6 Challenges for International Students in CollegeJuly 02, 2014
The first semester of college in the United States is an exciting time for international students, but there are some obstacles that naturally arise in a new country and academic environment.
Here are challenges international students may face, and tips to deal with each:
1. New assignments: In your college courses, you'll likely be graded in many ways: on tests, papers, and class participation. For students like Vuk Bojovic, who's studying at Augustana College in Illinois, doing research and citing sources in written assignments can be an especially tough challenge.
"When I first came here, I had a problem with research papers, as I have never wrote them in high school in Serbia," Bojovic wrote in an E-mail to U.S. News. "I was not familiar with the structure of a paper as well as academic resources and citations. It took me a whole term to work both on my own and with people in the Reading-Writing Center to get a good grade on a paper."
If you're struggling with writing papers, follow Bojovic's lead by stopping by your school's writing center. There, you may be able to find free tutoring and help with writing, research, and editing.
2. New professors: Many college professors in the United States want learning to be a collaborative experience, and encourage participation from students both in class and during their office hours.
For international students who come from academic environments with hands-off instructors, being able to approach faculty members is a cultural change, notes Karen Edwards, assistant dean and director of international student affairs at Grinnell College in Iowa.
"Consider faculty as your partners in the learning process, as opposed to your superiors," Edwards advises.
3. New subjects: Many colleges and universities require students to take a set of general education classes, regardless of their majors, to expose them to a wide variety of subjects. This can come as a surprise for international students who expect only to take, for example, business or engineering courses in college.
"When I saw my schedule, I was like, 'Wait, why do I have to do history? Why do I have to do religion? I [had] question marks all over the place—I was just so shocked," says Ashima Laad, a student at Iowa's Drake University who's originally from India.
Though she initially struggled with electives, Laad says she came to realize that her extra classes, like meteorology, were exposing her to topics she wouldn't have otherwise pursued. Keep an open mind when it comes to courses—you may even discover academic passions you didn't know you had.
4. New friends: College life is not restricted to the classroom. A huge part of the college experience happens after class—and for international students, integrating socially can be a hurdle.
"A lot of [international students] say, 'Man, I want to integrate and connect and just experience more of the culture firsthand and have more American friends,' but they are still ... waiting for the American students to approach them," says Matthew Murrie, an English instructor at Westminster College in Missouri who teaches many international students. "In most cultures, they're not as forward, and they think, 'Why aren't they approaching me?' I recommend the international students just go ahead and make that first move."
Getting involved on campus is one way to meet new people—whether that's in academic clubs, social organizations, or even at part-time jobs. For Providence College student Iryna Bocharova, working in her school's information technology department helped her find a diverse group of friends and start to feel at home on the Rhode Island campus.
"I had trouble accepting people and building relationships the first two weeks," the Ukranian native says. "By the second month, I had a lot of friends, and everything was perfect."
5. New food: In America, it's a trend known as the freshman 15: Weight gain is relatively common among new college students who aren't accustomed to daily meals at buffets. For international students, adapting to new food in unlimited quantities can be especially challenging.
"The first week, I enjoyed having pizza and pasta and American stuff," says Drake University student Laad. "I gained a lot of weight when I came here, and then I decided that, no—I'm not going to eat all this junk stuff anymore."
The good news is that colleges usually offer wellness services and nutrition counseling to help you identify smart food choices. For Laad, meeting with Drake's nutritionist, coupled with her own diet research, helped her to get back on a healthy eating plan.
6. New culture: The United States is often called a melting pot, mixing people from cultures all around the world. Still, American culture is distinctive, and might be different from your own.
"I think I was too hardened to the culture difference—I just rejected it, telling myself, 'No, there's no culture difference,'" says Providence College student Bocharova. Instead, "Accept that there is a culture difference, and accept that it is OK," the Ukranian student recommends.
No matter what obstacles you're facing at college, remember that you're not alone—and you don't have to deal with them on your own. College campuses provide a vast array of resources to students, because the transition can be tricky for anyone.
"Even though I came halfway across the globe ..., I don't think it was just me," says Augustana College student Bojovic of his transition challenges. "Just like any other freshman, it takes a while to adapt—but I felt like I pretty much grew up at Augustana."