Study Abroad Corner

9 common mistakes international students make

common mistakes international students make

Below is a list of the common mistakes international students make, especially when starting college. I know I’ve made at least half of these mistakes before (sadly). If you’re just like me and have made several of these mistakes before, just remember that #Yourenotalone. We’ve all been there, done that. To those who are making these mistakes right now, it’s still not too late to fix them, seek your opportunities and make the best of your college years!

  1. Missing orientation
  2. Orientation is a day where new students (often freshmen and transfers) get introduced to the school, its campus and academic curriculum. A lot of people may think that orientation is trivial and end up missing it. But you should totally attend orientation before school starts, especially orientation for international students. Sure it may not be the most fun and exciting experience, but it’s a great opportunity for you to transition into college life and learn important information!

    Here are the reasons why you shouldn’t miss orientation:
    (1) You get to take a tour of the campus so you’ll at least have an idea where everything is and how to get around
    (2) You get to learn about the various programs and departments that the school offers
    (3) You get important updates from the Office of International Students (OIS)
    (3) You get to register for classes <<< possibly the most important reason of all (4) You get to meet faculty and talk to them (5) You get to make new friends (6) You get free stuff like water bottle, sunglasses, pens, bumper stickers etc. and free food at these orientation events.

    What should you do instead?
    Attend orientation, especially the one for international students! Start getting involved and make the best of it while you’re there. Introduce yourself to fellow new students and faculty members, look for students who came from your homeland, as well as asking any question that you may have!

  3. Only hanging out with others from your country
  4. This is probably the most common mistake international students often make. You’re in a new school, in a foreign country. Everything is still brand new to you. Thus, it makes sense for you to find comfort and understanding in people who came from the same country and have the same cultural background as you are. After all, it’s tough to socialize and make friends when there’s a communication barrier.

    When I studied abroad in the U.S. in my junior year of high school, I only hung out with fellow Vietnamese international students at first. Yes I did find comfort in them. Yes it’s easier to communicate with them. Plus, I was also shy to make friends with American students. I thought that they didn’t want to be friends with me because I’m an international student. But then I realized that I wanted to know people from other countries and be exposed to different cultures as well. I didn’t need to be in the U.S. to make friends with Vietnamese students. I can easily do that back home. Once I finally found the courage to talk to people, I realized that it’s not too difficult after all. Now, my closest friends hailed from all over the world, from China, Korea, India to America and of course, Vietnam.

    I’m not saying that it’s bad to hang out with people from your country, since I have tons of Vietnamese friends in the U.S. I’m just encouraging you to step away from your comfort zone and make friends with people from different countries. If someone looks down on you or tease you because you’re an international student and don’t speak fluent in English, don’t even bother to be friend with him/her because that person doesn’t deserve your friendship and time! There will always be American students and other foreigners who want to be friends with you and learn from you, I’m sure of that!

    What should you do instead?
    Say hi and talk to people from different countries! For more tips on how to effectively network and create a powerful first impression click HERE. Get to know these diverse people and their cultures, since they can foster your cultural awareness and social knowledge. Not only will this broaden your social network, but it’ll also boost your confidence and make you stand out.

  5. Failing to practice English
  6. By “failing to practice English,” I’m referring to both verbal (talking) and written (writing) English. There are plenty of international students who constantly practice their verbal English skill, but not so much on the written part. Remember that knowing how to write a strong English paper is as equally important as knowing how to verbally articulate something well in English.

    What should you do instead?
    Practice, practice, practice. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. It’s difficult to master the English language, especially learning complicated vocabulary. I still get confused by all the fancy SAT words (who really use them in real life anyway)! But don’t forget that you decided to study abroad in an English-speaking country such as the U.S, U.K. or Canada to improve your English, so don’t be afraid to practice and make mistakes. It’ll not be easy, but with much effort and determination, I’m positive that you can improve both your verbal and written English skills!

    Have conversations with English native speakers to practice your pronunciations. Ask them to correct any pronunciation or grammatical mistakes that you make while speaking. Participate in discussions with your professors and friends. Write a lot in English and ask your professors and friends to proofread (e.g. writing journal entries or blog posts in English just like what I’m doing with Study Abroad Corner). Or simply watch popular American TV shows or read the bestselling books. There are so many ways for you to practice your English, you just have to be determined, actually do them, and learn from your mistakes.

  7. Not getting involved with campus activities
  8. Maybe you decided to focus only on your academics in order to get that 4.0 GPA. Maybe you’re already super busy and stuffed with taking 20 units and didn’t have time for anything else. Or perhaps you’re in a new school and still trying to embrace the college culture. Regardless of the reasons, there are plenty of international students who don’t get involved with campus activities besides only attending classes and getting good grades. By “campus activities,” I’m referring to student organizations, community service and volunteer work outside of classes.

