Guest post by Dr. Steven Tolman, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Georgia Southern University
International students help our college communities achieve globalization, preparing all students for a future that knows no boundaries between countries, cultures, and the differences between people that make them unique. As a college professor, I have had the pleasure and privilege to teach and mentor international students, and conduct academic research on their transitions into U.S. colleges and universities. Based on these experiences and those my students have shared with me, here are my suggestions for international students as they adjust to studying at colleges in the U.S.
- Living in a residence hall. One of the most exciting aspects for international students is to meaningfully interact with students from the U.S. While a lot of this interaction will take place within the classroom, some of the best and most memorable experiences will come from living on campus in a residence hall. To ensure you have a positive living experience, it’s important to have open communication with your roommate from the start. Discuss and establish how you will live together. Consider discussing topics like what time you both like to go to sleep, are overnight visitors O.K., do you want to share food or common items in the room, and how to approach small roommate problems before they become bigger issues. Having these conversations up front will lead to you successfully living together and having a great year.
- Residence halls in the U.S. have professional staff dedicated to ensuring a positive experience. You will likely have an upper-class student leader in a formal position, known as a Resident Assistant (RA), who is responsible for every student on your floor. They are a great resource for you and you can talk to them whenever you’re having troubles (whether it be with your roommate, something about your room, or your overall college experience). In addition to your RA, there will be a full-time professional staff member, referred to as a Residence Hall Director (RHD), whose job is to oversee all of the students within your specific residence hall. Your RHD is another great resource if you need any help. Even if you don’t need help, be sure to stop by to introduce yourself to both your RA and RHD – they’ll be friendly and would love to meet you!
- Food/Dining Hall. A common challenge for international students can be acclimating to eating the food in the dining hall. Admittedly, this is not unique to international students! U.S. students also face similar challenges, as the food might be different than what they’re used to eating at home. Dining halls do a great job of providing a variety of options and seek to meet the needs of all students. If you find you are having troubles finding food options meeting your needs, speak with the staff in the dining hall. They may be able to work with you to provide alternative food options such as adding menu items or allowing you to bring your own food seasoning with you to the dining hall. Together, you will be able to explore ways to make sure that not only is there something for you to eat, but more importantly, it’s something you enjoy.
- Getting involved/extracurriculars. As a college professor, I feel very confident in telling you that learning happens inside and outside of the classroom. The college experience would not be complete without getting involved on campus with student organizations, clubs, and events. These experiences will complement your academic experience and provide a wealth of leadership opportunities that are highly sought out by future employers. Furthermore, some of your fondest college memories will not be from professors like me lecturing, rather, from what you did outside of the classroom. It may be that you joined the international student club, the chess club, an honors society, or simply attended the weekly karaoke night in the student union. At the start of the semester, you will see many flyers with information about these extracurricular opportunities. Keep an eye out and ask your RA, too. Get involved!
- American style of professors. While there are definitely exceptions, you will find many of your college professors to be engaging. They will facilitate conversation within the classroom, actively seek out questions during the course, and genuinely want to hear different opinions that may even contradict their own. It is through this engaging academic discourse that the greatest learning happens – embrace it! Also know that your professors have formal office hours where students are welcome to stop by to talk: questions about the course, your major, careers in that discipline/field, etc. If there’s something you don’t understand in class or if you are having a hard time – tell your professor. They can help! As a professor myself, I’ll let you in on a secret. Not only do we like it when students stop by, but it makes us think positively about that student.
Two common themes shared by international students are how positive their experience was studying in the U.S. and the lifetime friendships they built in college. This will be such an exciting time that will have so many positives, but not without challenges along the way. As these challenges arise, know you are NOT alone, and review the tips above so you can meet the many friendly people waiting to help you make the most of your experience.