As your first day of university approaches, you’re probably feeling a mix of excitement and anxiety. That’s completely normal, especially for international students. College can be intimidating for anyone, but you’re also moving to a completely different country. It’s a bold step. Let’s ease your mind about all the unknowns. At St. Thomas University, we have a large international student body. Based on our experiences helping them transition to our campus, here are five tips for international students starting university in Florida.
1. Make Sure You’ve Budgeted for Everything
When you’re away from home without your usual support system, you don’t want to figure it out as you go when it comes to money. Instead, we recommend creating a budget in spreadsheet software like Excel or Google Sheets. You’ll find templates with built-in formulas to make it easier. Here’s what to remember as you build your budget.
- Identify sources of income – Think about scholarships, loans, internships, part-time jobs, money from family, and savings. How and when are you receiving these funds?
- List college costs – Do you know exactly what the university is charging per semester? Have you accounted for tuition, fees, housing, health insurance, food plans? Make sure you know what’s part of the bill and what’s extra (like textbooks and office supplies).
- Plan for initial costs – It’s not always easy or cost-effective to bring everything with you. Are there necessities like electronics or furniture that you’ll need to buy once you arrive? Figure out these one-time costs so you have enough to get set up properly.
- Estimate ongoing costs – What will you need to pay on a monthly basis? Do you have a cell phone bill?
- Account for fun – Once you’ve determined what you need, how much do you have left for things like going out with friends, taking a day trip, or buying souvenirs?
- Add some padding – You can never anticipate everything, so it’s smart to have a little extra in your budget.
Work with your parents and the university to make sure you’ve budgeted for everything you’ll need while you’re in school. You don’t want to find yourself coming up short mid-semester.
2. Brush Up on Your Conversational English Skills
Most international students are comfortable reading and writing in English, but not as much when it comes to listening and speaking. By practicing your conversational skills, you’ll have an easier time with discussions in class, striking up friendships on campus, and just feeling like you belong.
Try these activities to strengthen your English before you arrive:
- Challenge yourself to watch your favorite American movies or TV shows without subtitles
- Translate the lyrics of popular American songs
- Use apps like HelloTalk, which allow you to chat with native speakers around the world
- Read blogs on your favorite topics (they’re often written more casually)
- Listen to podcasts on your favorite topics (interviews are also less formal)
Once you’re on campus, the best way to improve your conversational English is to expand your social circle beyond other international students from your country. Ask them to help you understand accents, slang, abbreviations, and turns of speech.
3. Connect with the International Office of Your University
Of all our tips for international students, this one is most important. The staff at the International Office of your university can help you with any immigration issues and provide support for academic and cultural adjustment. Their goal is to make your experience positive, so you shouldn’t hesitate to contact them if you need a hand.
At St. Thomas University, we have students from over 80 nations. Our office of International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) offers a specialized orientation for new students, which covers topics from academic expectations to understanding American culture. Once settled, the ISSS office can help you with any paperwork, whether you want to get a job, a driver’s license, or keep your immigration documents valid.
We encourage you to get to know the staff right away, so when an issue comes up, you can reach out to a familiar resource.
4. Look for Low-Pressure Ways to Make Friends
For international students, the challenge of building relationships in a new environment is much greater than for American students. Language and culture barriers can feel overwhelming. However, there are ways to overcome them.
- Offer to study with others in your major. Even if you’re unsure if you’ll have other things in common, this is a ready-made way to relate.
- Find clubs or organizations for your nationality. For universities like St. Thomas with a diverse student population, there are often social activities geared toward people from certain regions or countries. Often, you’ll find Americans with heritage from your country. They’ll likely be very interested in your life experiences and patient if you’re still uncertain about your English.
- Take part in activities that don’t require a lot of conversation. If you still feel a bit self-conscious about speaking in English, you could participate in a volunteer project that’s hands-on, join an informal game of soccer, or attend a concert.
- Ask your International Office for a mentor. Many universities will match you with a student who has been on campus longer. They can introduce you to their circle of friends and offer advice on how to navigate new social situations.
The more you get out and connect, the more opportunities you have to practice your English skills with a native speaker. This will give you the confidence to expand your network even further.
5. Learn the Culture by Exploring Your New Community
By attending university in Florida, you have an amazing opportunity to experience the melting pot of cultures that makes America unique. When you step off campus, there are so many options for immersing yourself in your new country. Here are some tips for international students who want to get a real sense of their city.
- Get lost – Well, safely. You don’t have to take a selfie in front of that famous landmark. Instead, take a leisurely stroll in a neighborhood. Make a few random turns and see what you discover.
- Talk to the locals – At any university, there will be students who grew up nearby. Get their advice on what to see and do. See if they’ll take you on a personal tour. You’ll have a more authentic experience.
- Eat the food – Food is so much a part of any given culture, that you can’t really say you’ve experienced it if you haven’t enjoyed a traditional meal. In Florida, especially on the coastlines, you’ll no doubt have your choice of delicious seafood dishes. But they’ll likely be prepared in a number of different ways depending on the cultural makeup on the city. That’s what makes America special.
- Volunteer – By engaging with your community in a real way, you’ll gain a different perspective than you would as simply a tourist. Look for opportunities that build your confidence, help you learn, and are personally fulfilling.
Hopefully, these tips for international students have boosted your confidence as you prepare to embark on your new adventure. If you’re still looking for the perfect university in Florida, we’d love to have you join our diverse, welcoming community. Contact our international admissions team to learn more.