Your bags are packed, tickets and passport in hand. You’ve brushed up on your English. It’s time to join the 1 million students who study in America each year. Are you ready? To help you answer “yes” with confidence, we asked an expert for advice on how to act once you land on a U.S. campus.
Dexter Padayachee, the international student life coordinator at Amherst College in Massachusetts, knows what international students experience in America in large part because recently he was one. Padayachee, who comes from South Africa, offers these insights:
Talk about your home: “Identify key features of your culture that you would like U.S. students and citizens to know as an introductory statement,” Padayachee said. He said he also advises international students to learn about U.S. pop culture.
Understand your school’s majors: While a large share of international students major in subjects tied to specific careers — such as engineering, finance or computer science — some study the liberal arts. Reach out to alumni in your country or to U.S. students to understand the options. “Ask admission officers many questions about the education model,” Padayachee said. “Read available information about courses and requirements.”
Share thoughts and ideas: Make sure you are comfortable speaking in English, because many courses require student participation. “Keep in mind that professors at U.S. institutions want to engage with your ideas and opinions,” Padayachee said.
Enrich your experience: Participate in student-led groups to learn more about yourself and others. Remember that, while some topics are taboo in certain cultures, discussion is more open at American universities. “In a lot of other cultures, discourse around sexuality and gender is not as public as in the U.S., for example,” Padayachee said.
Network: Many international students don’t understand the importance of networking. “In a lot of countries, speaking extensively about yourself and [your] accomplishments is not polite, but in American culture it is necessary, especially regarding career networking,” Padayachee said.