Take 5 Steps to Adjust to College as a New International Student

Bring your hobbies and do your laundry regularly to help settle in as you’re studying in the U.S.

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Keeping up with chores and developing a favorite hobby can help international students adjust to new surroundings.
Keeping up with chores and developing a favorite hobby can help international students adjust to new surroundings.

Leaving the comfort of what's familiar is difficult at any time, but when you're leaving what you know for somewhere entirely new it can be that much harder. For international students, being in school and out of visiting distance from home is an added strain. 

Four years of college can feel like 40, but being able to study in a different country is too good of an opportunity to pass up just because you might get homesick. Fortunately, I've learned there are some ways to stay sane and let your brain focus on the reasons you've relocated.

[Get tips on applying to U.S. colleges.]

1. Set up regular Skype dates with your favorite faces: Even if it's just to check in and prove you have a pulse, a little familiar or familial contact will boost your day and theirs. I look forward to the hour after my Friday class lets out since the time difference makes that the best slot for international dialing.

It's nice to catch up as often as your student schedule allows. As a bonus, it will help your parents to not worry about you so much, and maybe your mom won't stalk you on Facebook as often. Maybe.

2. Bring your hobby: If you carve, cook, run or knit, take it with you when you go. The little things you used to do will help you feel connected if you still do them.

I brought my bike to school and used it to get a little exercise and fresh air as I pedaled here and there. I also got pretty lost in my college town, but finding my way home helped me memorize the streets. Everyone needs something to balance homework, and regular hobby time is a healthy way to escape the books.

[Develop an active social life as an international student.]

3. Join something on campus: Join the astronomy club, the pit crew of the drama department or even a club for a language you don't speak yet – anything. The sooner you make connections where you are, the sooner you stop figuratively tapping your ruby slippers together as Dorothy does in the film "The Wizard of Oz," saying, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home."

I found a group of young adults at a church I visited and invited myself to their weekly meetings, which resulted in me making friendships that will outlast my mailing address here.

4. Do your laundry regularly: It sounds silly and simple, but it's one of the biggest things that made a difference in my time away. Coming from a place where my clothes usually found their folded way into my dresser, it was a real shock to run out of clean socks on a Wednesday.

Even worse, I didn't have time to get to the massive pile until the weekend and was stuck with odd assortments of tennis shoes and formal dresses. They weren't my best looks. Keeping up with the chore that is yours and yours alone also helps you feel in control when the load of homework and responsibilities feels overwhelming.

[Keep up your academic success as an international student.]

5. Fall in love: Attitude has such a big influence on whether or not you enjoy your time abroad, achieve academically, make the memories and earn the degrees that will last you a lifetime.

Have a favorite class, a favorite meal at the cafeteria, a favorite spot on campus to hang out. I've ordered the same delicious Asian salad at the student snack shop so frequently that the kind cashier knows me by name and calls it my "usual."

If the weather is nice, I'll usually eat it on a bench overlooking the campus arboretum. Developing your niche will help you feel more at home.

On top of all that, do your thing. Embrace the unique opportunity of being who you are in the United States. And go home with a paper in a frame: a diploma with your name!

Katelyn Ruiz, from Canada, is pursuing an interdisciplinary master's degree in communication and English from Andrews University.