Take Advantage of International Student Orientation

During orientation, take tours of the area and ask your guide questions to settle into a U.S. college.

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International students should use their campus orientation as an opportunity to learn how to transition into their new environment.
International students should use their campus orientation as an opportunity to learn how to transition into their new environment.

Congratulations, fledgling international and study abroad students! If you're reading this, chances are you've made it across the sea to your brand-new American college.

In the first days after you've moved in, it's possible that your school will have arranged an international student orientation. Many colleges schedule this for a few days before the semester officially starts to help students from abroad acclimate to their new home.

Orientation is designed specifically to make international students feel welcome; so if your school has one scheduled, the best thing to do is to fully enter into the spirit of it. Begin your year by getting involved.

If there are scheduled meetings, go to them. Sure, no one who's landed in an exciting new country really wants to spend two or three hours sitting in a drafty lecture hall, but if your college offers an orientation lecture, you shouldn't miss it.

It might not be the most riveting few hours of your life, but these talks often contain important information. At UC—Berkeley, we were given vital information about our visa statuses and what behavior might compromise them, local laws on subjects such as underage drinking, advice about places you might not want to be in after dark around Berkeley and more.

[Avoid the mistakes new international students make.]

We were given contact details for campus security, maps of the campus – and as many American colleges are sprawling affairs, you really do want one of those – and a checklist of things we had to do before the semester started. Essentially, the faculty wouldn't be giving these talks if the content wasn't important, so it really is worth your while to sit down and listen.

You should also try to go to at least one mixer during the orientation week. These are casual events where new students can go and meet their fellow international students and new classmates, and often members of the faculty. Even if they're a little on the cheesy side they're a great way to make new friends. And there's a good chance free snacks will be offered.

You should also take a tour. I did three guided tours during my international student orientation week: one of the campus, one specifically of the Berkeley libraries and one of San Francisco. It's worth getting out and exploring your local area as soon as you can, and it's an even better idea to be shown around by someone who already knows the area.

[Learn which schools enroll the most international students.]

Many campus tours and tours of the local area are run by student volunteers, and spending time with them is a really useful way of learning about life at your college from someone who's already been there a year or two.

There's also nothing more valuable during those first few weeks than to at least have a vague idea of where you're going – such as when you suddenly realize that your next lecture begins in three minutes and you're on the wrong side of the campus.

[Pack these things when heading to college in the U.S.]

Finally, one of the best ways to really spend your orientation week is to ask lots of questions. To make the best of your time in America you should try to be constantly curious, not only in your classes but in your day-to-day life.

Whether you're in a meeting, throwing back bowls of ice cream at a mixer or touring around the campus, don't ever be embarrassed to ask questions and comment on your new surroundings. You'll pick up more facts and interesting and weird bits of trivia. And you'll likely come to grips with your college life quicker if you're curious about what's happening around you.

Jump headfirst into your year, and enjoy the beginning of your study abroad 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.