The prospect of going to school abroad can be both exhilarating and overwhelming at the same time.
Our team has helped send thousands of international students to elite US colleges and we understand how emotionally draining the process can be for students and their families. The truth is, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and confused during the process of applying to college and attending college as an international student. In fact, it’s perfectly normal.
However, many have traveled to the US for college before you, and there will be many who follow in your footsteps long after you’ve graduated. So remember that you’ll be just fine. Your only real challenge is figuring out the answer to this question:
How can you make the most of the next four years?
Well, we have given this some thought—and I’m here to offer up three key suggestions, three main bits of advice, based on my experience, my heart, and my background as CEO of Admissionado. I hope you find it to be helpful!
1) Expand beyond your social circle
One of the most common refrains that we hear from our past clients (who are now well into their 20’s and 30’s) is that they wish they had made more western friends while they were in the US.
It will be extremely easy for you, once you arrive in the US, to find a group of fellow mainland Chinese students, and to stick to that social circle, simply because it feels comfortable. This goes without saying for any international student attending college in a foreign country, but you must, must resist this urge.
You have the rest of your life to stay in China, and to hang around with other Chinese people, basically to remain in a cultural comfort zone. But do yourself a favor and expand your social circle. Americans may be… different, and opinionated, and pushy, but they will also be open to talking with you, and to making new friends.
Don’t let this opportunity pass you by! Reach out to people and make friends with westerners. This may be your only chance to mingle so freely with people from all over the world, to learn from perspectives and experiences that may be drastically different from your own, and to share your knowledge, experience and culture with others as well! Build relationships; they will be good for your personal development, but also for your career going forward.
2) Expand beyond your ACADEMIC circle
One of the main differences between the Chinese and US education systems is that in the US we are encouraged to explore. That is, to go out and find NEW areas, NEW academic interests, NEW potential careers. We’ve worked with many Chinese applicants who, for instance, have been told that they will be engineers their whole lives. For this reason they are solely focused on and have decided to pursue that path. Because of this mindset, many Chinese students don’t even CONSIDER other careers. Goodness! College is your chance to do just that! So take that cool-sounding bio class, pursue different languages, try your hand at sociology, or psychology, or something completely different. Whatever subjects that you think you may find to be interesting, we encourage you to explore them.
It is expected of American students that they will get to college and do some more exploration, to really search for (and maybe find) the area that they find to be most interesting. Take on that challenge for yourselves—don’t just settle into the career/path that your parents expect of you. You’re in America now… take some chances and explore!
3) Engage your peers in CHALLENGING conversations
In China, people are often very careful about speaking openly about politics, about social issues, about international policy etc. In the US, the opposite is true. We speak openly about… well, just about everything. So take this opportunity to express yourself!
Ask the questions you want to know answers to. What do people in the US think of Trump? Why? What do Americans think of China? What about Taiwan? What about the South China Sea? What about racism? Sexism? In the US, people will be eager to engage with you. These will be conversations that you may not be used to having, and perspectives you have never heard before. But now is a great chance to practice! Along with America’s diverse population, comes with it a diverse set of ideas, opinions, and perspectives. And we believe that this diversity is one of the things that makes the US so special.
So don’t be shy, go out and find people who have different opinions than you, and engage them in conversation. And speak out! This will be very valuable experience for you. And I promise you, the responses and conversations that you have will surprise you…