Entering college is a pivotal point in most students’ lives. The transition from school to college, in and of itself, is a huge change – you leave behind your school friends, start afresh in a new environment, live away from home, and are faced with a myriad of challenges. However, as an international student, the change is even more stark. In addition to the above-mentioned novelties, international students also have to adjust in a society completely different from their own.
Here are a few tips that Indian students in particular can keep in mind as they pack their bags for college abroad:
Sign up for International Orientation, and reach well in advance
If your school offers International Orientation, it is advisable to sign up for it. This will allow you to settle in before the semester begins, and campus is flooded with students. Moreover, you will get acquainted with other international students and will get the opportunity to make friends in a more intimate setting.
International orientation programs are designed to help students transition into a foreign environment. They will assist you in housekeeping basics like opening a bank account, signing up for a mailbox, getting a phone number and so on. Developing a good bond with the International Office is a good idea, as over the next few years they will help you with your F-1 visas, OPT, host multiple cultural events and so on.
If your school does not offer some sort of international orientation, it is a good idea to get in touch with some other international student already studying there and to reach a few days before you are officially asked to reach. This will give you time to get started with necessities like bank accounts, a SIM card, etc.
Take it Easy your first semester
It is only natural to be extremely excited when you begin college. For Indian students, school ends in April and college only starts late August, so you have probably had a lot of time on your hands and are itching to get started. However, it is imperative that you DO NOT over burden yourself in your first semester. No matter how convinced you are that you can handle a heavy workload, remember that a lot of your energy and time in the first semester will not just go into the classroom but also in making a place for yourself in college. You will want to spend time making friends, setting up your room, getting acquainted with activities and clubs on campus, and learning about different opportunities that await you.
Even if you can manage a heavy academic workload, you will end up missing out on a lot of other things that a college education can offer you. Much of the learning, remember, takes place outside the classroom.
Moreover, as students from India, you are used to a very different learning environment. The pace of the classes may not be what you imagine. You will be expected to regularly engage with classroom material and use skills that you might not have used before.
We recommend not taking more than four classes, and making sure they are a good mix of different disciplines. For example, taking all 4 Math and Physics classes would mean having to do a lot of Problem Sets, whereas taking 4 Sociology and History classes would mean massive amounts of reading every week. If you take a good mix of classes, with varying difficulties, you can have a manageable academic schedule, that gives you enough room to explore and enjoy in college.
Take a Writing Course before you start college or in your first semester
If you went to a CBSE or ISCE school in India, then chances are that you did not get much experience in writing papers. For non-STEM majors, writing will be an integral part of your academic journey. Even if you are planning on studying STEM, you will be required to take Social Science and Humanities classes, which will require that you are able to articulate your thoughts well.
Most students from India struggle initially with writing papers and essays. Many classes will require one or two paragraph long reading responses each week. It is useful to cultivate writing as a skill early on in your college career.
Taking an introductory academic writing class your first semester would be a good step. Alternatively, the summer before college begins can be utilized to take an online course in writing.
Do not be friends only with Indians
Indian students who go abroad to study, are often inclined to cultivate a social circle that comprises primarily of other Indians. It is easy to become friends with people from your own country since language, and cultures overlap. However, it can also become easy to not venture out of your comfort zone. By restricting yourself only to one community, you limit the many experiences you can have.
One of the best parts about studying abroad is meeting and interacting with people from all over the world. The idea is to foster relationships that result in mutual learning. This is not to say that you should not be friends with other Indians. There are some Indian students who actively avoid associating with other Indians. That isn’t the answer either.
The idea is to not let nationality and culture limit who you become friends with.
When you don’t know something, just say so
Many a times you will find yourself in a situation where you don’t know what the other person is talking about. This could be a cultural reference, a political reference, or slang that you’re unfamiliar with. You could come across someone who perhaps belongs to a different religion or gender from you, and is narrating their own unique experience. If there is something you are unclear about, or something you don’t understand, the best course of action is to politely ask, “I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Could you please explain?” Instead of making assumptions about someone’s culture or experience, it is best to clearly articulate that you do not know and would like to know more.
The same goes for references of culture, history and politics of the place you are going to study in. You are not expected to know everything about their country, just as they perhaps do not know everything about the country you are from. Do not feel obliged to keep up with these things, instead it is always better to ask people to explain what they’re talking about to you.
Prepare for the winter
If you have lived in India your whole life and are going to study in a place that has harsh winters, you are likely unprepared for the cold. Come end October-November, you should buy a thick warm jacket, boots for the snow, gloves, and a cap. The first two are the most important. A good jacket and pair of boots will last you till you graduate and some more. Since most places are heated inside, you would not want to wear too many layers, instead put on a jacket and boots that will keep you warm when you step outside in the snow, and once that you can take off once you are indoors.
Make a budget, and plan expenditure
Another thing to be cognizant of is finances. With the change in currency, difference in cost of living, and being left to your own devices to manage expenditure, it is not uncommon for first-year international students to mismanage money initially.
Make a clear budget of how much money you would like to spend each week. If your parents are sending you money from India, instead of getting a lot of money in one go, it is better to ask them to send money to you in intervals. Perhaps, enough money for one month at a time.
Remember to convert dollars to rupees, to get an estimate if you actually want to spend that amount on something. It might be a good idea to get a student job and work for a few hours a week. Not only would this ease the financial burden on your parents but will put you in a good habit of earning and managing your own finances. Make sure you avail of various student discounts and offers.
If you are earning, perhaps you would like to automatically save 20 percent of your wages, to prevent over expenditure. Make sure that you bank account settings do not allow you to overdraft i.e. spending money even when there aren’t enough funds in your account – this leads to overdraft fee.
While being wise about how much money you are spending is important, do not obsess over cutting costs, or put yourself through unnecessary hardship in way that your education or college experience is compromised. You are spending a lot of money and effort in studying abroad, don’t lost out on that experience to save a little money here and there. In other words, don’t be penny wise, pound foolish.