International students studying in the United States have the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world and share different cultures and traditions. One way to get the most out of the American college experience is to have an active social life, which can also help students adjust better to their new home and ward off homesickness.
“The social aspect of college is really important, because it’s hard to be successful if you can’t find people you identify with,” says Jennie Kent, an education consultant based in Bogotá, Colombia and Stonington. in Connecticut. “I encourage students to take some time before heading to college to reflect on who they are and identify their core values.”
Once students arrive in the United States, here are some ways to develop a full and active social life, starting in your freshman year.
Make friends with a wide variety of people
While international freshmen may gravitate to their own communities, it’s important to branch out and meet a variety of students.
“Universities provide hundreds of opportunities for students to engage and bond,” says Patricia DeBolt, dean of admissions at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.
She recommends that students attend on-campus activities, including orientation or welcome events that apply to the student, such as sessions specifically for undergraduates, graduate students, and to international students. She also advises living on campus.
“The Residential Life offices host a variety of programs throughout the year for students who live in residence halls. These are usually fun and often informative events that help students mingle and make new friends,” says DeBolt.
Joining campus organizations can also be a good idea, she says, since most universities have a variety of groups ranging from cultural groups to academics to professionals.
Mateo Pardo, from Colombia, who is studying finance and computer science at New York University in New York, says he met a lot of people in his freshman year, which helped him develop his friendships the closest.
“The best way to have an active social life is to be open, especially at first,” says Pardo. “To do that, you need to be open to new people and experiences.”
Don’t be embarrassed to be different
The United States is a nation of nations, so international freshmen should accept and share their differences.
“It’s great to be yourself. During your college career in the United States, international students will find plenty of opportunities to share their cultures,” says DeBolt.
These opportunities can come in the dining hall or the student union during a casual conversation, in a classroom with a professor, or at an event with other students, she says.
“Many members of the university community consider cultural differences to be one of the best parts of a diverse global college or university and would like to hear your perspectives,” says Lisa D. Swaim, Director of Programming world at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
For example, Swaim says the school encourages cross-cultural conversation with events called “Story Circles,” where students can learn about each other’s experiences and traditions.
“International students must absolutely share their culture. One of the reasons universities want international students to be part of their communities is to make them more vibrant,” says Kent. “Embrace what’s special about you and share it.”
Speak slowly, ask people to repeat
Attending an American university is the perfect time to practice your English skills with other students.
International students should “accept and acknowledge” that they may have difficulty communicating in English, wrote Sushil Sukhwani, director of India-based education consultancy Edwise International, via email. “Only then will they be comfortable asking others to speak slowly or repeat statements.”
DeBolt says learning a language takes practice, and most students, faculty, and staff are kind and patient with international students who aren’t fluent in English. She says students can also contact their school’s international student office to find out if there are special study sessions for non-English speakers to practice their English skills.
“I think it’s very important to practice English in general,” says Anita Videla Solá from Argentina, a journalism student at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. “Watching movies and listening to songs in English is great practice.”
Do not stay in constant contact with your home
Nothing beats home, but international freshmen should also focus on their new home, experts say.
“It’s important to engage with campus life and not get caught up in what you miss at home,” Kent says. “College is a time to build self-confidence so students can successfully navigate adult life.”
Swaim says it’s good to be in touch a few times a week, but students need time to explore and connect in their new community and being in touch too often can set a student back on track.
“I would recommend setting times to connect with your loved ones back home, but also pushing yourself to form new relationships,” Swaim says.
Staying in touch with loved ones back home is extremely important to Solá.
“On the other hand, staying focused in school and just enjoying the experience is also key to a great college experience,” says Solá. “I think it’s essential to find the right balance for each person.”