The feeling of displacement when moving to another country and immersing yourself in an entirely new culture can often be overwhelming, especially if you're leaving home for the first time. But prospective international students should not worry, as choosing to have your college experience in America doesn't necessarily mean losing touch with your roots.
There are many ways you can maintain your home culture and even introduce aspects of life in your country to your American classmates, who may not have experienced your lifestyle.
First, realize that if you want to study in America, it's unlikely that you will be the only student from your country studying at your college of choice. There's usually two or more students from the same country or even school studying in the same academic year, so you won't be entirely isolated.
Secondly, America itself is a country made up of hundreds of different cultures. In large cities you are bound to find many different international communities and social groups.
For example, the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco was one of the most spectacular experiences of my year abroad, and thousands of people turned out to celebrate the event and enjoy the festivities.
Many campuses will often have an international student residence, and even if you choose to not live there, you can still visit. International houses will often host special events celebrating international holidays and festivals.
The University of California—Berkeley's international house, for instance, has an exciting and varied calendar for the celebration of international events. For the Hindu festival of Diwali, a special evening meal was arranged for residents and other students. On Dia de los Muertos, students were encouraged to come to the residence to paint sugar skulls and learn about the traditional Mexican celebration.
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In addition, an international coffee gathering was held every Wednesday night. Students from different countries would be encouraged to host and prepare or buy popular food and drink from their cultures and celebrate unique aspects of their home countries. This is a great way to bond with fellow students from your country and educate both international students and Americans.
Even outside of your college's international community, many student-run organizations are dedicated to the exploration of different cultures and offer another base for a strong international community.
Examples include campus chapters of Hillel, a prominent Jewish student organization, or UC—Berkeley's Indian Students Association. Harvard University also has a long list of cultural groups, with clubs such as the Haitian Alliance and the Coalition for East African Peace.
Search your college website for the clubs and organizations index to get an idea of the variety of groups your prospective college offers.
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If you still find that you feel isolated after arriving at your new college, then take the reins and organize some events of your own to help educate and inform American college students about your international culture.
See if your residence hall will let you plan a coffee hour, or set up informal chat sessions with fellow students and residents where a few of you can get together and learn a few phrases in each other's languages.
There's no need for concern about losing your cultural identity during your time at college outside of your home country. You should use your time in America to maintain important aspects of your own culture and celebrate the vast multiculturalism that makes up your college community and the wider American society.
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.