Venturing Beyond Comfort Zones: Life of an International Student in the US
By Prakriti Bhanot
Leaving your home country to study in a foreign land is like embarking on a thrilling adventure that changes your life. Many Indian students, like me, choose the United States for its great universities, diverse culture, and endless opportunities. It wasn't easy to decide to study abroad, for I was about to traverse a colossal 8,000-mile chasm, leaving behind the sanctuary of my home for the first time—a daunting feat, indeed. Yet, I took the plunge.
Touching down in Los Angeles, it was as if Miley Cyrus herself had whisked me into her iconic anthem, 'Party in the USA'. But, contrary to the buoyant tune, the atmosphere was a medley of emotions—excitement mingled with uncertainty. Los Angeles is a city full of chances, but it comes with its own challenges. Starting here was a bit overwhelming. Maybe it was the huge time difference, making me miss home a lot. The way they teach, the culture, and the pace of learning were all different from what I was used to back in India. I felt like I lost the comfort of home pretty quickly. Feeling homesick was really tough – I know this firsthand!
Every year, more than 700,000 international students, just like me, come to the US for college. We all dream of an amazing learning experience and a bright future. But, as with any big change, studying in the US has its own difficulties. Here are some of the challenges one might face:
New Culture, New Reality: The US isn't exactly like the movies. Sometimes, our ideas about American life from films are a bit off. The way people live and eat might surprise you. Americans love to eat and drink, especially coffee. They appreciate foods from all over the world, so you'll find lots of different restaurants and stores.
Money Matters: Figuring out how to manage your money can be tough. Depending on where you live, the cost of living can be high. There's rent, groceries, eating out, transportation – it all adds up, and converting currencies can be confusing. And then currency conversions add just another layer of complexity.
Working in the US: Getting a job as an international student isn't easy. Under the F-1 student visa, the initial nine months preclude any off-campus employment—limiting options to on-campus roles, scarce in availability. The post-nine-month threshold ushers in opportunities for paid internships in the field of study, contingent on university approval. Subsequent stages involve Optional Practical Training (OPT) periods, ranging from 1 to 3 years, allowing full-time work post-graduation. The labyrinthine path ultimately leads to a crossroads—H1B sponsorship or return to the homeland.
Mental Exhaustion: Moving to a new place can be really tough on your mental health. There's homesickness, language barriers, finding a place to live, adjusting to a new way of learning, and worrying about money. It can be a lot to handle. But there are things like support groups and events that can help, and universities often have resources for international students.
My own journey mirrored a rollercoaster, with the summer internship serving as a crucible of growth. I got to learn about different aspects of PR, like dealing with the media and writing for businesses. Navigating challenges, including remote media placements, nurtured my patience—an invaluable skill in my field. I also learned how important networking and communication are.
Moving to a new country might seem like a big task, but it's a step towards a better future. People come here with dreams of success, whether it's in their careers or their personal lives. Some come for education, some for work, and some just to make unforgettable memories. No matter what, everyone leaves with a lot of experiences, and that's what truly matters. If this post makes potential international students anxious about starting this journey, calm down. Enter the world prepared, ready to seize the wonderful educational opportunities that await in international academics.