How to Make the Most of Your International Education Outside the Classroom

December 4, 2014

International students living in the United States are presented with a unique chance to meet new people, experience an exciting culture, and have plenty of fun, all while furthering their education. If you're studying in the United States, there's no doubt that your education is of utmost importance, but you should also make time to fully enjoy your time abroad. At first, your new temporary home may be shocking -- everything in the US might seem huge and surprisingly spread out. But getting settled in is only part of the equation -- the rest is jumping in head first and taking advantage of all your host country has to offer.

From visiting tourist sites to spending time with fellow students, there's never a lack of great opportunities to go out and explore this new culture. And exploring is a sure way to avoid the feeling of being homesick that often accompanies studying abroad, so give the following suggestions a try:

#1 Get to Know Your Surroundings

Vegan cafés are awesome in the U.S.

Vegan cafés are awesome in the U.S.

Regardless of what city you live in, take the time to fully explore all it has to offer and immerse yourself in its culture. Many US towns are Fairly easy to navigate: straight roads, plenty of u-turns, and big signs everywhere. Forget about the tangled and confusing infrastructure native to Europe.

Most university towns have an amazing variety of galleries, museums, bars, restaurants, clubs, and tourist attractions to enjoy. Don’t be afraid to go to places that might be outside of your comfort zone, but always be smart and understand that some parts of cities and towns are less safe than others.

#2 Understand US Driving and Transportation

Depending on what part of the world you're originally from, as an international student you might be overwhelmed by the driving and transportation systems in the US. If you are used to walking, you may find it impossible, as most towns in the US are incredibly vast and spread out. Because of that, Americans have a serious car culture and at first you may be shocked by the sheer size and number of vehicles. With very few exceptions (New York, Boston and Chicago, for example) everybody drives. Grabbing a meal or withdrawing money from the ATM doesn't even require you to step outside of your car.

It’s also important to understand that each state in the US has its own driving and licensing laws. So you will need to check with the local motor vehicle registration departments if your foreign license is valid. Driving is by far the best way to get around, so if possible, give it a shot. Outside of the major cities, public transportation is not very well utilized or developed, so always make sure you research the area in advance.

#3 Use Your Time Off to Travel Farther Away

Whether you have a license or not, make the most of your time off by arranging visits to some of the most popular cities in the United States. By car, bus or plane, all of these destinations are worth the travel:

  • New York City is one of the most interesting and diverse cities in the world and a must-visit for anyone spending a lot of time in the US. From Times Square to the Statue of Liberty, “The Met”, the Empire State Building, and much more, you'll never run out of things to see. Be sure to take plenty of spending money as well, because the city is also quite a shopping mecca. With sidewalk vendors, international stores, unique locally owned shops, there should be something for every budget.

  • Las Vegas, NV is perhaps the most eccentric city in the US. From circuses, to canals, casinos, glass pyramids, towers, Cirque du Soleil, and numerous other astonishing tourist attractions, it is easy to see why millions of people head to Las Vegas every year. There's truly no place like it on earth.

  • As the nation’s capitol, Washington D.C. is the epicenter of political and historical tourism. World class museums, monuments, memorials, and more share room with funky bars, shops, and other interesting destinations.

  • Located in Arizona, the Grand Canyon is a breathtaking site that should not be missed. It is the world’s largest canyon and provides plenty of opportunities for hiking, camping, and horseback riding.

  • Alaska and Hawaii: America's 49th and 50th states are not part of mainland USA. If you're able to visit, you'll find that they're nothing like the other 48. Glacier climbing and breathtaking arctic scenery or wave surfing and tropical paradise are just a few of the things you don't want to miss.

While it is impossible to point out every place worth visiting in the United States, in addition to the ones above we'd recommend a trip to Orlando (FL), Los Angeles (CA), Gettysburg (PA), and Atlanta (GA). If you don’t have the time or money to travel extensively, look for exciting cities that are closer to your home base and take a day trip.

#4 Explore "American cuisine"

Depending on the country you're coming from, American food may take some time to get used to. First there's the portion size -- a single meal includes so much food, you might feel like your plate holds your full day's ration. Plus, you can order soda with almost every meal. Just remember that you may not like everything you try, but just like any other country, you're very likely to find some local dishes that you really enjoy.

At some point you may grow homesick, but don't worry. The US is known for offering a variety of ethnic cuisines. In other words, there is a good chance you can find a restaurant that offers some of your favorite dishes from home. And don't be afraid to experiment either. America is a great place to explore foreign cuisine. Visit one of the numerous Italian, Mexican, Indian or Thai restaurants in your area to try something new everyday.

Try not to overindulge in greasy food or junk food. It's not uncommon to put on a few pounds when you are studying abroad. America college students call this common weight gain "the freshman 15." This refers to the extra 15 pounds many first year students pack on, no matter if they're from the US or another country.

#5 Meet New People

If you're new to the area, don’t be shy. Become involved in different organizations and clubs at your school. Introduce yourself to American students in your classes and offer to study with them. Participate in student activities. Be open to meeting people that you might not associate with at home. In most places you are going to visit you can make friends relatively easy. Most Americans are very talkative and easy to connect with. You may be standing at the bus station and a complete stranger could very well just ask you "Oh, you have the new iPhone, do you like it?" Before you know it, you'll be grabbing a coffee and discussing your travels.

Off you go!

Living as an international student in the United States is truly an amazing experience that you'll never forget. Once you complete the visa requirements for international students and are enrolled in a US school, you can start thinking about all of the things you'd like to experience while studying in the US. Make the most of your time here by visiting new places, meeting new people, and finding out more about American culture! This is all part of a well rounded education!

Interested in getting healthcare training in the US? Check out the great international education programs offered by AIMS!