Going to university abroad already poses challenges. It not fully meet my expectations, made it even more challenging. Adjusting to a new way of life is a difficult thing to do and adjusting to a new culture makes everything more difficult than it has to be. Here are a few things I learned from the first few months at university that I found new and quite shocking as an international student.
1. Every student is ambitious.
Whichever university you go to, everyone aims to be the best. Although they don't always show it. However, when it comes to class, students have already read the books, summarized the texts and are more than prepared for the lesson on the first day of class. I thought that was only true for students that go to prestigious universities. I discovered the opposite was true during my first lecture when I looked around and saw other students with the reading materials printed, highlighted and their notes on their desks.
Then came the assessments. I found it really hard to find a fellow student who wanted to answer my questions. Everyone is so focused on their own work. This was so different from my high school where everyone was so helpful to the point where sometimes we ended up doing the assessment together instead of one person helping the other.
In university, it's important to "stay on top of your game," and not rely on others' help with assessments or work. There may be academic services that can help you with your assessment, although the only person you can depend on with getting good grades is yourself.
2. You have to learn how to be independent.
As someone who had never lived on their own in their entire life, I was used to depending on others for quite literally everything. I was surprised with the responsibilities I was faced with, even though I am living in a catered dorm, where I don't have to worry about cooking or grocery shopping. I was faced with the responsibilities of maintaining the cleanliness of my room, doing my own laundry, adjusting to meal times and the food menu (this is still really hard to as I am a picky eater) and arranging transportation for when I want to travel far.
Adjusting for the first few months was hard, especially depending on my alarm to wake up, but after getting used to it for quite a period of time, I became adjusted. I feel that there are no other solutions to this than adjusting yourself to a new routine and being compliant to it. You'll get through it with time.
3. Everyone is not your friend.
I learned this the hard way the week after orientation week. Everyone seemed so friendly at the beginning of the school year. Although the week after, it deteriorates to just saying, "Hi," every time you pass by. Then you'll eventually stop talking and it becomes slightly awkward.
It's hard to maintain new friendships, especially if you come to university not knowing anyone. It's important to maintain new friendships. You have to be careful of who you choose to befriend and what you share with them, as it may backfire. Everyone might seem nice and it's hard when you are hit with the reality that they're not going to be your friend if you don't try to communicate with them further. It's okay to not be friends with everyone and only have a few friends at university who you truly connect with. With time, you will gain new friendships, just don't try to do it all at orientation week. Be aware and be okay with the fact that not everyone you meet at university is going to be your friend.
4. It feels like everyone goes out.
This came as a huge shock to me and is especially true if you're living in a dorm. You will feel the pressure of having to go out every week since everyone else in your environment is also doing it, and you'll feel excluded if you don't. This is a hard thing to overcome, especially if there are events occurring on campus that encourages students to go out.
If you want to get work done and you can't focus studying in your room since there are loud noises coming from the party that you're missing, the best solution is to go to the library or a quiet study place outside. If you feel excluded, remember your purpose of coming to university, which is to study, get good grades and to achieve a better future. I know that sounds really cliché, but if you really think about your purpose (whatever it may be), you won't feel excluded or pressured to always go out.
5. Appreciate the things you had at home.
This is especially true if you're at a university abroad and far away from home. You'll feel homesick quite often, knowing what you were used to is currently out of reach. The solution is to start getting used to and (although not immediately) try liking your new surroundings. Don't think about home or look at pictures that remind you of it, as you'll feel more homesick.
Try to explore your new surroundings, as you might find things that'll make you love the environment that you're living in. It is important to keep in contact with your family, although it's also important to remember to not do it every day (or too often) as that'll trigger your homesickness. Even though it's important to remember home, the things you miss might encourage you to appreciate the little things you had and feel more grateful, especially once you get back home.
University is hard in itself with all the assessments and getting used to all the other factors that accompany university life just makes the process harder. It is important to always remember these solutions and to always try to adjust yourself until you feel most comfortable. Good luck with surviving the next few years, and I will try to do the same.
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