Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Home Away from Home

By Marcia Grey
Student: Brooklyn College, City University of New York

Going abroad to pursue studies is not a simple affair. The student leaves that comfortable and familiar place called home and moves to a different space to begin a new phase of life. Integrating into a new culture is one way the student can ensure a successful study abroad experience. The process of integrating requires meaningful interactions with people from other cultures. The goal is to build social networks and create a stable, peaceful, and safe environment in which to study and live. Integrating does not mean abandoning your culture or lifestyle. Rather, it is a process of sharing and learning about other people. In this article, I want to share some valuable tips I learned that helped me integrate into American society.

When I came to the U.S. four years ago, I thought that integrating would be easy since I had visited the country many times before. I soon discovered that being a visitor is not the same thing as being a student! I have met some international students who do not believe that participating in American culture is necessary. However, I believe that in order to create an environment where you can realize your full potential as a student and resident of a host country, it is helpful to pursue some level of integration.

I suggest making a few friends with American students. It can be awkward because many of these students may not be interested in learning about a foreign culture or student. To begin the learning process, try joining a club on campus that has a diverse student membership. All colleges have clubs that represent various interests and academic programs. Their websites provide information about meeting times and venues. I personally found it helpful to join a club with a colorful mix of students. We participated in volunteer activities and social events that encouraged bonding and good times. I still keep in touch with these students, even those who have transferred to other schools. Joining a campus club can also expand your professional network, opening doors to your dream career in the future.

You can also grow your networking circle by getting involved in organizations in the surrounding community. Every semester I target an organization not affiliated with my school and sign up to do volunteer work. The possibilities are endless. Volunteers bond through conversation, their work, and planned social outings. It’s a great opportunity to break away from shyness and make new friends. Giving back to your new community is another good way of integrating into American culture.

Making a home away from home can be daunting. But by befriending only students who share your native culture, you will deter your efforts to integrate. It is a challenge, but with a determined mindset and willing heart, any student can build a comfortable home and have a successful study abroad experience.
Marcia Grey is an international student from the Caribbean island of Grenada. She has changed careers twice and is in the U.S to pursue a degree in sociology with the goal of becoming a public administrator in the area of social development.

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