Challenges faced by International Students in the US

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Challenges faced by International students in the US – People have evolved to live in groups and communities over the years. We have formed habits, practices and customs to interact with ourselves and the environment around us, and as the societies grew bigger we formed a lifestyle unique to our surroundings and livelihood. Throughout the world, there have been different ethnicities, cultures and lifestyles formed over decades influenced by the environment, resources and events since time immemorable.

Challenges faced by International students in the US

Each culture is unique and has different belief systems, ways of life, preferences, associations, etc. Diversities can be seen even in different groups of people living in the same region.

Given the case, how unique would the people of one country be to another?

It is rightly said, “Be a Roman when in Rome” else you will find it hard to fit in due to the differences in thoughts, likes and dislikes, beliefs, or anything else.

The Western world and the Eastern world are very unique to each other in terms of culture, climate, lifestyle, dressing habits, food preferences and what not.

If living in each country is a different ball game, living in the United States of America is a different game altogether.

International students moving to the US to study often face several challenges but trust me, it is totally worth it!

Here are a few Challenges faced by International students in the US:

1. Cultural shock

This is an obvious challenges faced by International students in the US while moving from one country to another. The US is a busy city with all its people running a fast-paced life. The first few days in the country are the honeymoon phase, where you are excited about everything around you, the beauty of the city, the different food options, the new technologies and everything else around you.

Eventually, your excitement settles down and the hardships of reality start kicking in, lack of companionship, craving for your comfort food, imbalance in the routine, societal norms and everything else will seem overwhelming.

Sooner or later, you’ll start adapting to the culture and the environment around you. You’ll find your comfort in certain things and even before you realise you would have made it your home!   

Cultural shock is a natural reaction when you stay in a new place for an extended period, you may even feel it during long tours to a new country or even a new place within your country. It could take a few months for some people while some might need a longer period to adapt. Make new friends and be open to new experiences as that will help you overcome the cultural shock easily and quickly.

2. Academic expectation

Academic practices and assessments are different in different parts of the world. Even within the country, there are several types of curriculum. In India, there is CBSE, ICSE for school curriculum; colleges have different methods. Similarly  there is the Cambridge method, national American curriculum etc. in the US as well.

Each curricular has different teaching methods, assessment practices, types of assignments. The US academic curriculum is quite demanding, you will be expected to come prepared to each class, complete the assignments in time.

The American education system does not spoon-feed its students, rather expects you to take accountability in your education, put in efforts to self-learn by utilizing the available resources to the fullest.  

The universities are highly demanding for STEM courses like engineering, computer science, architecture etc

 The professors expect the students to be proactive in bearing a heavy workload, actively participate in class discussions and complete assignments within short due dates.

3. Highly competitive Job market

Who doesn’t love living in the US- big cities filled with big dreams, giant companies, great paychecks and an amazing lifestyle, right?

All of these an be your reality soon. but be sure that it will come with its challenges. The cities are packed with opportunities but tightly packed with opportunity seekers. 

The Economic Times states that for every 1 job seeker, there are only 1.5 jobs available. The job market is getting stiffer with the unemployment rate increasing to 3.9% and job growth slowing down in 2023.

The competitive job market is made even more competitive by the incoming international and domestic students graduating every year. 

There has been a steep hike of 35% in the number of Indian students moving to the US since the international gates have reopened after the pandemic.

You need to know that the notice periods, unlike in India, are shorter in the US, you serve a notice of 2 weeks from the day your drop your papers in the US. which means, people can shift jobs quickly, and with tiff competition you need to be quick in applying for the job roles too, else it will be filled in a jiffy.

Hence stay updated about the job markets, apply to as many openings as possible, take maximum advantage of job fairs, referrals and network connections. Remember, tough competition brings great rewards, and it is all totally worth it!

4. Prejudice and networking

The US is a developed country with largely diversified communities, yet there is a little friction in the interaction between the native American and people from other countries especially the Asian countries.

Although discrimination and prejudice is not tolerated by universities, you may experience a slight difference in treatment or ignorance from your fellow classmates or faculty or from anybody you interact with. 

This is not the case, only in the US, but in any foreign countries, you might feel this prejudice but it will eventually fade as you make connections with locals and have a bunch of friends who treat you alike. 

You need to build your network, not just to avoid the prejudice and feel safe, but also to find jobs. Being academically sound is great, but only by being at the right place at the right time can you open gates to opportunities. 

Initiate conversations in social gatherings, events and work places, go beyond your comfort zone to express yourself so that the prejudice fades away and you make genuine connections. 

These connections may help you land your internships and jobs that may otherwise cost you a lot more time and effort. Prejudice is common in the initial days, don’t take them personally or let them affect you negatively, instead take the first step and break those prejudice and discrimination. 

5. Financial constraints

If you are a student from a country like India, where the currency value is far less than the dollar value, you sure will find the country very expensive. 

You tend to mentally convert the cost of everything to your domestic currency and compare it with its cost in your home country, but it doesn’t work that way, and there will be a huge parity in price. 

It might initially be hard to stop calculating that way, but eventually, you will get used to it. This will stop hurting your mental wallet when you start earning dollars through part-time jobs and internships. 

In India, using credit cards doesn’t have a wide social acceptance yet, while in the US credit history is very important because you will need a good credit score for a new mobile connection or any sort of loan. Therefore, this is one of the challenges faced by International students in the US.

