American colleges offer all kinds of different living experiences for their prospective students, and as international students, we have a wide range of them available.
Although it's possible to find a place of your own, rent in many places in America is notoriously high. Some of the students in my classes, after arriving to study in San Francisco, spent their first three weeks of class living out of suitcases in a hostel.
In order to max out on your college experience, I'd suggest trying to find a place either near or on the campus, and one that will make your accommodation abroad an experience in itself. The following are some of the housing options you might find around your American college's campus.
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First is the obvious choice of international student accommodation, something many colleges offer. I've been staying at Berkeley's International House for the past year and absolutely loved my experience there.
International accommodations build a great community of students, and there is something undeniably comforting about sharing a space with students who are also in a new environment and culture and who don't understand it any better than you do!
However, the downside of living in an international house is that it's very easy to gravitate toward people from home with whom you feel comfortable, but who won't necessarily push you out of your comfort zone.
Second, there are the straight-up student dorms, where most American freshmen will typically spend their first year of study. This can be a great college experience, but keep in mind that you'd almost certainly be sharing a bedroom.
If you're a more mature student in your second or third year, you might find the atmosphere slightly too rowdy for you, with most residents in their early years of study. However, if you're arriving in America for the beginning of a full degree, then what better way to immerse yourself in the culture than to get yourself a bed in one of the dorms?
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Another way to get an all-round American living experience is to get involved with Greek life. Many, but not all, colleges have chapters of these nationwide social organizations that students must go through a recruitment and pledge process to join. Once members, students can live in the organization's house and be full participants in the organization.
These are often some of the most luxurious student living experiences you'd be able to find, as many of the Greek accommodations are large and have cleaners, gardeners, house mascots and sometimes even a hot tub.
However, they are very expensive, not to mention competitive to join. There is also no way of joining until the recruitment process, known as "rush," which begins after the start of the term. If you want to try living in a Greek house, I'd suggest saving it for your second year of study.
If you can't afford a Greek house but can't face the idea of a dorm, you might want to see if your university offers a student co-op. Like the Greek system, these are large houses in or around campus that host students. But unlike the Greeks, co-ops are entirely student-run.
Again, these offer a great community atmosphere, are distinctly cheaper than the fraternities and sororities – and often less expensive than some of the campus-run accommodations – and will also offer you a unique student experience.
The downside is that they tend to be just a little grimier than the dorms and Greek houses, as all the cooking and cleaning is done by the students – and students are students, no matter what country they are in.
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Finally, you could always look for a room share, a spot in an apartment or house already being rented out by some American students. Check for these on student accommodation forums, in student groups on Facebook or on other social networking sites.
These might be a little quieter than the other options, perhaps even with your own bedroom, and will give you a great opportunity to meet some real American students. Just remember: You'll have to pay rent.
My last tip would be to make sure you start looking for your accommodation early, so you don't get into a fix after arriving in the country. But most importantly, choose something you think will best suit your needs. Where you live will be a staple part of your international student experience.
Emily Burt, from the United Kingdom, is currently studying at the University of California—Berkeley on an exchange program. She will graduate from the University of East Anglia in 2014 with a bachelor's in American literature and creative writing.