<< How To Go Back to School as an Immigrant
 

You’ve received your letter of acceptance from a U.S. college or university. Your visa and passport are in hand, you have your schedule of classes, your housing is lined up, and your flights are booked. Congratulations! You’re officially ready to head to the U.S. and begin your studies as a college student abroad.

But how will you make the most of your experience? Following these 8 tips for studying abroad in the U.S. will put you on the right path. You can also check out our guide to things you need to know before you study abroad for more essential information.

Get the Most Out of Studying Abroad in the U.S.

8 Essential Tips for Studying in the U.S.

Studying abroad isn’t just about adapting to the U.S. academic environment.  You want to make the most of your time in the U.S., and stay safe and healthy, while you’re at it. Here’s how to maximize your time as an international student.

1. Consider getting a job

Working while in school can give you more flexibility when it comes to budgeting, so you can spend more on food, activities, travel, and entertainment while in the U.S.

Some international students may be eligible for employment in the U.S., however, there are restrictions on the type of work you can do.

  • Understand the employment rules for your immigration status: If you’re in the U.S. on an F-1 student visa, you have options for working on campus during your first year. After that, it might be possible to work off-campus if the job relates to your training.
  • Look into a side hustle: Popular side hustles usually offer flexible hours, from babysitting, to tutoring, to dog walking.
  • Create a daily schedule: Time management is key to doing well in school while maintaining employment. Make a daily schedule that includes your work shifts, classes, study time, and free time for relaxing and socializing so you don’t get overwhelmed or behind.

2. Take advantage of student perks

Having a student ID or college email address may give you access to a number of perks. Take advantage of as many perks as possible to experience the culture in the U.S. while saving money.

These student benefits may include:

  • Free or discounted bus or subway fares
  • Discounts at off-campus restaurants
  • Free or discounted admissions to museums, amusement parks, and other attractions
  • Discounts on tickets for university, minor league, and professional sporting events
  • Discounted tickets to concerts, movies, theaters, ballets, and the symphony
  • Discounts on merchandise like computers and mobile devices
  • Discounts on hotel accommodations and car rentals
  • Discounts on mobile phone or internet plans

3. Take a road trip

Many suburban areas and small college towns in the U.S. don’t have robust public transit systems. If you’re studying in one of these smaller areas, you will likely need to have your own transportation if you wish to get around off campus. In this case, your best option may be to rent or buy a car and drive. Having a car will also give you the ability to travel the U.S. on road trips if you desire.

Here’s what you need to know about driving in the U.S.:

  • Consider getting an International Driving Permit (IDP): An IDP is a document that translates your driver’s license from your home country into 10 languages, so you can legally drive in the U.S. Many car rental companies require an IDP to rent a vehicle. The U.S. doesn’t issue IDPs to foreigners, so you’ll need to obtain one before you travel to the U.S. Contact the government agency or organization that issued your driver’s license for information about how to get an IDP.
  • You may qualify for a U.S. driver’s license: Some states will issue driver’s licenses for international students. Each state has its own licensing rules and regulations. If you do qualify, you may need to pass a written and/or driving test to obtain a license. Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles or Transportation in the state where you’ll be studying for more information.
  • You can drive anywhere in the U.S. with a state-issued U.S. driver’s license: A valid U.S. driver’s license allows you to legally drive in all 50 states.
  • Driving laws vary from state to state: Maximum speed limits and other laws vary by state in the U.S., so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the rules before you head off on a multi-state trip. You can find this information on each state’s Department of Transportation or Motor Vehicles websites.

4. Travel whenever you can

The U.S. is the fourth-largest country in the world and spans more than 9 million square miles. Each region has unique landscapes, cultures, foods, and traditions to discover.

Once you figure out transportation or get a U.S. driver’s license, you can get out and explore. To plan trips, consider using an app like TripIt, Wanderlog, or Skratch. Find accommodations on sites like Airbnb, VRBO, or HipCamp.