    When I was still a freshman at Occidental, I made the same mistake and pretty much just focused on my academic work only. It’s not until the 2nd semester of my freshman year that I realized this was such a big mistake and began joining different clubs. I’ve made tons of new friends and learned so many useful skills by participating in those clubs. I even took on leadership roles because I really enjoyed being part of those clubs and wanted to contribute even further.

    What should you do instead?
    Attend your college’s student organizations/ clubs/ involvement fair. It’s a day that showcases all the active student organizations at your college and for them to get new members. If you’re unsure of where to start, this is something that you cannot miss! There’ll be representatives from each organization to answer questions and encourage students to sign up for their clubs. Other ways that you can use to reach out to clubs that you’re interested in besides attending the involvement fair are emailing them and looking for their Facebook pages for updates.

    It’s important to be involved, but don’t overload yourself by joining tons and tons of clubs either. You want to save time for other things as well. I suggest signing up for all the clubs that you’re interested in first, then actually attend their first meetings/events before deciding which clubs you want to commit in the long-term. I used to sign up for over 10 clubs during the involvement fair. But at the end, I only really committed to 3-4 clubs. If you’ve been with a club for longer than a semester and identified with its mission (not just for resume-sake), try applying for its leadership positions! You’ll get to watch the club grow and gain beneficial leadership experience.

    Another reason why you should be involved is that student organizations and volunteering events are great ways to make new friends. You may say we still can make friends in class, but they’re just “classmates.” You get to meet the people who share common interests with you (e.g. Salsa dancing club, entrepreneurship club, Italian-speaker club etc.), get to know them better outside of class setting, and form strong bonds with them. The majority of my closest friends in college is the people I met at these clubs!

  9. Not looking after your health
  10. This refers to habits such as staying up really late at night and not getting enough sleep, eating unhealthy food and drinks, and not exercising. Basically forgetting to take good care of yourself. It’s very easy to fall into this track when you’re in a foreign place. Even non-international students make these mistakes! You may be too busy cramming for finals and end up pulling several all-nighters in a role. Or you may be too excited trying out all the fast food and AYCE (All You Can Eat) restaurants in the area that you forget to keep track of how much you eat.

    Either way, it’s extremely important to always take good care of yourself. You don’t want to get sick due to these unhealthy habits. Taking good care of yourself means you love yourself and your body. It makes you feel productive, and it’s sexy!

    What should you do instead?
    Be healthy and pay attention to your health. Below are some of the ways that I recommend doing:

    (1) Get at least 6 hours of sleep per night (the ideal duration is between 6-8 hours)
    (2) Drink 2 liters of water or more every day to stay hydrate (you may want to double that amount during hot days to avoid dehydration)
    (3) Eat lots of fruits and vegetables (if you’re craving for snacks while doing late-night study, replace chips, ice-cream and other high-in-calories snacks with fresh fruits and veggies instead)
    (4) Avoid eating starch and other heavy food after 10PM since they take longer to be digested
    (5) Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day (e.g. running, skipping rope, swimming, playing basketball etc.)
    (6) Don’t forget to take annual flu shots and other vaccination shots to avoid getting sick!

  11. Failing to explore where you live
  12. I didn’t really explore L.A. and its surrounding cities until my junior year of college. Bad mistake! For my first few years in the U.S, I only knew areas, shops and restaurants that are nearby where I lived. My excuses are going to be “I didn’t have a car back then,” and “The majority of my friends didn’t have a car.” Besides, I was also a bit scared to explore L.A. alone, let alone other cities nearby.

    Now thinking back, I regret not exploring L.A. earlier. I felt like I missed out on many things for not doing so. There are so many different things that you can do in the city, from attending art events and concerts (for those who love art and music) to going to the beach and farmer markets (for foodies like myself). L.A. is often referred to as the “Creative Capital of the World. You name it, L.A. has it!

    What should you do instead?
    Start exploring and see what the city you lives in has to offers! I discovered that there’s something different and unique in each city, depending on its geographical location and demographic. Capture all the different attractions and create a “City Adventures” album, then share it with your family and friends.

    If you’re up to doing something adventurous, try visiting further cities and even other states! I used to take road-trips from O.C. to NorCal with my family and friends several times. The drive wasn’t too much fun though (took us around 6-8 hours, this can be even longer depending on the time and freeway you take), but the bond you formed with your loved ones was definitely worth it! Don’t forget to take occasional breaks at gas stations or outlets along the way!

    If you have a car, you can just hop on your car and drive around, either by yourself or with friends. In SoCal in particular, it’s always easier to get around when you have a car. For those who have a driver license but not a car, you can rent a car for a short-term through companies and programs such as Zipcar, GetAround, and Enterprise’s Rent-A-Car. If you have neither a driver license nor a car, you can utilize Uber service or public transportation such as the bus, metro, and even taxi. If you’re concerned about safety, ask your friends to join the trip! The more people the merrier!

  13. Not attending classes and professor/TA office hours
  14. It’s very easy to ditch a class in college, especially when attendance is not taken seriously. The reasons why you have decided to skip class may range from getting back some sleep after pulling an all-nighter, cramming for an upcoming exam, to attending a recruiting event, an interview, or simply not feeling like going to class.

