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How to Adapt to Life in the U.S. as an International Student

Wednesday | May 28, 2014 | by Chiharu Nakatsuka

When international students start to live in a foreign country, they encounter a lot of valuable experiences that they never had in their life before. These experiences allow them to broaden their perspective and even change their life. A new life in a new place is very exciting, and meeting new friends makes life even more enjoyable. Although these are delightful exposures, living and studying abroad can be very challenging and may present some obstacles.

One of the major obstacles is culture shock; this is because international students are so sensitive to the new environment. Many reasons such as differences in language, climate, and customs can be a big shock. This can even cause depression among international students and make them feel homesick.

Chiharu enjoying life in the U.S.

Because the U.S. is such a diverse country, students can easily notice cultural differences here and there. This is also one of the reasons why I chose to study English in the U.S. After coming to the U.S., I was able to make a lot of friends from around the world such as China, Korea, Russia, Spain, and so on. Talking, discussing, and sharing each other’s culture is so much fun. I enjoy going to college, listening to real American English from teachers and students born and living in America every day.

However, I started to feel homesick three months later. Although I could speak English fairly well at this time, I started to feel uncomfortable and frustrated when it came to explaining something in English. I felt embarrassed when I made mistakes in grammar, vocabulary, or whenever someone told me that they didn’t understand what I said. Due to this fear, I started speaking English less and less, felt alone, and started to think of going back to Japan.

There’s another reason why I felt uncomfortable in expressing my thoughts. In Japan, people usually don’t share their opinion very often and they try to avoid arguments because they emphasize harmony and cooperativeness in the group. On the other hand, Americans tend to emphasize individuality. So here in America, a person who speaks less is thought to be a person with no opinion. I had been asked my opinion many times in class, but I didn’t really know how to express my opinions and feelings. This depressed me very much and it’s one of the hardest obstacles to overcome.

I still experience difficulties overcoming this problem, but I try to speak up as much as I can. I challenge myself to express my thoughts and feelings even if it’s not significant. And then, I try to ask myself why I thought that way. In addition, I try to go out and make as many new friends as I can so I can improve my English.

Now I have less hesitation to try something new and have gained the confidence to move forward in the U.S. During my challenges, I realized that the more you alone and homesick you feel, the more important it is to be yourself. It’s important to be clear on what your goal is and illustrate who you want to be in the future.

Finally and most importantly, I realized that there are many people around me who supported me, encouraged me, and understood me whenever I was depressed, discouraged and homesick. My parents, my roommate, my relatives living in the U.S., and friends in Japan and in the U.S. have all supported me mentally and physically. In the future, if I meet people who are having difficulties living abroad, I would like to tell them not to give up, to set and always keep their goal in their minds, and to always be themselves!

Chiharu Nakatsuka

Chiharu Nakatsuka is a Business International Trading and Accounting Student at Bergen Community College.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of World Education Services (WES).