How to get the most out of your study abroad experience as an international student in the US

I recently applied for the H1B visa and as I am awaiting my fate, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the great experiences that I have had which have and how each of them led me to this moment today. United States of America is one of the top nations for undergraduate and graduate programs in the world; Don’t take my word for it, do you own research and then come back to read this article. A record 900,000 students studied in the US during 2013-14.

In my time here, I have come across a lot of the international students who are so focused on getting a degree that they often times overlook the other things that these universities might have to offer. If you are currently an international student in the US or aspiring to be one, here are some things that (I did and) you can do to have an awesome college experience:

  1. Join/Start a Student Organization: One of the best things you can do. Every US university has tons and you can easily find 2-3 that are based on your hobbies, likes or interests. Don’t find one that you think is the right fit? You can always start one. At a micro level, there are learnings from this that you can take and use if you intend to start your own company in the future.
  2. Volunteer: Find causes you care about and sign up to volunteer. This will help you meet like-minded individuals and give back at the same time. Moreover, this allows you to quickly grasp the accent of the place as well as the local lingo that everyone around you uses since you will be interacting with people a through volunteering. This way, when next time someone says something like ‘My Bad’, you know they are apologizing.

    Want more reasons to volunteer? Read this article by University of California San Diego

  3. Participate/Attend college events: College events are a big part of your college experience especially here in the US. By attending/participating in one, you become a part of those traditions and the history of the university. Additionally, you always take back with you plenty of stories to tell.

    Here is a list of some crazy college traditions.

  4. Seek out locals/diversity: This seems obvious in retrospect but what I am talking about is not just befriending classmates for working together on assignments. We have a tendency to find and stick around with people from our own countries even when we go abroad, which is the worst thing you can do. If you want to look at things from a different perspective, build relationships with a diverse group of people for it will enrich the way you look at things. This is the single best way to challenge your biases.
  5. Become a campus tour guide: if you love your college, you will love this job. You can become as creative as you want and by convincing prospective students to join your college, you can make a real impact on the college bottom line and the student.

Use the time between you getting your acceptance letter to you starting your first semester wisely. Research and make a list of things you would like to try out or experiences you want to be a part of or the places you want to see while you are pursuing your studies. Then go out and try them. I can bet you will have one hell of a college experience.

If you are a college student in the US reading this, what would you add to this list?