    I must admit, I skipped class a lot in college. Sometimes I had legitimate reasons for ditching class (e.g. attending an internship interview) while other times, it’s pretty much because I didn’t feel like attending class. In my junior year, I used to take this economic class at 8AM (worse time to take any class) but only attended 3 of the lectures throughout the entire semester (tests and final were mandatory so of course I did attend them)! And I still managed to get the highest grade in the midterm, set the curve, and get an A in the class! Either the class was simply too easy or I’m just naturally good at economics (which I’m not at all)! But I didn’t always have my luck with ditching class. In a few other classes where I have missed a lot of lectures, I did have to work really hard to catch up on what I missed and it backfired on me.

    Here are the reasons why you shouldn’t ditch class:
    (1) You may miss important materials, such as tips on the upcoming test
    (2) Your professor may decide to give a pop-quiz or an unannounced in-class assignment that worth 10% of your grade that day
    (3) Your professor may also decide to take attendance or cold call on you that day, and your participation grade may be affected greatly
    (4) Your friends’ notes may not be sufficient enough and may not contain all the necessary information
    (5) You pay tuition to go to school, to attend classes, so don’t waste that money!

    What should you do instead?
    Attend all your classes! Don’t just ditch them because you’re lazy. Do that when you absolutely have to. If you have to miss a class for any reason, ask your friends for notes and try your best to catch up on what you missed by reviewing posted slides and reading from textbooks. I’m sure you don’t want to get an F in the class for ditching too much.

    I also highly recommend regularly attending your professor/TA’s office hours. Office hours are designed for professors and TA to help you outside of class, whether it’s to answer any question you may have, clarify a difficult concept, help you get started with an assignment, and even advice you with career-related inquiries. It’s a great opportunity for you to ask questions and get to know your professors/TAs better. For most of the times they are extremely cool people with lots of experience, so definitely utilize those office hour times! I used to go to a 15-minute office hour appointment with one of my professors that ended up being a great 1-hour conversation about career and life in general!

  15. Failing to ask questions or ask for help
  16. I made this mistake during my first year studying abroad in the U.S. I wanted to prove to other people that I was capable being on my own and didn’t need any help. Thus, I struggled to find answers to the endless questions that I had when I could have just asked for help. I gradually realized that it’s perfectly fine to show your vulnerability. It’s OK to admit that you don’t know something. After all, we’re not perfect, and there are still so many things that we need to learn.

    What should you do instead?
    Ask questions. Ask tons of questions. If you don’t know something, ask. If you need someone to talk to, ask. Don’t be afraid to seek help from other people, whether it’s your friends, professors, counselors, or strangers you meet on the street. No one would be able to help you if you don’t tell them. Ask and learn. It’s also a great way to practice your English and build connections. Don’t be like me and struggle on your own for a long period of time.

  17. Forgetting to obtain a valid travel signature for your I-20
  18. If you have plans to travel outside of the U.S. (e.g. going back home during your summer break, participating in a study abroad program during your spring break, or simply traveling to another country), you must always obtain a valid travel signature from your OIS (Office of International Students) advisers on your I-20 before leaving the country. If not, you won’t be readmitted to the U.S.! Travel signatures are usually valid for one year, but some advisers recommend getting a new signature every 6 month, especially if you plan to apply for a new visa while abroad. Double check this with your OIS advisers to prevent any problem that could arise later on.

    What should you do instead?
    Stop by the OIS and check with your advisers on whether or not you’ll need a new travel signature for your I-20. Don’t forget to make an appointment at least 3-4 weeks in advance, because sometimes it takes time for your I-20 to be approved and signed. I was totally unaware of this policy at first and went to see the OIS advisers just 3 days before flying back home. Yes I did freak out and started panicking when they said that they weren’t able to process my request on time. So to prevent any maniacally crying, begging, disappointment and anger that may arise, plan ahead early and make an appointment way before your departure date!

    At the same time, if you have any change in your graduation date, degree level or major, notify the OIS immediately because you’ll need to have a new updated I-20 form.

Have you ever made nay of these mistakes before? What’s your experience like? COMMENT BELOW!

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Hue La

About Hue La

Hey there, I'm Hue (pronounced “huay”, not “hue” like how you would normally say it in English). I'm a USC graduate and traveler with 6+ years of study abroad experience in the U.S. I founded Study Abroad Corner with the goals of providing helpful advice and building a social network for fellow study abroaders around the world.

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  • Nice post! Great use of active verbs and personal anecdotes to make the post a lot more lively and readable. Moving forward, just two minor points:
    1. Perhaps attend most classes, not all classes, since college is about prioritizing and sometimes, classes may just not be the most important thing on the plate.
    2. Add frats as a way to get involved. Pretty different from student orgs, frats can get you well-acquainted with the college life faster than you think.

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