By David Zhao
The number of international students is on the rise and this year we've welcomed close to 3000 new international students to our campus. We have the largest number of international students enrolled amongst all US public institutions, and we've worked hard to address the needs and concerns of the rising international student population. Through our discussions and conversations with students, we've identified a big challenge for these students: the balance of building a support network of friends to combat cultural shock, and breaking out of your comfort zone and reaching out to get involved with many diverse populations of people.
There is no easy answer. The need to feel that you belong and are secure is human nature. Facing a major change in lifestyle, as international students do when they come to the US to study, as well as finding people who share our own culture, values, and identity is very comforting. As any counselor would tell you, if you are feeling the effect of cultural shock, go and build a support network, seek familiar things, and surround yourself with people. Finding the right people to surround yourself with is essential in both dealing with culture shock and reaching out to people who are from outside of your group. It is perfectly fine to make friends who could give you a sense of belonging, but it is also important that the people you hang out with are able to influence you to seek opportunities which expand your connections outward to other diverse group of people on campus, and to the community.
When you find yourself stuck in a place where you can't reach out and get involved, it is time to break out of your routine and try something different. Start out small, like trying a restaurant that you've never been to before, inviting a classmate for coffee, or joining an after-class study group. Better yet, do these with a friend. It is much easier if you have a buddy with you. Have you done these and are now ready for more? Get involved on campus by attending social events, joining an RSO (registered student organization), or finding volunteer opportunities on campus and in the community. These will help you make more connections and integrate yourself into the community. Running out of ideas? ISSS could help in providing you with more opportunities and resources to get involved. Just come to our office and talk to a student advisor and we'll be happy to share with you our experiences and resources.