College can be stressful, but also transformative and incredibly fun. Now, everyone’s experience is different and you should focus on choosing the right path for you, but nonetheless, as international students in the U.S., you have challenges your American counterparts do not.
Shearwater has spoken to hundreds of international students; we know one of your greatest obstacles is a lack of preparation and knowledge. Not knowing the complexities of immigration rules when you are trying to secure a job or not fully understanding local traditions and social norms can create unique challenges.
But, there is one, all-powerful antidote to a number of these issues you will encounter during your college years: Your network. A vibrant network will provide answers before you know you even need them and a safety net in difficult times. Here are some tips on how to build your network to make the most of your college career.
Freshman Year: Diversify Your Network
You will constantly meet new people during your freshman year; it will be awkward, exciting, and overwhelming. As the initial excitement fades, people will gravitate toward others that “look” like them. Sometimes we all need that comfort.
You did not fly halfway across the world to spend a majority of your time with people from your region, however. Shared experience is the best way to cross cultural divides, so ask yourself, “What do I care about?” Is it a sport, music, ideology, TV show, social cause, or technology? Whatever it is, there are at least a dozen other people at your school who are as passionate about it as you are; find them. If there is a club dedicated to that passion, join it.
Sophomore Year: Intellectualize Your Network
It is time to pick your major, but it is just as important to pick at least one professor to guide you through your academic journey. Attend his or her office hours regularly, email questions, and read articles he or she has written. Forget about the formality that kept you separate from your teachers in the past.
Too many international students wait until there is an emergency to ask for advice on homework or picking a major. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Your professors are some of the smartest and most respected people in their fields, so take advantage of their expertise. You will probably need them to write you a reference letter in the future and that task is always easier when they actually know and care about you.
Junior Year: Professionalize Your Network
Your internship search will be more complicated than that of your American classmates. Make your life easier by starting your search early—as early as the summer before your junior year. Visit Career Services; they have resources to help you with your resumé, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile. Pick a career counselor and meet with them at least once a month.
Also keep in mind: Your greatest resource is the seniors at your school. They just did what you are trying to do—ask them for guidance. In a year, when you are looking for a job, they will be in the workforce and you will have an extra professional relationship you can tap into.
Senior Year: Legalize Your Network
If you plan to stay in the U.S., your job search will undoubtedly be more complicated than your peers’. Speak to your International Students Office about visa requirements, attend any sessions they organize with an immigration specialist, and get individual consultations with at least two different immigration lawyers (many will do one session for free) so you can get personalized advice. Do not rely on the advice of one lawyer or on stories from people who are not immigration professionals. Listen to advice, but fact check. Do not believe anything you read online unless it is written by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services or a credible lawyer. Every case is different and the laws are constantly changing.
The most important thing you can do throughout your four years is invest in your network. Spend time with people. Listen to them. Use your ideas, skills, and connections to help them. As interested as you are in the U.S., others are interested in where you are from. The relationships you build throughout your four years can last you a lifetime and will be the key to your professional and personal success.
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