Acclimating to college in the United States can be a challenge for international students. You'll be adapting to a new educational environment and will likely be far away from home and your usual support system.
Colleges have resources to help you fit in and thrive on campus, but international students don't always realize these services are available and commonplace in the United States. Here are 8 you should know about:
1. The international student office: A good first stop in your transition to college is your school's international student office (ISO). There, you'll likely find officials who know what you're going through and can help with things like visa and immigration issues, and can direct you to other on-campus resources for help in other areas.
"We're usually the only people on campus [international students] know they can come to right when they get here," says Krista Tacey, director of international student services at Texas A&M University—College Station. "Since they're coming from thousands of miles away, our office ends up being the role of the parent to help students out."
2. Your professors: In the United States, many college professors help students on an individual basis, though this might come as a surprise to some foreign students.
"It freaks out some of our international students, initially, to have a professor say, 'How's the class going for you?'" notes David Wilson, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln (UNL). "It's like, 'What's wrong?' They come from a place where, often, faculty hide from them."
By talking to your professors after class or taking advantage of their office hours, you can address academic concerns or get a better sense of what they expect on assignments.
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3. Your academic adviser: College students at U.S. universities are assigned academic advisers to help them choose the right classes and make sure they graduate on time, but it's sometimes up to the students to seek out help with scheduling.
"I would recommend to all international students to really use academic advising to plan what classes you need to take through the years," says Masha Shatonova, a junior at Augsburg College who hails from Russia. "You go to college and you think, 'There are so many interesting classes I just want to take,' and you take an interesting class—and it might not even be part of the requirement [for your major]."
By meeting with her academic adviser, Shatonova mapped out a plan that allowed her to double major in economics and international relations. Whatever you plan to major in, meet with your academic adviser so you stay on track for graduation.
4. The counseling center: International students can experience culture shock, feelings of isolation, and even frustration at not understanding American slang, notes Kasey Umland, who works with students at the University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign. If you're feeling stressed, sad, or simply in need of someone to talk to, don't hesitate to visit your school's counseling center.
It's a common resource for American students, but it's not an option foreign students often think of, Texas A&M's Tacey says. "In some countries, getting counseling isn't culturally acceptable, so it wouldn't occur to [international students] to get help," she notes.
5. The writing center: Writing is often a large component of the college education in the United States. If you're not comfortable writing in English, seek out your school's writing center for individual attention. It's one way to transition to a new educational environment, UNL's Wilson says, and to become a more confident communicator.
"Writing is the currency of our curriculum," he says. "It's the way you most often communicate to a faculty member what you know, and how you get evaluated."
6. The career services center: Though foreign students on visas will not have all of the same work opportunities as their domestic peers, your school's career services center may be able to help you understand what options are available while you're in the United States. For students at the University of California—Berkeley, for example, international students can meet with career counselors for help with internship searches or résumé tune-ups, according to the school's career center website.