Congratulations and welcome to Columbia, all you international baby lions and bears! Some of you will be traveling across different continents and oceans to join us next fall. To make that transition a little bit easier, Spectrum has put together some advice to ease your worries and help you adjust to college life in a new country.
1. Stick together, but not too much
International students can often relate to the experience of coming from outside the United States with each other and sometimes already know each other from the International Student Orientation Program, which is what makes it easy to stick together from the start. Hanging out with people from the same country or people who speak the same language might be easier for you and might help with any homesickness you may feel, but don’t forget to branch out. If you do, it’ll be like you never left home at all! Although American culture might seem different and alienating at first, try to reach out and look for new friendships.
2. Join cultural clubs
If you’re trying to meet people from your country or people who share the same culture as you, join a cultural organization on campus. They organize some of the most memorable events at Columbia ranging from fashion shows to cultural markets to dance showcases. It’s a great way to celebrate your culture or heritage and meet people coming from a similar background to yours.
3. Don’t feel intimidated in class
Some students may have accents, and some may not. That shouldn’t stop you from participating in class or feeling like you aren’t on the same level as everyone else. You could be bringing a new perspective to every conversation, especially considering that you might be coming from a different education system and might have studied different material and subjects. Don’t feel too scared or nervous to share your opinion, and even if you do feel intimidated, remember that others are most likely feeling the exact same way as you!
4. Download GroupMe before you come here. Trust us.
Many international students have grown up using WhatsApp or other messaging apps to keep in contact with friends and family, but that’s much less common in the United States. If you get someone’s number, you’ll probably be talking to them on iMessage, Snapchat, or Facebook Messenger, and if you end up needing a group chat for a class or a club you’re in, it’ll probably be on GroupMe or Slack.
5. Lunch and dinner are served pretty early
Aside from JJ’s Place, the other two dining halls at Columbia, Ferris Booth Commons and John Jay Dining Hall, have some pretty strict lunch and dinner hours. Although they’re both open early in the morning, lunch options are available from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., while dinner options will be served from around 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. at Ferris and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at John Jay. Depending on where you come from, this might be a bit too early for you. Don’t worry though—until you finalize your fall semester schedule, you won’t know when you’ll be having lunch or dinner until you can fit them in with your classes. Then you can figure out how to balance finding time to eat at a dining hall and potentially even cooking for yourself.
6. Don’t abandon your cultural habits just because you’re in a different country
You don’t have to abandon your traditions and culture to fit in at Columbia. Everyone comes from very different backgrounds, meaning that there isn’t necessarily a homogenous crowd to fit in with. Instead, celebrate your heritage! Make sure to bring some food or trinkets from where you’re from to remind you of home and to show your friends. Go to restaurants that serve your country’s food, and given that we’re in New York City, you’ll definitely find a spot you love and can feel at home somewhere.
7. College isn’t as ideal as the movies make it out it to be
Sorry if we’re breaking the news to you, but if you’re coming to the United States thinking college is going to be just like one of those early 2000s, Jonah Hill college movies, you’re in for one big disappointment. Frat parties aren’t as wild, roommates aren’t as bad, professors aren’t as lenient on late assignments, and Homecoming isn’t as big of a deal as it seems. Living in New York City isn’t as ideal as it seems either, though it can be as fun as you make it out to be. In reality, you’ll spend most of your time in Morningside Heights and around the neighborhood (though we highly recommend getting out of the bubble!). If you think you’re not living the “true” American college experience, just remember that nobody else really is either.
8. Be resourceful
Moving to college from so far away means you won’t be able to bring things like a minifridge, a fan, bedsheets, and other essential from back home. Before rushing to Bed Bath & Beyond, make sure to check out the Give & Go Green sale organized by the EcoReps during the New Student Orientation Program or join the buy/sell groups of Columbia and Barnard. You can find things such as hangers, curtains, rugs, and other necessities for your dorm room for free. Make sure to also coordinate with your roommate if you have one. If they’re a domestic student, then they can bring larger items such as minifridges and fans and you can split the costs with them.