Obstructions are opportunities.

Being a student is difficult on its own—add the stress of moving to a foreign country with little to no money, and you have a recipe for disaster. When I moved to the United States to pursue my masters, I had to deal with finding a place to live that was affordable, figure out the best way to commute, finding a job on campus, limit my cost of living, and of course, get my course work completed. To say it’s stressful is putting it mildly. These and many more challenges confront international students every year. So, how can those students overcome all the obstacles? Through discipline, I developed a strategy that allowed me to navigate my new life successfully and eventually become Associate Dean of Student Affairs at CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.

Cultural Preparedness

The first part of the strategy is to prepare yourself for the culture change. The easiest way to do this is to research online—what are the differences between your culture and the one you’re going to? Remember the small things, like greetings, gestures, idioms, and eating customs. Larger concerns are cost of living, access to public transportation, and how housing works. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others. There are a wealth of online forums where you can read about others’ experiences and even connect with students near your school. One example is The International Student Forum, which shares stories about international students going to school in the USA.

Managing Finances

This is a tough one! I only had $3,000 with me when I started school, and I somehow had to make that work to pay for school, housing, food, and other necessities for living. The first, and simplest, thing you can do is find a job. Most universities and colleges with have a job board for on-campus openings. Don’t be too picky—apply to anything that fits your schedule and will help you pay your bills. Make sure you have a budget, and stick to it. You budget should account for every penny you think you’ll spend and then every penny you actually spend. Budgets aren’t one-time activities; you need to check your budget regularly (at least weekly), and adjust your behavior accordingly. If you pay close enough attention, your money will go a lot farther than you think.

Utilize Student Support Services

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your school will have services designed to help you be successful. Not only is it their job to help, they know the campus well and live in the area. That means they can answer logistical and cultural questions. Building a relationship with support services’ staff, such as your advisor, career services, etc. will serve you the entire time you’re in school. They can also help you find internships and job opportunities after you graduate. It’s good practice for networking, which is extremely important for your success. I’ll discuss this more in another post. There are a lot of moving parts and things to juggle as an international student, but you will find even just these three things can make a difference. I’ll share more advice in future posts, such as networking, time management, and career planning, so be sure to subscribe for updates!