Pack Traits, Not Possessions to Study at a U.S. College

Bringing an open mind is more important than bringing clothes as an international freshman.

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Take advantage of your time as an international student by bonding with classmates and opening yourself up to new ideas and experiences.
Take advantage of your time as an international student by bonding with classmates and opening yourself up to new ideas and experiences.

Packing your life into two suitcases is no easy task. You will never realize the full number of possessions you own until you try to select the most essential items. What will you truly need to make it through a year as an international student?

When I first moved to the U.S. in 2007, I had no clue. I ended up with bags stuffed mostly with clothes.

I did not realize until later that there were a few far more important things I should have thought about before I boarded the plane in Copenhagen destined for Atlanta.

The following are a few things international students bound for a U.S. college should take with them.

1. An open mind: From watching movies and TV shows, reading papers and magazines, playing video games and listening to music you probably think that you have a fairly good idea of how America functions. But don't cling to your preconceived notions.

Chances are that your perception is far from reality, which you will realize rather quickly if you enter each situation and conversation with curiosity and make an effort to see the world through the eyes of your American peers.

After all, you are in their country. Let them show you how it works before you start questioning it.

[Prepare to meet your American college roommate.]

2. Courage to befriend students of other nationalities: When social dilemmas occur – and believe me, they will – sticking with your countrymen will always be the easy way out. This happens frequently at colleges with large cohorts of international students from the same countries.

Choosing to spend time with your countrymen over others is not a bad thing, but it defeats part of the purpose of studying abroad.

Americans are outgoing and tend to befriend you whether you want to or not. Respond with a similar openness, and before you know it you could end up at someone's house for Thanksgiving dinner or a football watch party.

Foreign students of different nationalities also have a tendency to bond because they have all been thrown into an unfamiliar environment. Some of the strongest friendships I have made in the past six years are not with Americans, but South Africans, Croatians and Israelis.

3. Willingness to work hard: America was built on the idea that anyone willing to work hard can be successful. Despite what news headlines or skeptics may tell you, that still stands.

But Americans not only work hard, but also spot hard workers with potential and give them the chance to develop further. Athletic and academic scholarships are excellent examples.

Don't shy away from the daily grind, because persistent work that yields great results rarely goes unnoticed and can open up opportunities you have only dreamed about.

I'm writing this at the Brussels office of the news agency Reuters. I ended up there for a summer internship after less than one year as a journalism student, simply because the right person noticed my work.

4. Knowledge that you made the right choice: I spent a good number of sleepless nights my freshman year looking at my friends' Facebook pictures, wondering if training 20 hours per week in the South Carolina countryside as a swimmer really was the best choice I could have made.

When I returned home the next summer and traded stories with my friends, I quickly realized that most of them envied my opportunities. The same thing will happen for you.

Most people never make it to the U.S. You are lucky to have done so.

[Learn the do's and don'ts of packing for a U.S. college.]

5. Willingness to learn football and baseball: Americans love their sports. No matter how much you try to explain the charm of soccer, rugby, tennis or volleyball, they will continue to throw around the egg-shaped football and play catch with the small, white baseballs and large leather gloves.

Make an effort to understand the rules of the game, and you will quickly get the chance to impress your American peers. Doing so will also make viewing parties far more enjoyable.

This list does not include any physical items, for one simple reason: You are going to the U.S. You can buy anything there.

Anders Melin, from Sweden, is a former collegiate swimmer for Limestone College and the University of Missouri, where he earned an undergraduate degree in finance. He is now pursuing a master's degree in journalism at New York University.