Are You Ready? Beyond the Application Process for International Students
For many countries in the last decade, the number of students choosing to study in the US has grown rapidly. According to an Open Doors report, almost one million new international students enrolled in US institutions in 2022. Studying overseas has traditionally been viewed as mysterious and glamorous to many international students and their families, and it still is in certain regions. High expectations for the return on this “investment” places a lot of pressure on international students as well.
Working in this industry, and being an international student myself, I’ve personally witnessed how much time and money some students spend on their applications. A perfect personal statement that has been adjusted fifty times; a polished resume that highlights every single achievement in one’s life; a 7.0 IELTS score which took a year of preparation and 10 exams to achieve; and so much more. The persistent spirit of these students is inspiring - but, is that enough? Are you truly ready to relocate to a new country? Have you prepared yourself with enough knowledge about the new culture? In this blog post I will talk about the importance of mental and cultural readiness when it comes to studying abroad.
My name is Dressie Fan, and I’m from Shanghai. I’m currently enrolled in the Master of Arts program in Higher Education and Student Affairs at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Ten years ago, I accidentally found myself in international higher education through a China country officer position offered by the University of Melbourne. I had no idea that this would be the beginning of a fascinating journey.
My first three years of working in the field were full of passion and excitement. I had new things to learn and new people to meet every day. I was incredibly proud of what I was doing, and fell in love with it because I understood that education is a tool that can change people’s lives, and the world. Every single day of my work was filled with meaning. After six years of this, I began thinking about enhancing my skills, and decided to return to school for additional professional development. It was not an easy decision at all. I spent a lot of time thinking about what the alternative options were. Did I really need a master’s degree? Did I have to do the degree in the US? Was this program or experience going to offer things that I couldn’t get at home? Will my parents be OK if I am far away from them, since I’m an only child? Hundreds of questions came to me endlessly like waves in the sea.
Usually when I need to make a difficult decision, I write all of the pros and cons down and compare the two sides. This isn’t just for rational self-analysis, but also to build confidence in my decision. I need to know what I am doing so I won’t doubt myself later; what negative effects might occur so I can manage my expectations properly. When I have confidence and expectations, I can handle any challenge or barrier. I knew I would have a hectic time settling down, so I told myself to be patient getting things done. I knew there would be lonely times during the holidays while my peers enjoyed happy family dinners, so I scheduled many virtual gatherings with my friends and family back home. I knew I would have difficulty with my academics, so I was ready to ask silly questions without feeling ashamed. Every tiny inner voice would impact my experience abroad, making my mental preparation absolutely necessary.
However, being mentally prepared was just the first step. I assumed I would nail the cultural readiness, and didn’t need to prepare as thoroughly. But of course, life always gives you surprises. No matter how many places you have lived in or visited, each city has a unique character, with unique people and lifestyles, even within the same country.
Social barriers are a common issue for international students. Outside of the classroom, how we connect with the community makes a monumental difference in our overall experience. Based on what I’ve encountered, I would like to provide some thoughts to enhance the cultural readiness of international students:
- Respect for people’s privacy is primary everywhere. Be mindful of asking personal questions. Ask others whether they are comfortable discussing a certain subject.
- Try to make yourself appear approachable. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation. Show your confidence and respect by making eye contact with people
- Don’t be shy to ask for help and advice. Tell people directly that you are an international student. Or, share your comfort level with your English fluency. Being sincere and authentic is often the best solution.
- The world is very big, and we all have different life philosophies. Understand that people will have different opinions, and may voice them to you. But don’t be afraid to express yourself as well.
Cultural readiness is important to ensure a smooth transition to your new home. It can also help you understand the concepts that appear in academia. Microaggressions, pronouns, retention… These are many terms that I have learned in my classes, and are used often in higher education here, but not at all in my home country. The more I am learning, the more I want to dig into the historical reasons behind these phenomena. Learning about American history and social reform can greatly aid an international students' understanding socially and academically.
Being mentally and culturally ready is not as tangible as completing your application; you can’t tell when you are fully ready or measure it. But making the same effort as you made with your application will bring you many of your own surprises.
I wish every international student a fruitful journey at NYU
Dressie is a second year student in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program in Steinhardt.
Working in Higher Education provides an opportunity for her to change people's lives and her own too. Additionally, Dressie loves everything about arts such as theaters, museums, galleries, concerts, movies, etc. She also loves cooking and sharing her recipes with everyone!