Be Prepared Before Coming to the United States
The motto of the Girl Guides is "Be Prepared". As a former Girl Guide leader, I would like to use this motto to illustrate how important being prepared is for international students who are planning to study in the United States. What do you need to prepare, and how do you become prepared? For the purposes of writing this article, I did a survey among my international students to find out what skills/information they wished they had before coming to the US and below are the top three responses to my survey.
The US Culture
Unless you are immersed in a culture, it will be difficult to fully appreciate or understand another culture. Thankfully, we do have resources, which we can begin to fully understand the US culture. I would highly recommend the EducationUSA website which has specialized resources to help you. The EducationUSA advisors will also conduct pre-departure orientation sessions which you should take advantage of if you have an Education Advising Center in the city where you live. NAFSA has some useful and popular publications like " U.S. Classroom Culture" and "Introduction to American Life" which you could read as well. However, those materials may not be as accessible as the resources from EducationUSA. You should also consider writing to the International Office at the school you are interested in attending, and ask if there are any international student ambassadors whom you could write or connect with regarding living and studying in the US school.
Unless you are one who can eat American/Western food for every meal, you should learn how to cook a few of your favorite dishes before coming to the US. Food is a daily thing. You will be surprised how much cooking skills come in handy when you are away from your family. It is especially useful for making some social connections when you know how to cook.
United States is a country where its citizens value freedom. Having the ability to drive and move around is very much a part of the culture here in the US. Owning a car is no longer a want but a necessity in many parts of the US. Knowing how to drive before coming to the US may certainly be a useful skill to have. Even though the driving systems may be different, knowing how to operate and take care of a car will be very handy when you get to the US.
In addition to the above, I would like to add three more areas to prepare for when you come to the US.
Education in the US is expensive. There is no doubt about it. However, a US degree is still very much sought after because of the quality and the prestige that comes with it. It is a myth that it is easy to get a scholarship in the US and work your way to getting your degree without much personal financial resources. I have encountered students with such mindsets and sadly observed the stress they had to go through, if they were successful, to reach their goal. International students must meet the academic standards and also be financially able to maintain their immigration status in the US. If they fail to maintain these two requirements, they will have to return home without a degree. Having the adequate financial resources will alleviate the stress of trying to make enough money to survive and at the same time this allows you to focus on being successful in the US classroom.
One of my key messages to new incoming international students during orientation is to be mentally prepared to take up any challenge that will come their way. Being in a foreign country and in a different culture, you should expect things to be different. For the first time in your life, you will have to deal with managing yourself, your time, money, food, health, studies etc. You will be away from your family and friends who could be your primary support. With technological tools, you will be able to connect very quickly with your family and friends via phone or Internet, but you still have the primary responsibility of caring for yourself. Having this mental preparedness should help you adjust to life in the US.
Again, being in a new country and culture, there will be differences in social norms. You need to find new friends when you are here in the US. You need to learn how to reach out to others without expecting others to take the first step. If you are a non-native speaker of English and have limited English ability, this is all the more reason you may need to take the difficult steps in connecting with others. Moving out of your comfort zone will be difficult, and the first step should be to find some other international friends to support you. You can enlarge your circle of friends as you go along but the first few steps will require some intentional efforts from your part.
All the best to you as you partake in this adventure, which will most likely, have a life-lasting and positive impact in your life if taken with a positive attitude and preparedness.