10 Tips for New International Students in the United States

If you’re new to the United States or perhaps you’ve been in the country for a while, we think these 10 tips for international students can be helpful.

This article was written by an international student who wished to remain anonymous. 

Share your feedback about these tips by commenting below or on social media!

1 Pay attention to hygiene  

This may be the most important piece of advice I can give because if you’re not clean then it doesn’t matter if you follow the rest of my tips.

Initially I was not connecting with American students when I arrived to the States and it wasn’t because of my English. I was really trying, but I wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong.

It wasn’t until an American friend was honest with me and said my smell was an issue. The truth hurt at first, but I am so thankful my friend said something to me. By smell my friend meant not only showering more often, but also changing my clothes after cooking certain foods.

The United States is a country where a majority of people take showers or have baths once a day or at least every other day.

While in some cultures it may be normal to not shower as often, this may be something you need to adjust living in the States, as well as wearing deodorant daily.

Also, the smell wasn’t just about showering more often. It was also what I was cooking at home. I didn’t realize what I was cooking at home and the spices I was using may be considered too strong for Americans. Now when I cook I try to have windows opened so the smell doesn’t stay on my clothes as strong. If I can’t do that, I’ll change my clothes after cooking if I’m going to meet my friends.

I pretty much learned that Americans don’t like any smell related to body odor or strong spices. And don’t try to cover up the smells with large amounts of cologne or perfume. If no one can smell you at all, that is best.

2 Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t understand”

When communicating with your U.S. friends, if you do not understand a word or expression do not feel embarrassed to ask for the meaning. Don’t shake your head as you understand, when indeed you don’t. It’s OK to ask your American friends what a word they used means.  You should not feel ashamed for not understanding every English word or U.S. slang.  The only way you will be able to learn about U.S. culture and master your English is by asking.

3 Don’t limit your friendship to those from your country

It is easy to make friends with other international students who you meet during orientation or other international students from your home country. Do not limit your friendship to just people from your country.  The beauty of studying in the U.S. is that you get to meet people from other countries that you never heard of and that you probably never thought of visiting.  In a way from interacting and developing relations with these students, it will give you a different perspective of the world outside your country and the U.S.  You get to see the world through your other fellow international students’ eyes.

4 Be friends with American students 

The best way to make American friends is to put yourself out there and take advantage of the different student clubs on campus. Join a student organization that is of interest to you.   The more active you are outside the classroom the easier it will be for you to adjust to college life in the U.S.   If your campus has a conversation partner program where you can get paired with a U.S. student, take advantage of it even if you speak perfect English. Take the time to get to know a new person and learn about the U.S. culture and make a new connection.

5 Be proud of where you’re from and share your culture 

Teach U.S. students and faculty/staff about your country and culture. Though you might come from a country no one has heard of, this is your chance to educate U.S. citizens about your country and that you exist as a nation.  If your university organizes cultural events such as cultural festivals where you are asked to wear your traditional clothing or perform a ritual, song, or dance from your country etc., don’t hesitate to do it! There are beautiful aspects of your culture that the Western world hasn’t had a chance to experience yet and it would be nice to give the locals a taste of your cultural heritage.

6 Don’t be afraid to talk with your professors and look for help  

Most of the professors are nice and they want you to succeed. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during and after class.  If you did not understand something, make sure to talk to your instructor either after class or during his/her office hours.   Most universities offer tutoring for first year classes.  Take advantage of tutoring and also utilize the writing center/lab when working on your papers.   If you are struggling with a class talk to your instructor and your advisor to see what your options are and see how you can improve.

7 Be aware of the laws-it could jeopardize your visa status 

Be aware of the law and be responsible while having fun. If you are not 21 years old, you are not allowed to drink alcohol in the U.S.  You will see some of your American friends, though they are not 21, find a way to buy alcohol and drink.  However, if you as an international student get caught, the consequences will be much different for you then for your U.S. friends.  Getting in legal trouble can affect your visa status and jeopardize your academic future in the U.S.   Most first-year U.S. students define fun as the act of consuming alcohol.  However, there are other recreational activities that you can get involved without breaking the law and you need to figure your own definition of fun.  Don’t let your peers define that for you.  Remember your main goal is to graduate and have an enjoyable experience in the U.S.  Avoid legal problems!

8 Read the news for an hour each day 

It is important to educate yourself on your surroundings and what is going on around the world.  It is important to read the local paper to familiarize yourself with what is happening in the city or town you are in and also read a nationwide news source to learn of what is happening in the country.  This will make you a very well-rounded individual and you learn more about U.S. culture.  Always keep an open mind and educate yourself.  Also read your university newspaper. This is usually free and can be found everywhere on campus and online. It is important to familiarize yourself with most current events in the community where you live in and the institution you attend.  By reading everyday news sources for just an hour a day, your English will improve significantly.

9 Find a campus job 

A campus job is very important for various reasons.  Once you get a campus job you will meet other students and you will also get paid some extra cash, which you can definitely use.  Even a job in the schools dining hall or cafeteria would be a job in which you can learn some hospitality skills and it is job experience that you can use in your resume.  Future employers want to see that you have worked before and that you have good work ethic. In addition, by getting a part-time job on campus it will allow you to apply for a social security number.

10 Get a driver’s license or a state ID

If you want to have your own car it is important that you apply for a drivers license at your local DMV, otherwise you won’t be allowed to drive without a valid drivers license.  If you don’t plan to drive at all, it would make your life easier if you apply for a state ID.   You don’t want to carry your passport everywhere you go, especially since it’s big and if you lose it you will have to go through a lengthy process of replacing it and also getting a visa again.  A state ID looks like a drivers license and is accepted everywhere.


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