6 Challenges for International Students in College

Starting college in America can be hard—but there are ways to overcome each obstacle.

Even the cafeteria can pose an initial challenge for new students at U.S. colleges.

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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. 

[Take advantage of these college resources.] 

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. 

[Find out how to pick the right college major for you.] 

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.