At this time of year, universities are just getting back into session. Freshmen and first years are arriving in new cities, and even new countries, for the first time and getting to know the place where they will spend the next few years of their lives. Our bloggers remember what it was like to arrive in the U.S. for the first time, and give their number one piece of advice for traveling here.
Part 1 focused on the practicalities of traveling, including what paperwork to bring and what to pack. In this part, the bloggers look at how to adjust to a new country.
When you’re traveling to another country, many people will give you advice on what to bring, where to visit in your new city, and other practicalities. But there is one thing no one told me that now I wish I heard before, and it’s as simple as this: make some friends. Making new friends may sound like something given, but don’t underestimate the importance of emotional support starting from day one.
When I first got to the U.S. I had a really difficult first week. I was too busy adapting to the change; the moving, the new environment, the different culture, the food and even the 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. When you are around people, getting to know that new place, getting to know each other, or just hanging around, it is a totally different story. Whether it is new people that are going through the same things as you, older internationals who have already experienced it, or natives who teach you the culture, with the company of your new friends, it is not going to be too hard to call this new country your home.
I like reading free newspapers as a way to keep abreast of local happenings and familiarize myself with a new community. Cities like Washington DC, where I go to school, have tons of free publications in dispensers outside of metro stations, at busy intersections, and in certain restaurants and book stores. They’re really good about listing upcoming events, like festivals, concerts, films, and exhibitions, and the articles themselves are usually pretty breezy and community-focused.
Doc Alex Busingye
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. It’s in the proximity of the bonds we forge during that process, that we make foundation for a brighter future together.
Whenever I’m traveling to a new state or town within the United States, I always try to look up restaurant reviews online before I arrive to get a sense of local culture. It’s a real comfort to have some scraps of “native” knowledge to help counteract all the newness of an unfamiliar place–and it’s definitely a great conversation starter when meeting new people.
When I moved to Princeton last fall, having a cursory sense of the town’s best coffee and ice cream shops allowed me to seem “in the know” to my fellow freshmen, even as I grappled with navigating our huge campus and learning my classmates’ names. The self-confidence boost of knowing a bit about my town made my transition to college life that much easier.
And while you’re trying new restaurants, remember this piece of advice:
It might not be required, but it’s always nice to tip. I don’t know about other countries, but in Malaysia nobody tips. I’d never seen someone tip until I came to the States. So needless to say, I had trouble understanding the concept of tipping. Isn’t a service fee already included in the charge when you eat at a restaurant? Yes, but remember that many of those who work in restaurants may be students like yourself – especially if you live in a college town. And many of them rely heavily on tips as a form of income. A dollar or two merely shows that you appreciate their service. Here’s a great link with more information about tipping and where one would tip.