Top 5 things international students wish they knew before they came to Green River

By: Ross Jennings, Vice President International Programs and Extended Learning

Ross Jennings with graduates

New country, new school, new people! Students have so many questions before they leave their countries and come to Green River. Will I make friends? Will I do well in school? Will I be able to transfer to a top university?

For most students, the answer is "yes" to all of those questions, although it may take time. Some things, however, take students a little by surprise. Here are the top five things our students tell us they wish they knew before they came to Green River:

  1. How to set things up (smart phone, money, transportation) – Students are plugged in back home, with smart phones, computers, credit cards, bank accounts and means of transportation. In a new country, they are lost at first without their tools. Setting up their new networks is difficult, particularly in a new language with procedures very different from home. Students rely on other students from their own countries to help them more than school officials, because their friends know what they are used to back home and what they want.
  2. How to make necessary transactions (shopping, taking the bus, eating at a restaurant, etc.) – Nothing is exactly the same anywhere. Bus drivers in many US cities don't make change. Riders must have exact change for the ride, or have bus passes, which can be hard to get. Students need to ask friends how this works. When shopping, grocery store clerks ask "paper or plastic"? It refers to the kind of bag they will give you for your merchandise (just say "plastic" – who cares?!). Many stores also issue "rewards cards" which save money at the checkout line. Students should always get them. In many Asian countries, there is no tipping, particularly for restaurants and taxis. In the US, add 15% to the bill or leave 15% as cash, and it's good. Find out bus and train schedules from the websites or friends, and get the number of a taxi company or two if you don't have a car. Taxis don't cruise the streets looking for customers in most US cities; you have to call for one.
  3. How American classes work – Class selection, transfer and classroom expectations can be great mysteries in the US. International students get a lot of advice and help, but there are so many new things to learn that students at first naturally do what they've always done – take the classes they are told and sit quietly in class. Most American teachers expect students to ask questions and give their opinions in class, but it takes time to gain confidence in English and the academic routine to be able to participate. Not participating, however, can upset teachers and even lower a student's grade.
  4. "Supersize" – Everything in the US is big – distances, houses, meals, people, cars, everything. People find getting downtown takes longer than they thought, especially on the bus on weekends. Many new students eat a lot during their first year and pick up what is called the "freshmen fifteen" – meaning they gain 15 pounds (7 kilos) during year one. Many students did a lot of sports and exercise in high school, but don't make the time for it in college. It's very important to get into a sports or exercise habit right away to avoid gaining too much weight, and to be healthy and full of energy. Not getting enough exercise is one of the biggest mistakes new students can make.
  5. How to deal with American people and regulations – People around the world have different cultures, but they don't really differ that much as individuals. Some people are friendly or unfriendly, open or racist, outgoing or shy everywhere. Americans basically expect foreigners to figure out how things are done in the US, so it is up to international students to learn as quickly as they can. At the same time, Americans nod or say hi to strangers more than in many other countries. In the US, if you are friendly and say hi to classmates and strangers you don't know, most people will be friendly back. As for regulations, international students are only allowed to work for pay at their schools, with a few exceptions. There are no rules against volunteer (unpaid) jobs, however. This is a good way to become friends with Americans and learn deeply about American society.