5 Freshman Mistakes We Made That You Can Avoid

We’re not ashamed to admit it; we made some mistakes when we came to the U.S. for the first time.  We brought the wrong things, said the wrong things, and ate the wrong things. But hopefully you can learn from our mistakes.  Here are five mistakes we made in our first year that you should avoid:

1 Poor packing

suitcasesWe’ve fallen victim to two opposite instincts when it comes to packing for the trip to the U.S.: the desire to bring literally EVERYTHING from home, and the attempt to pack for what we thought America would be like. Both approaches failed.

Tara said her mom tried to overload her suitcases with all of her stuff from back home in China, but when it came down to it, “you can get 80 percent of what you have at home in the US, especially if you live in LA, San Francisco, New York or other cities with ethnic and immigrant communities. However, there did end up being things I couldn’t find in the U.S.”

In particular, she wished she’d brought an electric rice cooker and Chinese spices to cook her favorite foods from home.

Senzeni, on the other hand, cautioned against leaving home without certain clothes, thinking they won’t be in style in America. Not true, she said. You may think college kids only wear jeans and t-shirts, “But pack at least three formal outfits. I had to attend five receptions and dinners in the opening week of freshman year where t-shirts and jeans were a definite no-no.” And prepare for the cold weather, but don’t forget, “When you arrive in August, the weather will be hot and humid and you will love yourself for bringing a tank top and a pair of shorts.”

2 Not getting involved right away

It’s easy, and natural, to feel overwhelmed at the beginning. But give in to that feeling and you’ll only feel more homesick. We’ve found that getting involved in campus life actually helped us get over the anxiety.

Sebastian said he had a difficult time when he first arrived at the University of Kansas. Between moving into a new place, adapting to a new culture, and getting accustomed to new food and weather, “I was too busy to even meet new people. And without people around I got homesick real quick. I missed my family, friends and so many people that it made my whole stay hard for the first week or so.”

“And then I met some Bolivian guys, and then American people too, who made the whole experience different.”

Alex described it like this:

Dancing on the Capitol
Alex gets down in Washington, DC

“It’s a mesmerizing experience when you arrive in a new city. It’s a new life, a new culture and a new reality. It has you feeling strange, kind of like a thrilling cocktail of excitement, tension, a bit of loneliness and some insecurity. It’s an unfamiliar territory for most of us and we just don’t know how to deal.

But if we allow ourselves to explore how we feel, we find that involvement is the key. When we start to involve ourselves with the city, the food, the people and the little things, we start to truly appreciate our new home.”

3 Looking the wrong way when crossing the street!

It may seem like a small one, but we’ve almost lost a few bloggers who weren’t sure which way the cars would be coming from. “Yes, I almost got run over by a car, after frantically hopping all over the place and glancing confusedly in all directions like a flying insect under threat,” recalled Simba of his first few weeks at Oberlin College.

If you’re still wondering, look LEFT. In America, cars drive on the right side of the road.

Luckily, in some places cars are more willing to stop and let you cross the road. “I remember when I first came here — I felt like the king of the road for a few seconds, with cars waiting on me to cross,” said Rudro about his experience in Chico, California.  Just don’t try that in New York.

4 Overdoing it on American food.

Tara has described food in America as bigger, sweeter and more available than anywhere else. Almost every one of us has found it easy to get sucked in.

The ice cream freezer at a supermarket in Washington, DC
The ice cream freezer at a supermarket in Washington, DC

When Jihye arrived in Washington, D.C., she was amazed when she went to her first supermarket:

“You can find a whole aisle of ice creams in grocery shopping mall such as Safeway, Harris Teeter, or Target etc. It is so exciting for me to see all different kinds of ice creams. I can find a lot of ice creams in Korea, but not a whole aisle! You can have your time for philosophical speculation (for example, what kind of flavor will make me happy?) while you are walking through the ice cream aisle!”

Promise got over the excitement pretty quickly. Not long into his stay in Minnesota, he discovered, “Ah! I am tired of sandwiches, pizzas, cookies, milk, chocolate, strawberry ice-cream…”

But Tara cautioned, “Around three months after you get to America, you will be totally comfortable with the big portions, and amazed at yourself being able to eat it up effortlessly.”

She wasn’t pleased with that accomplishment.

5 Not seeking out help

Jamal discovered something important during her first week in California, “That is: always ask questions, otherwise you don’t get what you want – or at least, otherwise people won’t know what you want.”

“Two days after leaving my home town I got to my college town of Oceanside, California. I went to International Students’ Office and I met with my counselor and some other staff working there. They were very nice people and they tried to help me in many ways. It’s very important to set up a plan for the first semester, to choose the right classes for your major, and the counselor is always willing to help students with those sorts of things (or even with how to find the right bus).”

No matter what challenges you may face – whether it’s an inability to cross the street or overwhelming homesickness – asking for help can make all the difference.

Did you make mistakes as a first year that you think others should learn from? Share your suggestions in the comments or using the form below!

3 comments

  1. A great new book that has an entire chapter on the education process in the U.S. is “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to understand crazy American culture, people, government, business, language and more.” Endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators and editors, it provides a wealth of info for the one million foreign students coming each year, including how and when to apply, to classroom differences they should expect to encounter. Good luck in your education!

  2. I just find my High School Diploma, I don’t have enough money to pay an Uiversity I wanna know how you can help me to find a Scholarship?

    1. The most common source of scholarships for international students is your university, so you’ll want to look into which colleges/universities provide the most aid for international students. Take a look at these two articles for a start:
      (1)http://blogs.voanews.com/student-union/2011/08/16/side-by-side-comparison-top-10-cheapest-colleges-for-foreign-v-us-students/
      (2)http://blogs.voanews.com/student-union/2011/12/19/how-much-does-it-cost-to-study-in-america/

      There are also a few good databases out there to help you look for government-sponsored and private scholarships. Take a look on our resources page for the links:
      http://blogs.voanews.com/student-union/resources/#aid

      Finally, make sure you’re in touch with an EducationUSA advisor, who can help you figure out the best approach for lowering costs in your situation. Maybe there are scholarships to help you cover your application and travel costs. Maybe you might want to think about attending community college instead of a 4-year university. They can help you think through all of that.

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