How to Survive the First Year of Studying in the US

How to Survive the First Year of Studying in the US

January 16th, 2018

Deciding to study in a foreign country is a big decision. We think it takes a lot of courage. It’s not easy moving away from home, especially to another country where the language and culture may be very different. 

Whether your English is perfect or not, there are still many challenges that you will face your first year here. We understand this because all of us have been where you are, (or will be).

We hope that our advice will help you be better prepared!

Be prepared before you leave your home country!

Make a budget and make sure you have enough money. Things like food, books, and tuition are more expensive here than they are in most countries. So get a complete list from your school of estimated expenses before you decide to leave home. Don’t forget to include the cost of buying furniture if you rent an apartment.

Do not use Craigslist to find a place to live! Many international students had lost money thinking they had found a place to live and sent money before they arrived. When they got here, they discovered that there was no apartment and their money was stolen.

Ask friends who live in your new town for help; they will know of apartments or rooms for rent that is close to a school or public transportation. If you don’t know anyone in your new place, ask your new college or university for help- they can give you a room (called a “dorm”) or help you contact honest people who like renting rooms or apartments to foreign students. 


Take advantage of all the activities your school offers. 

We know you are worried about how well you speak English, but people don’t care! They want to talk to you and get to know you; so go on field trips, join international clubs, and make plans to go out to dinner with your classmates. Remember, everyone feels the same way you do, and they will be very friendly.


You will be homesick.  

It's very normal. When you do, try to find a way to eat food at home. Look for a special grocery store that carries foods from your country, or a restaurant that serves food your mother made.

Find an activity that makes you happy and do it! If you played a sport at home, find a group that gets together to do this. If you played an instrument, bring it along and play it regularly. It’s crucial that you do something besides study! 

If you are having trouble finding these activities, ask your school for help. They can put you into contact with the right people. You are more than schoolwork!


Ask for help.

This is very difficult for many of us, but there are people at your school who care about you. Do not be embarrassed if you are feeling really sad, or if you are having a hard time in a class or socially. Always remember that you are not the first person who feels this way, and you won’t be the last, but it is important to get help rather than being sad or afraid.


Accept the strangeness of the culture here- once you do life will be more comfortable.

American colleges expect you to talk in class and to ask questions, which is very different from other countries. Americans are louder than you might be used to. They like to hug and often ask questions that you might think are rude. But they don’t mean to insult- that’s how they are, and once you get used to it you might find yourself being a little bit louder and a bit more questioning too.


Take time every once in awhile to be proud of what you’ve done. 

We have a writing teacher who makes us list one good thing every week that we did. Sometimes people write “nothing,” and she will say, “Did you get out of bed most days and make it to school?” If we say yes, she makes us write that down because, “A good life isn’t about the big accomplishments- it’s about all the little things that lead to those big things.”


By: ELI  at College of Charleston 

Advanced Writing & Grammar students (December 2017)

English Language Institute


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