Surviving the Spring Semester as an International Student

It can be intimidating starting your U.S. journey in the middle of the academic year. But do not worry! Follow these tips and you will make friends.

While most new students begin their educational journey at the beginning of the fall semester, there is still a respectable number of new international students who arrive in the U.S. in January to start their first semester at an American university. 

A majority of American universities follow the semester system. This means the fall semester is from August to December and the spring semester is from January to May. There is also an optional summer semester, which is broken down into three or four, shorter semesters (summer 1, summer 2, summer 3, etc., each one lasting anywhere from four to eight weeks).

If you arrived in January, this marks the beginning of the spring semester and there are actually a few different challenges you will face rather than starting your educational journey in the fall.  You made it this far; saying goodbye to your family, boarding a plane for a new country, clearing customs and immigration. So what’s next? We’re here to help!

If you arrived in the U.S. for the first time in January and decided to attend a university in the northern part of the country, you probably quickly realized that the climate is very snowy and cold!  At this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why don’t they call it winter semester?!”  Yes, winter would make more sense, especially considering the freezing temperatures. 

Speaking of temperatures, you will also quickly realize that Fahrenheit is not the same as degree Celsius.  Americans don’t use the metric system, so don’t confuse 40 degrees Fahrenheit with degree Celsius as this might have some serious consequences when it comes to deciding what to wear outside!  

Another point about starting university during the spring semester is that once you start classes you will notice that most people know each other. As an international student, it might appear to you that it’s not easy to make new friends due to the fact you were not at the university at the beginning of the fall semester.  Though it might seem intimidating, do not worry! You will be able to make friends.  One thing to do in order to meet people would be joining a student organization.  Most universities have hundreds of student organizations and clubs that you can join. 

Another way to make friends is to be present in class and talk to your classmates.  The good thing is that since it’s a new semester, everyone is new to the class.  So don’t be afraid to talk to your classmates and carry on casual conversations with other students sitting next to you. Some easy ways to start a conversation could be asking what they thought of the class reading or if they found the assignment challenging or easy.  Talking to your classmates could lead to outside classroom study sessions and teamwork on different class assignments.

My next recommendation is that you live in the residence halls on campus, as this will provide you an opportunity to meet more people and become part of the community. It is important that you get to know your Resident Assistant (RA), a student leader who helps residents with various issues that might arise and attend the activities and events they organize.   This will help you to connect with more students and expand your network.

While meeting people and making friends, it’s still critical that you spend adequate time on your academics. I would recommend that you intentionally schedule a time to study in the library.  Some students find it easier to concentrate in the library, as there might be many distractions in the dorm.

This is your first semester and even though it might feel that you got on the train a little late, remember that you have reached the destination and now it’s time to enjoy it! Make new friends, enjoy campus activities and of course, study the materials and acquire the knowledge that you crossed an ocean to achieve.  Enjoy the new adventure you embarked on, as you are fortunate to have the chance to experience one of the best higher education systems in the world.

International students may face unique challenges starting their studies in the middle of the academic year. I found this article to be helpful!

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