By Danh D. Pham
Being a college freshman as an international student is an exciting time in your life. Once you have been accepted, your next task is to understand the reality of life at a U.S. college. You will get to explore many aspects of life at a U.S. college and it will help you learn about yourself, too.
I’ve spoken with some friends to come up with the following four mistakes to avoid to help you get a more detailed picture of the environment at a U.S. college – things that travel or education agents, your parents and high school counselors likely won’t tell you.
1. Trying to take advantage of every penny that you spent on your education
Many international students are accepted to colleges with financial aid, so it is understandable that you try to save your money and get the best value. However, trying too hard with that mindset isn’t necessary. It may even stress you out.
One example I’ve seen among my friends, some of whom always try to eat as much as they can in the cafeteria because their meal plans are expensive. They end up gaining unnecessary weight and look very unhealthy at the end of the semester.
Be aware of the ways you’re trying to get your money’s worth. For instance, don’t do laundry every few days to get your money’s worth from your paid laundry service. This is only a waste of your time.
2. Not speaking up and asking for what you want
Even though some students try very hard to get their money’s worth, they are sometimes afraid to ask for what they want from the people around them, whether it is a lunch lady, a professor or a career adviser.
Moreover, the cultures that some international folks come from sometimes make them afraid to speak up about their needs. However, college is where people do not reprimand you for asking for what benefits you. People are here to help and when you say that you are an international student, you are often even more welcomed.
If you appear to work hard and be attentive and assertive, you will get help from people if you just ask. I once had an interview with a partner from an accounting firm, and wanted to write him a hand-written “thank-you letter” afterward.
The mail typically takes two weeks to reach its destination, but I asked my career adviser to send him the letter right that day – a special request. He did not hesitate to send the letter, and the partner told me that it was a pleasant surprise.
3. Being emotionally involved in a relationship
Being emotionally consumed in a relationship during your freshman year may not be a great thing to do. It might limit your interactions with other peers and thus narrowing the scope of your social life.
Moreover, college is not high school, where you may have classes together all the time. The chances that two people will spend a significant amount of time together in an activity is slimmer in college, since you’ll likely have different priorities and goals. The only person responsible for your academic progress and personal development at this stage of your life is you, so make your decision wisely.
4. Setting your expectations for yourself too low
College is an entirely different environment from high school. If you assume that since your performance was mediocre in high school, it will be hard for you to perform well in college, you are likely right – and most likely wrong.
You’ll be right, because this mentality will only keep you where you are. This is the wrong thing to do, however, because if you keep pushing yourself, you will likely succeed.
There is an international student from my college who did not score the highest GPA in his high school class, did not have a decent scholarship and did not speak fluent English the first time I had a conversation with him. Overall, he did not seem to be the kind of student who would land a dream job in New York after graduation.
However, he was the first one among us to be selected for an internship at a prestigious investment bank, as a sophomore. I am sure he has been trying his best academically and socially to gain knowledge and soft skills over the last two years. More importantly, he succeeded in becoming a better version of himself.