If you plan to travel extensively, you may also wish to consider joining a motor club in your home country. Many of these clubs offer exchange membership with the American Automobile Association (AAA), meaning that if you’re a member, you can gain access to free and low-cost travel agency services to help you plan trips on a budget.

5. Get emotional support

Although studying abroad is an exciting opportunity, you may find yourself feeling homesick, anxious about your new surroundings, or stressed about your academic responsibilities.

Seeking help when you’re overwhelmed, lonely, depressed, or anxious is not only acceptable on contemporary college campuses, but it’s also encouraged. Many colleges and universities offer free counseling to students. Contact the student health department at your school for more information. The international student office or liaison at your school is another good resource.

6. Stay safe

Joining in on social events is a fun part of the college experience. If you plan to attend parties and other evening events or are just studying at the library late at night, it’s important to stay safe.

  • Never leave a beverage unattended.
  • Don’t accept drinks from strangers unless they’re sealed or served by a bartender or restaurant server.
  • Walk in groups rather than alone.
  • Let someone know where you’re going to be before you go out.
  • Program the phone number for a taxi service in your phone or install a ride-sharing app.
  • Follow your intuition; if something feels wrong, leave.
  • When entering a secure area that requires you to scan your ID card, never hold the door for someone behind you.
  • Utilize campus safety resources

Your college’s security department or police force may provide resources to help you stay safe while on campus. Depending on the school, your campus may offer:

  • Campus escorts: When you’re leaving a location late at night or you feel unsafe for any reason, you can call a campus escort to walk with you.
  • Emergency stations: Often illuminated with a blue light, these call boxes connect instantly with campus security, so you can get quick help in an emergency
  • Safety apps: These mobile device apps provide safety tips and news from the security department. They usually have one-touch dialing for emergency response and may allow you to file complaints or make reports.
  • Secure routes: These are walking paths that have a regular security presence and are well-lit. Use these when you need to walk at night whenever possible.
Get the Most Out of Studying Abroad in the U.S.

7. Know your rights

While it’s unlikely that you’ll fall victim to discrimination or be subject to arrest while in the U.S., it’s important to know your rights and to exercise them when necessary.

As a legal non-immigrant in the U.S., you may be asked to verify your identity and legal status by presenting a photo I.D. like your student identification, your passport, and your visa information. Keep these documents with you in a secure location like a zipped pocket in your bag. While you should generally comply with requests to present ID, you do have the right to refuse to answer additional questions about your immigration status.

As an international student, you have the same basic rights as U.S. citizens in the unlikely event that you’re placed under arrest. These rights are sometimes known as Miranda Rights because they came out of the U.S. Supreme court decision Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966).

The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution also places restrictions on when and how police can conduct searches of your property and your body.

If you end up in legal trouble, your college or university may provide you with free legal aid. You can also contact the embassy of your home country for assistance.

Familiarize yourself with your school’s policies, too. Most schools have a Rights and Responsibilities document that outlines various rights you have while attending the school. These may include things such as the right to dispute a grade or the right to view a transcript of your educational records.

Again, the vast majority of international students won’t need to exercise your student rights, but you should still be aware of them. Consider bookmarking the page on your college’s website on the off-chance that you do need to refer to them.

8. Stay connected to home

Even as you enjoy exploring the U.S. and learning new things in your courses, you may find yourself missing home. If you do, recognize that homesickness affects many college students, even those who attend school close to their homes.

Keeping in touch with family and friends via email, phone, or video chat can ease homesickness, but make sure to set some boundaries. Gaining a newfound sense of independence is part of the college experience, so let your loved ones know how often you’ll contact them and stick to the schedule as much as possible. Another way to feel more connected is to send small gifts to your family and loved ones. Not only will you enjoy selecting items from your new city, but your family will get to enjoy American products and souvenirs that they might not be able to find at home. The U.S. Postal Service offers shipping to most countries, and post office locations typically have shipping boxes available for added convenience.

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