College orientations for the class of 2019 have already started and it makes me feel nostalgic thinking about my college years at University of Minnesota. Prior to college, I had spent all my life in China. When I first landed in the US almost seven years ago, I was excited, curious, and frightened about the unfamiliar. Reflecting on my ups and downs of studying abroad and the advice I have received, I summarize the lessons in five points, some of which specifically tailored towards international students:
- You will go through stressful times, but remember to stay positive and focus on finding the solutions. My second semester in college was a disaster – on top of challenging public speaking class and group assignment with uncommitted teammates, I learned that even freshman was encouraged to have a resume and that I didn’t have much to put on it! For a while, I Skyped my dad every other night and ended up crying. My dad kept comforting me “Just do your best to handle the situation. When you look back five years from now, you would wonder why you made such a big deal out of it”. He was so right. Although I ended up with a bad grade on the class and no internship that semester, I graduated from college with a full-time job offer. Letting my emotions take control not only ruined my mood, but also took away the time and energy I could have used towards finding ways to overcome the hurdle. Don’t repeat my history.
- Don’t be afraid to ask and try something new. College football, baseball, words such as “legit” and “sundae” were all things I did not know prior to coming to the US. But I made a point to either experience new things or ask others to explain them to me. I had an embarrassing moment when I took “ice cream sundae social” as “an ice cream social event taking place on a Sunday” at a team meeting. Look on the bright side – I picked up a new word! Besides, who would recall that moment later besides me? It is normal to wonder what others would think of you, but don’t let it hold you back from learning or trying.
- Explore your interests, but develop some focus. Be it college major or student clubs, take the time to find what you are passionate about. You could discover it by taking different classes, talking to professors, going to various club meetings and so on, but once you find “the one”, invest heavily towards it and give up those that don’t matter as much. Quality always trumps quantity. I wish I did not spread myself that thin in student club meetings and put more time in getting leadership experience and developing valuable relationships. What’s more, if you are interested in multiple majors, declare just one, unless you absolutely have to declare both/all. The technical knowledge base is constantly being updated to meet the rapidly changing demand. What you acquire in class could be outdated in the near future. What will stand the test of time are soft skills such as learning new concepts quickly, critical thinking, and communicating clearly verbally and via written words. Thus, intentionally choose classes that are interesting and beneficial than those to merely fulfill major’s requirement.
- Take advantages of all the resources and opportunities available to you. Academic advisors, career coaches, professors, and teaching assistants are all examples of resources available on campus. They are passionate about their jobs and quite frankly paid by your tuition to help you grow. Make every penny count by turning to these staff when you come across a problem! What’s more, I see college life itself as a golden opportunity – flexible class schedule and multiple breaks throughout the year! My biggest regret in college is spending too much time doing job search and part-time internship rather than traveling. Once you graduate from college, you will have all the time in the world to work, but the chance of traveling for an extensive period of time is very hard to come by.
- Get a driver’s license sooner than later. This is easier to accomplish and will pay off in the long term. Convenience of a car is a no brainer. What’s more, it will allow you access to more networking events because not all of them take place along the bus route. One student I mentored flew down to Houston for a career fair and she regretted not having a driver’s license because bus system in Houston is not very well developed. Lastly, if you would like to travel to major US national parks for some fun over spring break, how can you get around without a car?! To sum up, you don’t need to own a car, but knowing how to drive will bring you perks.
In closing, I hope you could learn a thing or two from my five pieces of advice – stay positive, be vulnerable and be open to new experiences, focus on what interests you the most, be resourceful, and learn how to drive. Best of luck with college!
If you have already graduated from college, feel free to comment below one piece of advice you would give to students.