5 Things International Students Should Do Upon U.S. Arrival

Spend your first day as an international student in the U.S. taking a walk and meeting the neighbors.

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Add getting some cash and calling home to your to-do list for your first day at a U.S. college.
Add getting some cash and calling home to your to-do list for your first day at a U.S. college.

It's August, and that means it's the time of year when a host of new international students will spread their wings and prepare to fly to the U.S. For them, it's the beginning of the fall semester and the beginning of a life-changing experience.

Those first few days after you arrive are going to be a whirlwind of activity, and while getting to school for the first time is exciting, it's bound to feel overwhelming, too.

To stop feeling swamped as a newly arrived student, try some of the following ideas to stay busy and keep worries at bay during your very first day in America.

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1. Get some money changed: Ideally this would be something you do before you even step on that plane.

It could take you a couple of days or even a week to set up a U.S. bank account, and your credit and debit cards from home will probably charge extra fees if you use them to take money out. One of the first things you should do after landing is equip yourself with a couple of hundred dollars in cash.

You can change money in one of the airport bureaus, and that way you're ready to go if you need to get a bus, train or taxi to your new college. Having some cash on hand should spare you from having to worry about setting up a bank account for the first couple of days – just make sure you have somewhere safe to keep it.

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2. Touch base by making a call home: Landing in a strange and unfamiliar country – possibly for the first time and probably on your own – can feel very intimidating and isolating. Make sure your mobile phone is charged and loaded with credit, so that once you've arrived at your new accommodation, you can make a quick call home.

If you're feeling homesick, calling is a comforting way of reminding yourself that the world actually isn't that big of a place. And it serves the double purpose of letting your family and friends know you've arrived safe and sound.

3. Take a walk: If you're moving into an on-campus accommodation or a new apartment, you'll probably have to deal with a pile of paperwork before you have any chance to settle down.

Once you've made it to your new home in one piece, I'd suggest taking a quick shower – nothing is more satisfying after a long plane journey – and then before you think about the mammoth task of unpacking, go out for a walk.

You may have been cramped in that airplane seat for more than 12 hours, and your muscles will still be stretching out. If you're staying on campus, wander around. If you're in a town or city, see if you can find the local shops.

Getting some fresh air and exploring your new surroundings will go a long way toward making you feel human again after some long-haul traveling.

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4. Stay awake: When you're hopping between time zones one of the first things you'll want to do upon arrival is fall asleep, but try to resist the urge.

Your body clock is likely to be a mess, but the longer you can keep yourself awake on the first night – aim for 10 or 11 p.m. – the quicker you will begin to acclimate to a new time zone. That walk is useful here, too, for keeping you away from the tempting lure of your bed.

Make sure you eat meals at the right times, even if you're not feeling that hungry, and keep yourself busy through the evening. That way when you eventually do go to bed you're less likely to be wide awake in the middle of the night.

5. Knock on someone's door: You will probably be introduced to your new roommate when you arrive, and hopefully the two of you get on well. But my last piece of advice is, I think, the most important one: Find a neighbor or a new housemate and introduce yourself.

Be the person who gets out there and starts meeting their fellow students right away, instead of sitting in your room and waiting for strangers to come along. One of the greatest parts of my time abroad was the amazing people I met. Be friendly, and you could make some friends before orientation starts.

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.