Ten Tips to Make the Most of Your College
Days in America
By Ross Jennings, Green River Community
College Vice President.
Here are the stories
of two international students in the
United States. The names and countries
are fictional, but you probably know
several examples of both.
Masahiro started in an ESL program
and made a lot of international student
friends, but not many Americans. He
was a great singer, the life of the
karaoke party, and shredded on the snowboard.
He felt kind of stupid talking in English,
however, so he stuck to his Japanese
roommates and friends in college. He
and his friends complained all the time
how unfriendly Americans were, and how
it wasn’t worth it trying to make friends
with them. Masa qualified to work in
the US for a year after he graduated
with his IT degree, but his poor English
and low confidence killed his first
three job interviews. He gave up and
went home. He eventually got a job working
on a customer database for a ski resort
Sumitra took ESL too, but got involved
in school activities by becoming the
treasurer of the school’s ski club.
As a business major, it looked good
on her resume, and she got to know a
lot of students through her club functions.
She never became a great skier, but
it didn’t matter. In college, she and
her ski club buddies took a lot of classes
together, and many of their friends
became her friends too. Her English
got a lot better and she became more
confident. She did well in her two internships,
and one of them led to a paying job
during her OPT work year. She thought
about trying to get an H-1 work visa,
but decided to go home instead. There,
she got a good job with a multinational
company in finance, based on her internships,
her confident English and recommendations
from two of her professors.
Two international students, two very
different experiences in the US. The
quality of your experience in the US
is completely up to you.
Here are 10 tips to make the
most of your time in the USA:
- Get Involved: Don’t
just join a club, be an active
member. Lead an activity. Volunteer
to be a soccer coach for a kid’s
team. Tutor math at an elementary
school. A recent Harvard study
showed that involvement – a
club, a job, anything up to
about 20 hours a week – has
no effect on grades. If you
don’t follow any of the other
tips, do this one! Involvement
will give you a rich, deep,
happy college experience.
- Escape "Little Tokyo":
Make friends from your own
country but also Americans and
other country friends. A boy-
or girlfriend from another country
is one way to do this, if your
religion and values permit it,
but non-romantic friends count
just as much. Make friends inside
and outside your language group.
Believe it or not, your own
language group people may object
at first. Help them to escape
- Work on your English:
Your English won’t improve
much just from classes. Be brave,
and use it everywhere! Talk
to people, read magazines, watch
TV, buy a pronunciation CD.
Write down everything new in
a vocabulary notebook and review
it three or four times a week.
If you don’t keep working on
it, your English may actually
get worse. I’ve seen it happen.
- Eat a hot dog: We
say, “It’s as American as hot
dogs and apple pie”. So eat
a hot dog, go to a college football
game, attend church, go to a
rock concert with Americans.
You don’t have to love hot dogs
or become a football fan, but
you should “go local” from time
to time to get a real flavor
of the country.
- Travel: Go visit
new places, or even sightsee
in your local area. It gets
you out of the routine, usually
forces you to use your English
more, and helps you appreciate
the country. Be sure everybody
in your group talks to the locals,
not just the best English speaker
in your group.
- Get a Job: A paid
job is good, but a volunteer
job also works. Get a job with
regular hours, real responsibilities,
and a chance to communicate
with people. Perform it well,
no matter how humble. Job habits
and recommendations from your
first jobs help you succeed
in later “real” jobs.
- Network: Your friends,
teachers, bosses and classmates
are more than that – they are
also part of your future job
network. Do quality work and
make quality relationships in
everything, and you will have
many people in life who will
help you. Get to know one professor
per year well, through helping
in class or doing a special
project. You will then have
four great recommendations for
grad school or jobs later.
- Study: You will need
good grades for graduate school,
teacher recommendations, job
applications and to become knowledgeable
in your major subject. Manage
your time well, and study! Participation
in class is important, too.
Learn how to feel comfortable
speaking in class and doing
group projects. Success in these
will both raise your grades
and give you good life skills.
- Don't whine: There
are always a few foreigners
in every country that complain
about how bad the local country
is. Don’t be one of them! Respect
the host country and its people,
and do it in front of everyone.
A guest should respect his host,
whether in the US, China, Saudi
Arabia or Argentina. Don’t let
the negative attitude of a few
others spoil your experience.
- Just say yes: You
will have a chance to do many
new and different things – skydive,
snowboard, climb a mountain,
learn country line dancing.
Try them! It will take courage
to try something new, and social
courage to try them with new
people you may not know well.
It will be worth it. In the
words of that big shoe company,
“just do it”!