Going to school in the US must be so exciting for you! Here are a few tips on travel to the US and how to make it on your own there.
Before you travel, make sure you look at the regulations for air travel to the US. Different airlines have different luggage allowances. Some allow up to two 50 pound checked in bags while others may allow only one. Checking well in advance will save you much embarrassment at the airport if you show up with more luggage than is allowed. Also check the TSA (Transport Security Administration) website for more information on regulations on air travel such as carry on allowances etc.
Missing Friends and Family
Once you get to the US, it will be a major move, especially if you are living away from your home for the first time. When you move and the excitement wears off a little, there will be a time when you will miss your family and friends with an intensity you did not think possible. At these times, it is very attractive to call up your family and keep video chatting with them for long hours. However, the thing about this is that you have to consciously separate yourself from them. Limit your calls to no more than twice or thrice a week. Eventually you will move to once a week almost naturally. This is important if you are to submerge yourself and fully live the experience of moving to the US and does not mean you love your family and friends back home any less.
Making New Friends
When you move to a new place, you will have to go out there and make new friends. You will meet many different kinds of people. You will meet people who have no idea or strange ideas about your country. You will be subjected to stereotypical introspection – but if you come through it, you will make amazing friends… and you will always have funny anecdotes to talk about.
Language Barriers and Resources
It may be a little daunting for you to move to the US if English is not your first language. USA is a very diverse country with growing acceptance and tolerance for different accents. Chances are that your university will have a number of resources for you. They can be in the form of extra classes to advance your language skills, support groups or much more. Do not be shy in asking your university about how it can help you out.
Navigating the US Food Market
Eating outside is not good for either your health or your budget. So how do you become familiar with what you will find in a typical US grocery store? Well, lucky for you, you might find places where you will find food items you are used to. But you cannot stick to foods from home forever. The best way again, is to just ask. Ask your American friends or people who have been living there for a while about basic groceries. Trust me, in no time at all, you will get used to eating chocolate that is too sweet and portions that are too big – and never know there was another way.
For many people, moving to the US for school may also be the first time when they will have to actively manage their own finances, from buying food to paying utilities. First reflex to let go: Stop converting every dollar spent into the currency from home. Learn from your friends what is considered expensive or extremely cheap by US standards in terms of the US dollar. Once you understand that better, make a monthly budget plan. Factor in rent, utilities, insurance, books, food, going out with friends and even a contingency fund for unfortunate times, should you find yourself in them (if not, you will always have a nice stack set away for a future vacation or gadget post-college). Understand how credit cards work. If you have to get one, make sure you use it responsibly – best to leave it home if you know you are drinking.
Building a Support System
It is important to have your own personal support system wherever you live. Make ties with friends and their families in the US who have your back. You may get a cold and need someone to bring you medicine and soup or you may need to be picked up from somewhere on a snowy day.
You should also acquire knowledge and sensitivity towards the US culture. If you are familiar with the expectations at social events, not only will it be less awkward for you but you will also learn to truly enjoy yourself as you look at an event or idea with a certain cultural understanding. People will also find you more approachable.
Building Yourself Up
Most importantly, going to the US is your chance to build your ‘self’ up. Take this opportunity to explore who you really are, what are your values, what do you enjoy and what do you want to be? Then structure your life around these ideals and truly become what you want.
When you Return
Many foreign students want to eventually settle down in the US. There are some who will return home after years of studies there. Most will at least visit home from time to time. Just remember, that you will evolve and change during your time in the US but your family and former friends might still expect you to be the person you were before. There are things that will seem strange to you back home (why are these food portions so small, huh?! Why are the cars driving on the left side of the road?!).
You will want to tell people about all the wonderful things you have seen and done and yet no one will seem interested in it beyond a few minutes. This can be really disheartening but you should not let it worry you too much. Just remember, that now you are an international citizen. Just like you had to adapt to the US culture, there is a culture you left behind. When you are back home, you will have to take on the colors of home, much like, say a chameleon changing colors as it movies from the pot on to a plant. Let the change be yours intrinsically so people see it in your work and manner, not as a challenge to the very culture and ideas they hold dear.