Building Bonds on Campus

Tips on intermingling with people from varied backgrounds at U.S. universities.

Applying to and getting accepted at an American school is no cakewalk, so those who have been accepted should be especially proud of what they have achieved. As you will soon realize, intermingling with people from varied backgrounds will be very important, both for your intellectual growth and for the expansion of your social sphere. By addressing selected concerns, this article aims to help you with your initial social interactions in America.

“I don’t know anyone at my college, and I’m scared of not having any friends in the first few days.”

This is one of the biggest fears of students heading to the United States. Stepping into a new environment is never easy, especially when you are miles away from your comfort zone. There is, however, no need to fret, for American colleges have already figured out a way to help you—student orientation. This American custom is an excellent way to meet people from around the world who attend your college. It is true that many people slip through orientation in a daze because they are still adjusting to the difference in culture. However, you must understand that the only way to fill the void of homesickness is to socialize and be occupied at all times. Everyone is in the same boat, and a simple introduction is all you need to get started. So, don’t be hesitant in approaching strangers and introducing yourself with a warm hello. Rest assured, you’ll receive either an enthusiastic response or, at the very least, a smile.

“What am I most likely to be asked by the people I meet?”

Since student bodies at most American colleges and universities are constituted of people from different parts of the United States and the world, “Where are you from?” will inevitably be one of the first questions asked by your classmates. Your answer to this will usually lead to a discussion on your motherland with your newfound friends. To this end, it would serve you really well to brush up on your knowledge of India. You shouldn’t aim to be a fact-machine spewing out statistics, but just try to acknowledge your background and talk about it enthusiastically whenever asked.

“Will I be nitpicked on for having a quirky accent?”

Many Indians leaving for the United States feel they have an unusual accent, which happens to be another reason for their restrained social interactions. If you are concerned about rolling your tongue over the R’s, here is something you should know about America: different people from different parts of the country speak differently. Once you live in the United States long enough, you will start appreciating the diversity of tongues. Just speak clearly and remember that, at the end of the day, it’s not the way you speak that matters, but what you speak that makes all the difference.

“I am apprehensive of expressing myself in class; what will happen to my intellectual growth?”

Many international freshmen find it difficult to ask questions in an American classroom. This does not mean they are not curious; it just shows that they are still adjusting to the new education system. Thankfully, the faculty at most American colleges is unbelievably accessible outside the classroom, with some schools even going to the extent of having designated faculty hours. If you ever happen to find yourself stuck in the intricacies of the new system, remember that your professors are there to help you. Utilize your professors’ office hours by getting your questions answered, by seeking pedagogical guidance, or by just building a strong relationship with them. If you ever find it difficult to be a chirping bird in class, go meet your professor in person, and set afire your intellectual growth.

“Are there any other things I should keep in mind as I head to the United States?”

Yes, your toolbox should have two more drivers as you pad up to leave for the United States. First, learn to not fit yourself in a box. Don’t say what others would like to hear. Say what you believe in, what you can associate yourself with. For instance, if you do not wish to drink at a party, say it. People in America respect you for who you are. Second, learn to ask questions whenever you are in doubt. Doing so will not make people look down on you. In fact, it will show that you are making the effort to understand their country, even though you are an international student.

These are just some of the many reservations that U.S.-bound students have. In my view, the key to a successful transition is to be open to the new culture and to be yourself.