restaurant to put leftovers in a box for you to finish eating the next day.
10. Homesickness is real. It is totally normal to miss home while you study abroad. Join student clubs at your university – and if you wish, join clubs and attend events at other universities/colleges nearby, not just yours. Also look for people and organizations in the community that may be from your home country. If you’re an athlete, look for local sports leagues you can join, which can also help you meet new friends and avoid homesickness.
Are you an international student interested in attending college in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area? We invite you to learn more about North Lake College and its dynamic international student body.