The cost of living is high, especially due to high rental expenses. Be mindful of your expenses, and get a part-time job or paid internship to support yourself financially during your studies.

Make maximum use of the offers you get as a student. Research the best bank to create your account and get a card that does not involve too many charges or a high minimum balance to be maintained.

6. Homesickness

This is the most common challenge faced by international students. This is a curation of various factors that accumulate and get you homesick. 

Know that you will be entirely self-dependent once you are in the US, you will have a lot on your plate as a student and the daily chores will add to it. Being in a foreign land with not many people you can hang out with might feel lonely. 

Due to changes in time zones, you will have to put in extra effort to stay in touch with your friends and family back home. 

The cultural differences and phases of cultural shock might take a toll on you as you handle a lot of things all by yourself. 

However, know that this is just a phase and shall pass as you get used to the place and people around you. You can find ways to share your work by staying in a shared dorm with your friends. 

Interact with other international students and hang out with domestic students with an open mind for new experiences. You’ll eventually start feeling at home. 

7. Healthcare

Healthcare in the US is complicated when compared to that of India.   Health insurance is vital to avail healthcare in the US.

The healthcare facilities in the US are one of the best in the world, and also the most expensive. Hence, it is mandatory to have health insurance when you move to the US. 

Most universities have medical facilities ranging from first-aid to treating minor ailments and may even have diagnostic facilities like X-ray machines and laboratory tests.

As an international student, you can avail basic healthcare facilities available in your university as it is a less expensive option. However, you might have to visit an off-campus facility for critical needs.

Most of the hospitals require you to take a prior appointment unless it is an emergency. Visiting a medical practitioner off-campus will be more expensive than the on-campus ones, and the cost increases as the severity of the alignment and care needed to treat your illness increases. 

Hence, always plan your insurance coverage before leaving for the US. Understand your requirements, considering your medical history and the premium to be paid, explore the options available and opt for the right policy to suit you.

8. Scams  

Any place where an international crowd flocks in large numbers, is prone to scams. When you are ignorant, scammers take advantage of it. The US is no exception for it. 

The common scams that happen to international students are as follows

  • Collecting a deposit for a rental property through listing platforms when there is no actual property.
  • Impersonating Government officials to collect personal information and commit crimes through these identity thefts
  • Impersonate faculty members of your university to offer an in-campus fake job and collect money as a deposit
  • Scaring the students by saying they violated their student visa conditions and playing good cop to collect money or make students buy gift cards.
  • Cheating new international students by promising to get a reduction in tuition fees and scholarships in exchange for money.
  • Sending emails to students looking for jobs and internships, impersonating university staff or faculty to collect personal information.

 These are just some of the ways that you can be scammed, while the scammers get creative in targeting and scamming new international students or even old students looking for a job. Therefore, this could be one of the possible challenges faced by International students in the US.

Stay cautious and vigilant when something is suspicious. Don’t fall prey to claims saying you violated something or when you are offered something lucrative by a stranger.

To avoid being scammed, 

  • Ask for proper identification when you receive a suspicious message, e-mail or call. Note down their name with exact spelling and proof of office and ask for every possible detail.
  • Do not send money or share information with anybody until you are 100% sure of whom you are sending it to and for what purpose. 
  • If you are suspicious of any activity or approach, report it immediately to the university student security centre, police or the international student office.

9. Climatic conditions and food

The climatic conditions can vary widely from country to country. The seasons and weather conditions are almost the opposite in Western and Eastern countries. This is one of the biggest challenges faced by international students.

For most Indian students, the weather in the US will feel colder, especially in winter, because most parts of the country have an average temperature of 28-32 degrees Celsius. But the temperature might increase up to 40-45 degrees in some parts of the country in the summer.

In the US, the temperature of the hottest day in 2023 was 36 degrees. The winter temperature may go as low as -7 or -8 degrees Celcius. 

Though the summer days are bearable for an average Indian, the winter days might be difficult to handle. 

With different climatic conditions come different food habits. Though there is a large international community in the US, with many restaurants serving different cuisines, it can still be hard to cope with your food preferences while living abroad. 

You may not be able to grab your meal from that Indian restaurant every day, or even if you find affordable options, you might not get the authentic taste of that recipe. The sad news is, you will miss your home food, but of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy any other food. 

You will eventually get used to the climate and find your new comfort food until you return home to some delicious Indian food!

10. Different unit systems

This is quite a challenging task for international students in the US to understand their units of measurement. All the other countries of the world use SI units like kilograms and litres, while the US speaks in pounds and ounces. 

The conversion from metric units to imperial units confuses international students as most everyday conversations include measurements in imperial units.

Eventually, you’ll get an idea of how heavy a pound is and how much is an ounce. 

These are the common challenges faced by international students in the US. These challenges are listed only to keep you aware and prepared for your travel to study abroad. 

With big challenges come great rewards, so see the bright side of these challenges. Health care is expensive, but it is the best in the world, and the expenses can be covered through health insurance.

The cost of living is expensive, but the pay you get is high enough for you to afford a good lifestyle.

These challenges persist for a short period since it is a sudden change in the environment, this is not limited to the US. Over the period, it is in your capabilities to make new friends, build a safe circle around you, and make the best use of the resources available to you.

Have an open mind and make it your home.

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Jaipreet Kaur

I've had the opportunity to learn more about the educational systems of many various countries thanks to my 13 years of experience in this subject. This involves coordinating applicants, keeping in touch with students, answering their inquiries, and counselling them about studying abroad.

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