A pair of good college friends on campus.

Seek New Opportunities, Experiences as an International Student

Going outside of their comfort zone can help new international students get more than just academic benefits.

A pair of good college friends on campus.

International students should go out of their way to spend time with people from outside their home culture or nationality.

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​If you ask most international students why they chose to study abroad, you will get a wide variety of responses. But judging from what I've observed, the top two are for the education benefits and for the experience.

Since I started studying in the U.S., the way that international students quite often do not branch out from people of their own culture or nationality stood out to me. You only have to look around college campuses to see this in action.

While many prospective international students say they want to study in the U.S. for the experience, quite often they tend to study at a U.S. university but spend much of their time with people they could have met back home. I find this truly puzzling, because moving to a new country and choosing to attend a diverse university like the University of California—Berkeley was about experiencing aspects of the world that were beyond my familiarity and my comfort zone.

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I spoke to a number of my friends about this topic, and their replies varied. A common answer was that people felt more comfortable spending time with people who share a common culture, a common nationality or a common language.

For me, moving to another country was about stepping outside my norms. And that is what I would advise any international student looking to come to the U.S. to study and for the experience to do: Take advantage of the opportunity you are given, meet new people, experience different cultures and try and learn from it.

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​​There are a number of ways prospective students can ensure a fulfilling experience and interactions with a diverse selection of cultures and nationalities during their stay. One such possibility is to join clubs and campus groups. The more cosmopolitan the club subject is, the greater the likelihood of meeting a mixed crowd. 

This is great for international students, because it not only attracts other international students, who are in the same situation, but also locals – which gives you access to a diverse crowd. Coming from the United Kingdom, football – or soccer as its called in the U.S. – is a favorite hobby of mine. Venturing into clubs and local campus meet-ups to play was a great way to meet a wide variety of people. Soccer was a familiar pastime, but the added layers of unfamiliarity in playing in a different country with people I didn’t know made it easier to make new friends.

At college campuses, most clubs have social media pages or websites, and there are often posters around the campus. If sports are not your thing, universities often have campus resources dedicated to student organizations and events, and you can usually find a wide range of clubs devoted to film, arts, politics, dance, poker and technology and more.

These outlets are a good way to get a feel for potential universities before you decide. Even if academics are your primary motivation for attending one of the many U.S. universities, your studies should not be the only aspect you look into when choosing where to go. Feeling fulfilled academically is of great importance, but so is the time you spend outside of the classroom.

It is also a good idea to research the town or city you will be making your home for the time you are studying abroad. For example, I really enjoy golf, so I checked to see if there was a nearby golf course that I could go to. Thoroughly examine the area and what it has to offer your experience. 

I didn’t find this to be a hassle; rather, I found it very exciting to see all of the potential things I could experience. You are in control of your experience, and delving into the university and its location is an extremely rewarding part of the application process.

One of my most memorable moments since I have been at UC—Berkeley was a day my friend Kevin and I had lunch – a fairly mundane and common event, but that day a "Brit," me, and Kevin, from Shanghai, China, were having Indian food in the U.S. He, too, took the opportunities given to him in the summer semester he was here studying abroad from China. And from what he tells me, as we still keep in touch, he is better off for having taken those chances. We first started talking because we sat next to each other in a class.

I have certainly met British people here at Berkeley. You shouldn't purposely stay away from people based on their backgrounds, but to get the full experience of an international student, you need to be brave and willing to give something new a try.

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This may not seem like it would be a big jump for people who have chosen to study abroad, but in my experience, many international students do the opposite. A one-size-fits-all approach does not fit all in this regard, and people can surround themselves with whomever they please.

That is the benefit of studying in the U.S. and at a diverse campus like Berkeley. Brits and Americans share a great deal between their cultures, so it may have been a bit easier for me. I speak the language and I get some of the cultural references – but for someone whose differences are greater, perhaps the rewards will be even greater.