International students made up about 14 percent of Binghamton University’s student population for both graduate and undergraduates as of 2019, which means each year a new wave of freshmen come into BU to not only experience college for the first time but also the U.S. as a whole. Here are some things you can do to both lessen the adjustment period and help yourself feel safe.
1. Join a club you’ve never tried
College is seen as a period for exploration, and what better way to do it than to try a new hobby? If you’ve been more bookish up until now, try a recreational sports team — and if you’re already very outdoorsy, try an arts and crafts group. You might make some unexpected friends even if you ended up not sticking to the club.
2. Join a cultural organization of your background
It’s not easy leaving behind your country, especially if it has a wholly different culture than the U.S. Joining an organization that is specific to your heritage can help a lot with homesickness and soften the culture shock. Most will hold a Big/Little event to find your ‘Big’ — an older student who will guide you through your college journey — which will give you a nice support system away from home.
3. Go to office hours
Office hours are probably one of the most underutilized academic tools ever. For students that are used to a different academic system with no office hours, this is even more true. If your professors encourage you to visit them, then take them up on the offer. Prepare a question or two, or even just stop by to say hi. It might come in handy when you need a recommendation letter, or in the best case scenario, you might gain a mentor.
4. Get to know the community apart from BU
If you’re going to spend multiple years as a student at BU, then you’re also spending time as a Binghamton community member. Go eat at a locally owned restaurant during the weekends, get to know what local grocery stores there are beyond big-name stores like Target and visit the local landmarks. The easiest and most fun way to do this is through the First Friday Art Walk events, which show off the local art scenes where Downtown Binghamton as a whole comes alive.
5. Familiarize yourself with emergency services
Do you know who to call when you’re injured on campus? How about off-campus? Do you know the difference between these two services? Who should you call when feeling unsafe or stranded? Spend some time learning about and adding these service numbers to your phone to prevent being stranded while in danger.
6. Open a bank account
Even if you have a perfectly functional credit card from your home country, you never know what kind of services do not accept it. Stash some emergency funds into your U.S. bank account for those rainy days, or use it as your main card and opt-out of the ever-changing exchange rate altogether.
7. Find/make a dish that you miss
This is, again, a strategy to combat homesickness. Depending on where you came from, you can either find a restaurant or learn how to make it on your own. From my own experience, food is a big comfort against almost anything, from being overwhelmed at school to being stranded in the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic.