By David White
For the tens of thousands of students who will begin university in the fall, the summer is a time of great excitement—and likely more than a little anxiety about transitioning to your new home and your new academic role. As much as this period can be stressful for American students, it is even more so for international students who will be traveling to a very different environment.
Your transition into the American university system typically begins with an orientation that is intended to help all students acclimate to their new university environment. This orientation may range from a single day to a week, and it may include sessions that are solely meant for international students. There will be formal and informal presentations hosted by students and staff, as well as opportunities to get to know your new classmates. This can be daunting, but if you know what to expect from the experience, you may feel a little more at ease.
Keep in mind that all universities and colleges are different, and they run their orientations in different ways. Nevertheless, these are some of the most common aspects of orientation:
1. A wealth of information
One of the central purposes of an orientation is to provide new students with information about the university or college—its academic programs, its student life, and so on. This can easily become very overwhelming, especially for international students whose primary language is not English.
Rather than attempting to take detailed notes, or attempting to listen carefully to each word that is spoken, try to collect printed material like handouts and maps. This does not mean that you should ignore the presentations—it is simply to say that most of the information you will be given can also be found elsewhere, like the university website.
2. Unfamiliar faces
In addition to learning new information, you will also be meeting many new people. For some students, this can make a stressful situation even more difficult. If you are apprehensive about large social situations, keep in mind that other students are in the same situation as you, and they may also be feeling nervous or stressed.
If you would like to get a head start on meeting your fellow students, determine whether the school has a message board or social network group (like Facebook) that you can join before the beginning of the semester. This will provide you with the opportunity to form several relationships prior to orientation.
3. Rules and regulations
During orientation, there will likely be several meetings or presentations related to the university’s rules and regulations. Topics may include response policies for class schedule changes or plagiarism, as well as drug and alcohol prohibitions and mental health resources.
These are very important aspects of campus life, so if you are concerned that you might miss critical information, conduct a bit of research prior to orientation, or arrive prepared to ask questions.
4. Icebreaker activities
If you have ever been in a formal group with strangers, you may be familiar with icebreakers. These are group activities that are intended to help people get to know and trust one another in a rapid fashion. For students with limited language skills, these types of activities can be difficult or nerve-wracking, but remember that you are not the only student in this position. A brief Google search for icebreakers can also help you prepare in advance and partially allay your fears.
Entering an unfamiliar culture that is potentially quite different from your own can be anxiety provoking, but it is again worth remembering that you are not alone. Many students travel to universities from all over the United States or all over the world. As such, there will be many new students with diverse backgrounds, cultural traditions, and beliefs. Ultimately, this offers you a great opportunity to bond with other students and to learn about different cultures and societies.