Adjusting to Life in the United States as an International Student

International studentsAdjusting to life in a new country may seem intimidating and frustrating. Understand that thousands of students before you have embarked on this journey. You are not alone.

It is normal for an international student to experience excitement, nervousness, sadness, happiness, and everything else! Making the move away from one’s family, friends, and culture is challenging and requires a significant amount of changes, mentally and emotionally.

Here are some tips for help adjusting to life in the US as an international student:

Become Mentally Prepared Before Moving

Making a move out of the country is a life-changing event. It’s much bigger than moving to the next town, state, or province even. That is why it’s critical to mentally prepare before making the trip.

International students must keep in mind that they will be living and learning in a completely new environment. That is an important factor in determining one’s own level of comfort and success after the move.

Many individuals describe their immersion in a new culture as shocking. This is commonly referred to as culture shock, a phenomenon that is an absolutely real experience that international students go through during this transition.

Living in a new country is a totally different experience that will introduce new traditions, manners and overall, ways of re-adjusting one’s own life habits. In fact, it’s likely that even something as simple as driving will be completely different, as US drivers adhere to the right side of the road, whereas other cultures around the world drive on the left.

What Kind of Changes to Expect

Understand that it is not unusual for students to go through a number of phases after the big move. According to many experts, no matter how much one is mentally prepared for what is to come, they are still likely to go through the following phases:

  • Honeymoon Stage. Although this is typically used to describe individuals who are new to relationships, this experience is not limited to the physical and emotional intimacy of a couple, but rather one’s perception of a romantic lifestyle. This stage is characterized by the anticipation and excitement experienced when arriving at a new place. A person is typically interested in learning more about the new environment, culture, and climate. They are typically open to meeting new people during this phase. One does everything they can to please those around them, even when they do not fully understand the context of their agreements and commitments.
  • Hostility Stage. An individual may begin to experience frustration and emotional discomfort after being immersed in a new community for a longer period of time. They may begin to long for their home they’ve left behind, remembering only the good experiences about their old life and forgetting the reasons that urged them to start a new life in a new place—whether those reasons were positive or negative. Students may become weary of communicating in another language that they are less fluent in and frustrated by common customs, such as greeting with a handshake. They may begin to feel hostile toward the people in the new culture and consequently, lose interest in them.
  • Humor Stage. After some time, the student will begin to feel comfortable again. They will learn to laugh at small misunderstandings that are bound to take place—including those that previously frustrated them. This takes place once they make friends and feel more comfortable in the environment.
  • At Home Stage. The student finally feels at home in their new surroundings and is completely comfortable with the differences in the culture. They have learned to adapt to their environment. Without forgetting their own culture, they are able to manage living in a new one, possibly even integrating their native culture into their new one.

Holidays and Customs

While most Americans celebrate worldwide holidays and customs based on religious affiliation, such as Christmas, Hanukkah, or Easter, there are a number of American holidays that are also celebrated annually that international students may want to be aware of.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – Observed on the 3rd Monday in January, public schools are often closed to celebrate the memory of the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. Most restaurants and offices remain open on this day.
  • Memorial Day ­– Celebrated on the last Monday in May, this holiday typically leads to a 3-day weekend where schools and offices are often closed. This holiday is in memory of those who have served and sacrificed their lives in the United States’ military.
  • Independence Day – Taking place on the 4th of July, this holiday celebrates the United States’ independence from England in 1776. This is a very patriotic holiday with citizens proudly displaying the national colors: red, white, and blue throughout the city. Most cities celebrate with a display of fireworks—safe, but particularly loud and bright explosives launched into the sky. Like Memorial Day, many government businesses are closed. However, restaurants and shop typically remain open.
  • Labor Day – Observed on the first Monday of September, this holiday honors all of the workers in America. It also signifies the end of the summer vacation and, for many students, the start of the school year. Most businesses are closed.
  • Thanksgiving – Celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November. Dating back to 1621, this holiday celebrates the hospitality of the Native Americans toward the new Pilgrims who sailed from England. After a harsh winter season where half of the Pilgrims perished, the Native Americans intervened and taught them how to adapt, survive, and thrive in their new land. The following fall, the Native Americans and Pilgrims celebrated their harvest with a giant feast that is now an annual tradition.

Educational System

The US educational system is similar to many others across the globe. Here is a simple look at the higher education system that international students become part of when they study abroad:

Students can choose to enroll in a 2-year or 4-year college or university when studying at the higher education level. At a 2-year college, students can earn certificates or associate’s degrees. A 4-year institution offers certificate programs, associate degree, bachelors and depending on the institution, masters and doctorates degrees.

Getting Started with FNU

If you want to harness your skills and get started learning in a new country, apply to FNU today!