What It’s Like To Be An International Student in the United States

Going away to college is a huge step for any teenager or young adult, regardless of where they’re from. It means more independence, more responsibility, and in lots of cases, it represents a transition from adolescence into adulthood. Gone are the years of going to bed early, having a home cooked meal, skipping classes without any major consequences, and having the weekends to actually rest. It is normally tough for every first semester freshman to adjust during their first weeks as a college student, however, there is a specific group of students in every college or university who find it even more challenging, exciting, and nerve wrecking to adjust to the college life: the international students.

As international students we face challenges and obstacles that most of the local students will never understand. For example, being asked mind blowing questions such as if we live in trees, eat rats for breakfast, or have a pet lion.We might also quickly come to realize that most people will not be able to pronounce our names correctly (try as they might), or we might even face the almost impossible challenge of having to explain how having two last names works. Then, there’s also adjusting to the culture, the language, the currency, the food, and even the weather. Imagine being used to a sunny, warm, tropical weather, and suddenly having to walk to class in below freezing temperatures at 8:00 a.m, or being used to the metric system and not being able to understand what anyone means when they speak to you in terms of inches, feet, and pounds, or not being able to understand the temperature in Fahrenheit. Or even getting confused with placing the month first and the day second when it comes to writing dates for your assignments and exams. Even going to a supermarket becomes overwhelming, especially if you have never been to Walmart or Target. There are thousands of options, and endless choices to make. Even if you go just to buy some toothpaste, there are around 30 different brands to choose from.

And then there’s homesickness, our biggest enemy, and one with incredible ninja skills too, because it always manages to sneak up on us when we least expect it. Whether it’s due to Sunday night blues, missing our home country’s traditional food, or simply because we were looking at old family photos, homesickness is something that each and every one of us will experience, no matter how much we tell ourselves that it won’t happen to us.

We also have to deal sporadically with some sort or other of racism. Sometimes it might be direct, other times it might be more subttle, but every international student I have met while studying abroad has encountered some sort of other of racism. It is just something that we have to deal with every now and then. It can be someone making fun of our culture, or saying that we are “stealing their jobs” when we express our desire of acquiring a work visa in the future, or simply thinking we are not good enough just because we come from a different country, it might even be something smaller, but to us it stings, and frankly, it gets really annoying after a while.

It is true that we face these and many other countless challenges as international students in the United States, however, it is not lost on us how incredibly blessed we are to be able to study in another country, and to have the opportunity to experience a different culture, meet new people, and create incredible memories. And just how we sometimes encounter people who think that we are not good enough, or do not like that we are from another country, we also encounter twice as many people who are incredibly nice, helpful, and even eager to learn about our country and our culture. And as the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months and years, our acquaintances turn into friends, and our friends turn into our “family away from home.” And with each passing day we discover that it gets a little bit easier, and we start feeling more and more at home. We will always miss our home country, our family and friends who are back home, and we will always cherish our culture, because they are all a part of who we are, but we also learn to appreciate this new country and it’s culture, and to cherish our time here, in order to make the most of every experience and opportunity that we are blessed enough to live.

-Andrea Pino Mora