Your Roadmap to Thriving in the American Education System
Navigating the American education system as an international student can be a blend of excitement and challenges. From understanding institutional rules to immersing oneself in campus life, there are key steps every foreign student can take to ensure a smooth and fulfilling academic journey in the United States. Here are the top 10 tips to help you thrive and make the most out of your educational experience.
1. Do your research and know the rules
Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations set by both the U.S. government and your school concerning your education. For your academic success and to maintain your F-1 student status, it's essential to adhere to these guidelines. If in doubt, consult your school's International Office or get advice from a counselor.
2. Take advantage of support services
Learn and use the various free support services at your school. This could be academic support, such as free tutoring — for instance, math lab, English lab, or the learning center — library/research support, and supplemental English-language development. Other examples include student support such as counseling and free or reduced-cost public transportation.
3. Go to orientation
Attend and actively participate in your new student orientation. American colleges and universities will most likely be different than what you might be used to. The purpose of orientation is to teach you all the basics about the campus, available support services, and school rules. Attending the orientation will set you up for a successful experience at your new school.
4. Rely on your counselor
Adhere to the education plan provided by your counselor. Graduation requirements can differ significantly across majors, and relying solely on peers' advice might lead you astray. Schedule regular meetings with your counselor and stick to their guidance to reach your academic goals.
5. Understand your health insurance
Learn about your school’s health insurance program. America has high-quality medical resources, but the system can be complicated and will be different from what you’re used to in your home country. Learn how to use your medical coverage to stay physically and mentally healthy.
6. Try new things
Step outside your comfort zone to experience a new education system, new cultures, and a brand-new environment. For instance, you could join student clubs, attend school sports events, or volunteer in the community. Activities like these will enrich your experience — and you’ll meet new people who share your same interests.
7. Build relationships with your professors
American professors value communication and participation, so build relationships with yours. Your professors genuinely want you to excel in their classes and set aside office hours specifically to address your questions. Stay proactive in your communication, be on time to your classes, and keep up with your coursework.
8. Share who you are
Remember, you are an ambassador of your country and culture for American students, who might not have met anyone from your country before. You will have many opportunities to share your culture and what’s special about where you’re from.
9. Get a job
Consider getting a part-time job or look for volunteer opportunities on campus. The U.S. government permits international students to work on campus legally. Even in the absence of paid roles, volunteering can offer a chance to hone work-related skills, enhance your English proficiency, and build a network of friends.
10. Say hello
Always be courteous and approachable. Greet people with a smile and use the familiar American salutation, "Hi, how are you?" Building friendly relationships can provide valuable support during your time in America.
Your school and family are rooting for your success. While adapting to a new educational environment can be challenging, following these top 10 tips can ease the transition. Wishing you all the best with your U.S. education adventure!
Jeremy Allred is the director of International Student Program at East Los Angeles College and has been involved with international education for more than 30 years.
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