Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Surviving New York City as an International Student

By Crystal Washington

Universities in New York with the most international students include New York University, Columbia University, SUNY Buffalo and Stony Brook.  Furthermore, the colleges within the City University of New York network are home to over 11,000 international students. In addition to the lure of the lights of Times Square and the glitz of 5th Avenue, international students flock to New York City because of its diverse population, plethora of exchange programs and endless possibilities for personal and professional growth. While reflecting on my eleven-year experience living and working in New York City, I have thought about some situations and possible solutions that can help future international students survive in this big city.

Situation 1- You can’t find the building where your classes are located.

Many of the universities and colleges in New York City have several buildings with varying exits and exit names. On first attempt, you may get lost and frustrated, even making you possibly late for class. I would suggest that you get familiar with the MTA New York City transit by studying bus and train maps. They will always be helpful in the beginning and after a while, you’ll learn the train routes like the back of your hand.

Situation 2- You are feeling lonely or homesick

Get familiar with your local community-based organizations or ethnic/cultural communities. For example, I connected with SEVA, an organization that focuses on Asian and West Indian immigrants and provides them with assistance to meet some of their most critical needs. Organizations such as SEVA provide a much-needed sense of belonging and home that many international students crave at one point or another.  Do your research, ask around your neighborhood and see what active community-based organizations exist.

Situation 3 - You are having a hard time finding a job within the given guidelines for international students.

Get to know the people who work in Student Services, especially your international student advisor! You will meet your international student advisor at orientation or activities for incoming students. However, some students forget about checking in with their international student advisor after orientation. The international student advisor is your first line of defense and reference in time of need for any and everything such as, changes in immigration policies, student statuses, academic problems and personal hardships.  My international student advisor and I had a close enough relationship, where she knew me by my first name. She helped me numerous times during undergraduate and graduate programs, providing me with employment resources and keeping me up to date with all the recent immigration policies and practices.

Situation 4 – You want to improve your English by making American friends but don’t know where to look.

One suggestion is to join a club, academic or social, that would give you the opportunity to make friends who can introduce you to American culture and help you as you adapt to your American life. For example, I made a very good friend from Arkansas, and though she was American, we shared the experience of getting used to New York life together. Many people you meet will give you different perspectives and useful knowledge to help you navigate New York.   

So I hope that these situations and solutions will be helpful to you all. As a final word of advice, be brave! New York City can feel big and scary but it is also the place where dreams really do come true.


My name is Crystal Washington. I was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, where I attended Bishop Anstey High School. At seventeen years old, I moved to New York City, U.S to pursue a college education. While there, I attended Hunter College where I received a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Psychology and Sociology as well as a Master of Science in Early Childhood Special Education. In addition, I am a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated, Epsilon Chapter. I am presently living in central Japan, where I am an Assistant Language Teacher with the Japanese Exchange Teaching program.

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