How to Thrive in an American University

in Uncategorized
October 17th, 2012

When you leave your home and comfort zone to come to a new country, you must navigate through a multitude of experiences. The shock that comes from the move is oftentimes overwhelming, making the integration into a new society and its networks, like a University, daunting and foreign.

Used with Permission from Flickr user Rob Stradling

Used with Permission from Flickr user Rob Stradling

When you first arrive in the US everything seems different. You have to settle into a new living space, find someplace to buy groceries, learn knew customs, and it seems like you’re always struggling to catch up with the conversations happening around you.

With all this change, once the school year begins you may soon ask yourself, “What have I gotten myself into?”

So, how do you not only survive in an American University, but thrive? Learn to be proactive and engage the resources around you.

What does it mean to be proactive at school?

It means taking responsibility for your actions and for your work. You have made it this far and have shown you are capable, so never underestimate the possibilities and your potential.

Here is a list of strategies that individually, and all together, can help you succeed as a student in the American University system.

Talk to your professors

Your professors are your partners in learning so you should always know exactly who they are and how they can help you. Be sure to introduce yourself to all of your professors early in the semester and learn when their office hours are. By becoming more comfortable with your professors when you first meet them you won’t be as anxious about asking them for help when you run into trouble.

Take advantage of your Teaching Assistants and study groups

TAs are assigned to professors for many reasons, but just like professors, they are usually available to help you. They often have office hours, just like professors, when you can go and visit them to ask questions and get help. Sometimes they lead study groups, or “small groups,” where you and your colleagues can ask for clarification when you’re confused (study groups may also be a good place to meet other students who might want to get together outside class to study together).

Learn who your TAs are, when then they are available, and how they can help you succeed. Every TA is different and different professors may assign them different duties, but it never hurts to introduce yourself and learn how they might be a resource.

Seek out opportunities to improve your English

Learning and perfecting a new language takes time. Be patient with yourself, but seek out places where you can practice, and where you can get help. Don’t be afraid to make friends and to speak English at all times and don’t hesitate to ask questions.

Watch TV and listen to the radio, especially programs on the NPR station because there is little music and you can keep abreast with local and world news, while practicing listening to English.

You should also think about what your strengths are in your new language and what you still need to improve. Once you’ve pinpointed areas that need improvement, choose activities that will help you concentrate on those things. By practicing what gives you trouble instead of the things you can already do well, you’ll learn master your new language even faster.

Trust the resources around you

There are many people who are available to help you if you will take initiative and ask. Don’t be afraid to seek help from the official offices and administrators. There are a lot of dates and times and pieces of important paperwork to keep track of and administrators would much rather you ask for help than forget an important deadline or complete your paperwork incorrectly.

Here’s a list of other offices that help you succeed as a student:

  • The Writing Works Center s the Writing Resource here at STH, and you can sign up for an appointment with a tutor from the website.
  • The Education Resource Center (ERC) is an academic support center here on campus and the center serves as an academic referral, training, and information resource for the University community.
  • The International Student and Scholar’s Office (ISSO) which provides essential services and support to students. Staff at the ISSO provide professional expertise on immigration and employment issues.
  • For more information on resources available to you, visit the International Student Life website.

Take advantage of these resources so that you don’t struggle alone.

Be inclusive

It is very easy to fall into a familiar group where you feel comfortable speaking your language, and where you are around people from your own country. Finding these people is a good thing. People from home can help you relax, refresh you and introduce you to new friends.

But be sure not to create an “exclusive club” of your group. Including domestic students and students from other countries is a great way to create a wonderful multicultural village.
This type of social group is very helpful for international students in that it helps with adjustment issues and it is beneficial to you because it will enrich your experience. You will graduate fully equipped to function effectively in cross-cultural settings.

Be open to sharing

Remember that coming to the United States not only has to do with coursework and grades: you came here to learn a new culture, and to seek a social life and community so that you may have wonderful stories to tell to your friends, family, children and grandchildren.

Story telling is a communal activity and it’s a great way to get to know people. Share the stories you already have and others will be more willing to share their own stories. Our world is interconnected, and although we are each just a small piece in the global village, we all have important things to share.

Never Give Up!

Coming to America is exciting and I guarantee that there will be difficult times, but you are not alone and neither are you the first one to have these experiences.

Always look to those who have gone before you, either alumni, or students in their second and third years; they too have a story to tell, and I think they will tell you a similar story about their first year and how challenging it was… but they got through it!

Your friends are a great resource and they can help to uplift you when you become overwhelmed.

It all comes down to you

This is list does not contain absolutely everything that will make you a successful student. Your success as a student depends on your ability to figure out what you need and how to get it.

So think about what success means to you. Think about your goals and your expectations. What will you need to do to reach those goals?Tell me below in the comments!

Philippa, better known as Pippa, is a native of Zimbabwe. She moved to the USA eleven years ago and has called Boston “home” for three years. She is the Coordinator of Communications and International Student Life at the Boston University School of Theology.

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