As an international student myself, I wanted to share a little bit about the experience I’ve gathered over the past two and a half years. First of all, what I mean by international student is any non-American who is here for a degree. Seeking a diploma here is different than being an exchange student; you need to plan for your future in this university while still being a foreigner. You’re coming from somewhere else, so you might not know the system used by American colleges, or heard about the way the classes are given, the services offered to you, etc. Since you have a particular position, you might need help settling in, living here, and prospering, so here’s the major tips I have for you.
Take as many credits as you want from the get-go: The very first thing you will need to think about is the number of credits you want to take. During orientation week, you meet one-on-one with the ESL (English as a Second Language) department; do not believe when they say to limit the number of credits for your first couple of semesters. They try to be nice, and it's appreciated when they tell you to take it easy so you have time to accommodate, but trust me, you can take more than 12 credits and you’ll be just fine. If you do decide to pace yourself at the beginning, you might fall short at the end, so beware.
Make as many friends as you can the very first year: Another thing that will happen during the first week is that you will make lots and lots of friends during international orientation. That’s amazing, but chances are that they are going to be exchange students. Don’t get me wrong, they are a blast, and nothing says you can’t be friends with them, but keep in mind that you will be staying here when they leave after a semester or two. If you don’t want to do it all over again in sophomore year (without the help of Threshold and the excitement of your first time here), go out and make friends with other people, too. Talk away with people in your classes, in clubs, at sport events. The choice is yours so long as you get together with students that are here to stay, too.
Talk to your advisor or email them: When registration rolls around, don’t hesitate to ask your advisor questions. They should be able to help with the academic catalogue and explain to you what this vague one-sentence course description means, concretely. When you get overwhelmed about school work, hit them up, they will be happy to talk to you about any questions you might have.
Don’t panic if you have a roommate: If you’re European, you’ve probably never even thought about sharing the same room as someone else. You share apartments and living rooms, and a set of bowls, maybe, but other than that, private room is the norm. Coming to the U.S. and having to share a dorm with someone can be quite the challenge. For students who, like me, can’t fathom it, don’t worry, you can move out without needing any excuse. Wait for the third week of classes, email your dorm director and ask for an unoccupied room. You’ll be able to stay in a room by yourself, easy-peasy. For the ones that stick with a roommate, good for you, it might be a friend for life!
You’re probably going to get homesick: Call your family and friends back home. Spend the afternoon hanging out with them, then go take a big bowl of fresh air. You can even take them on a tour with you, show them around. They’ll love it, which will make you feel better about being here. At whatever time of year, Chicago is beautiful, so enjoy and share it with people at home. You can also bring pictures, knick-knacks, etc. to make your room feel more like home. And the one thing to never knock: food. Get your cravings, find a place that serves the food you eat at home, enjoy the comfort of a good meal even if you know your mom cooks it better.
Americans are super friendly but get used to small talk: You will meet a lot of people during your years in NPU, and most of them are going to be the friendliest ever, but it will also be a lot of very “in-passing” conversations. It can feel very foreign to some of us, but with time, it will feel more natural. You can keep it as short or long as you want; Americans won’t get offended, and you will probably realize that you will get better at talking about random things with random people.
Do something for Thanksgiving and Easter: American culture can sometimes clash with our own, but remind yourself about all the good things the U.S. has to offer. Finding something to do during Thanksgiving and Easter breaks is an ideal way of experiencing American traditions at their best (also, being on campus then can be super lonely) and enjoying the differences that can bring us together.
I wish I had known these things before I started at this school, and hopefully, these nuggets of knowledge should help you perform as best as you can in your new adventure at North Park University. Just remember to enjoy yourself!