Step Out of Your Comfort Zone at a U.S. College

Explore new classes and activities to get out of your comfort zone as a new international student.

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Broaden your horizons by experimenting and learning new skills to optimize your time as an international student.
Broaden your horizons by experimenting and learning new skills to optimize your time as an international student.

 I've said before that international students should jump in headfirst to their time abroad starting with orientation, but that's just the beginning. Heading to the U.S. for school is a big way for new students to get out of their comfort zone.

But as you're beginning to fully settle into your new home and come to grips with classes, it can be tempting to settle into a fixed routine. Here are a few ways to get out – and stay out – of your comfort zone and make the most of your time in America. 

It's the start of the school year, and student life on campus will be absolutely teeming with activity, so a great way to get out of your comfort zone is to join a club or society – or several. Most colleges will have a club fair at the beginning of the semester, so check that out and sign up for some extracurricular activities. 

[See which universities draw the most international students.] 

American colleges are home to many amazing societies and student organizations. There's not only the Greek system of fraternities and sororities, but musical groups, sporting societies and many other out-of-class organizations, all designed to give you a varied and fulfilling campus life. 

Doing something fun with fellow students is a much better way to unwind after class than just being a couch potato in your bedroom with Netflix, so take on something you know you enjoy, and something you've never tried before. Want to learn how to bake, or go surfing on the weekends? No matter which college you end up at, you're bound to find something new to try. 

Of course you'll have commitments during the school day itself, but that doesn't mean it has to be routine. American colleges offer a wide range of classes, so try to take a class you normally wouldn't. You may not get the opportunity to explore these new avenues at home, so a great way to get out of your comfort zone is to challenge yourself by signing up for a class that you've never had the chance to try. 

[Get to know the ins and outs of the U.S. academic system.] 

My roommate was an economics student, but she took a class in mediation that helped with her exam stress. Worried about your grades? Don't be. Many colleges offer classes similar to those known as "DeCal" classes at UC—Berkeley, which you can take as part of your schedule but that won't affect your overall grade if the going gets tough. 

Building up a busy campus life is invaluable, but you shouldn't limit your activities and out-of-school enjoyment to the college grounds. Make sure you're taking the time every week to go out and explore your local community and area

It can be something as simple as deciding to try a new place for dinner one day a week, or going out to see a movie or exhibition. Some of my journalism assignments involved took me into Berkeley and San Francisco, and I ended up in some weird and wonderful places I would never have found otherwise. 

The more you get involved with your local town or city, the more it will start to feel like a home. If you have a weekend relatively free of papers and homework, take a trip out of town and explore a new place altogether. 

[Learn what support is available on campus for international students.] 

There are so many big and small ways you can keep your time studying in the U.S. fresh and exciting. I had a very interesting time with all of my classes, and learned a lot in my academic life, but for me Berkeley will also be remembered as the first place I ever tried sushi, wrote anything for a school magazine, attended a pep rally, climbed a rock wall and roasted a Thanksgiving turkey. 

College is supposed to be a time of experimentation and exploration. Whether you're a freshman or a hardened grad student, I'd urge you to spend some of your time in America outside of your comfort zone. By moving overseas, you've proved you can do it – so why stop once you've arrived? After all, it's only when you try something new that you discover things about yourself. 

Emily Burt, from the United Kingdom, studied 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.