Coming to America
10 Things all International Students Should Know About Studying in the U.S.A.
By Caitlin McConnell, Marist College
1. Culture Shock.
Be aware that you are likely to experience culture shock when you arrive in the states. Culture shock is feeling disoriented and homesick when living in an unfamiliar country that is different from the one you are used to. It might take time, but eventually, you will start to feel at home and this temporary shock will fade.
Take the initiative to introduce yourself and meet new people on campus. It might feel more comfortable to only be friends with other international students, but I encourage you to also become friends with American students so that you can get the full cultural experience that America has to offer. It is common that many Americans will be intrigued and interested in where you come from and will want to get to know you.
There can be very inexpensive and very expensive means of transportation in America. Bicycles are the cheapest way to get around and are a great way to explore the area that you are in. If you need to go a little further outside of your accommodation, a bus or subway would be your next least expensive option. For longer distances, trains will get you very far in the U.S. at a reasonable price. I do not recommend taking taxis often since they can be expensive and you must always check if a taxi driver has a valid ID.
Some major safety tips to keep in mind are to always have someone with you, never walk alone at night and try to never take public transportation alone at night. Become familiar with the safety measures on your campus, such as blue lights that signal a telephone booth for emergency calls. It is important to put important numbers in your phone for places like the local police and campus security.
United States currency is based on a decimal system with one dollar equaling one hundred cents. Coin currency is only in the amounts of less than one dollar. It may take time to get used to the new currency, but be patient with it. Here are the coins to be knowledgeable about:
– penny equals one cent
– nickel equals five cents
– dime equals ten cents
– quarter equals twenty-five cents
Never have huge amounts of cash on you or sitting in your room. It is a smart idea to open up a bank account once you are settled in at your new school.
6. Social Customs.
Just like every culture, America has social customs specific to its culture. For example, you may want to be aware that people shake hands very firmly when meeting other people for the first time. On the other hand, family members and close friends will often hug, kiss or both when greeting each other. It is also a common knowledge in America to raise your hand in class before speaking, bring a small gift when invited to someone’s place and to give people personal space (about 2 feet of distance).
Take time to get used to the local accent where you are studying. The United States is a vast country with many different accents from north to south, east to west. Know that humor and sarcasm are used heavily in American language, so do not be easily offended by a comment before considering if it may just be a joke. Americans are also fond of abbreviations and you might hear words such as “whatevs” and “let’s go to the caf” instead of saying the full word of “whatever” and “cafeteria.” The English language can be strange, but with patience, you will learn it in no time!
8. Cell Phone.
I would recommend not bringing a cell phone from your home country because it may not work in the states or be very expensive to use in a different country. It is a good idea to plan on purchasing a cell phone once you arrive and buying a phone plan that works best for you. Reliable companies that sell cell phones are Verizon, AT&T and Best Buy. Once you get it, don’t forget to enter all necessary numbers of contacts.
9. Extracurricular activities.
Involvement in teams, clubs, events and trips will help you to meet new people and explore the American culture even more. There is nothing more fun than competing in a intramural soccer team or taking a trip to see a Broadway play. Do some research to see what your school has to offer and take advantage of it! Many schools organize trips and sell tickets for a very inexpensive price. They also have clubs in a variety of interests from environmental club to are club; there are an array of choices and opportunities!
10. Don’t be afraid to ask!
The most important fundamental to learning is asking questions. You will become confused and unsure about a lot of situations you run into in Americn because you are not familiar with the country and people will understand that. Americans will happily answer your questions and guide you in the right direction. Little by little, you will become an expert and stop being the one that asks for directions and be the one that gives them.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Barricelli Photography