My name is Ivy Waikwa and I am from Kenya. I study Psychology at Simmons University in Boston, Massachusetts, in the USA. In this blog post, I will be discussing some of the challenges I faced as an international student. I’ll talk about what I did to cope and some of the things you can do before and after getting to your university to avoid such challenges, or help you manage better.
During my first few weeks of university, I felt confused. I arrived after the semester had already started and all the other students had gone through orientation and settled in. It took me a while to adjust and cover all the work I had missed during the first days of classes.
Getting to university late was unavoidable due to visa issues, but I still struggled to adjust. I think getting to campus early, before classes start, should be a priority for international students. If you arrive as early as possible, it will help you settle in and find your way around campus.
Finding friends and missing home
Another challenge that came with arriving late to university was that many students had already made friends and formed friendship groups. Finding friends that make you feel at home may feel like a lot of work, but it will be very worth it. Joining sports clubs or an organization that supports a cause you care about is a great place to start when trying to settle in.
The thing that hit me hard at one point was missing my family, friends and my life back home. Going to a new country with different cultures, food and environments, and having to make friends, can be challenging. You have to start a whole new life all on your own and, at some point, you will be homesick.
It’s therefore important to find a group of people who feel like family to you. For me, being a Christian, I found a church whose members are like family to me.
Prioritizing your mental health
Going to a new country can be stressful and some things are unexpected. At one point, I got very sick because I prioritized my social and academic life over my mental health.
Always keep in mind that your mental health matters more than anything else. As long as your mental health is in danger, you risk other areas of your life declining as well. When you feel stressed, talk to someone you trust. It’s really important to identify positive ways to cope with stress.
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Learning to be responsible
Before you leave home, it’s important to list your most important values and stand with them. For most international students, it is the first time being in a new country all alone. This may come with a lot of freedom, which can easily be misused.
As much as you might really want to try new things, sometimes due to peer pressure, it’s important to know your limits and remember that with great freedom comes great responsibility. Have a goal and keep working towards it. Finding a group of friends who align with your values and have similar goals is a good way to stay on track.
Going to university all alone will require you to be more responsible in every aspect of your life than ever before. It’s therefore important to keep in touch with your Student Advisor in case you have any issues with your documents and travel.
You need to be aware of things that you can and cannot do as an international student, as breaking the rules could result in consequences such as visa cancelation
I’d also advise that you make the most out of your experience studying in the USA by knowing where to find campus resources, particularly academic and career advice. Finding resources that specifically support international students and creating connections will be helpful in the future, for example when searching for internships.
Speaking up and developing as a person
One of the main things I have learned from all these challenges as an international student is that speaking up is really important. When you don’t understand something, you should ask someone for help and not let other people’s voices and opinions intimidate you.
Never feel guilty for speaking up about something that is bothering you, or even others. Remember that your voice is very strong and should be used for what is right. If you don’t speak up, you will not be heard. This may cause you to feel ignored, leading to frustration and stress.
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As much as I have had a number of challenges while adjusting to living in a new country, I have learned a lot about myself. I am stronger than I ever thought or imagined, both mentally and emotionally.
All these experiences have shown me that I have so much potential, and I should not let those challenges redirect me from my goals. Every challenge is an opportunity for you to grow and learn. Being positive-minded has helped me a lot, especially in stressful situations. Just changing your perspective and keeping a positive attitude will go a long way.
Embrace the challenge
Moving to a new country is fun despite facing challenges as an international student. You will get to meet people from different countries, enjoy new cultures and foods and visit exciting places. Find something constant that makes you happy no matter what you are going through.
And remember, just going to a new country in itself is a great opportunity to learn, grow and discover your potential.