6 Things Your Heart Can Do to Shape Your International Student Experience

What your heart can do to shape your international student experience

This is about the connection between our heart and brain, and the balance between being and doing. Our heart, the being part, lays the foundation for our success while doing manifest who we are and carries out actions that shape our life. Doubtlessly, you have a long list of doings that are important to you that could include studying hard, trying to make new friends, managing expenses, building a good relationship with professors, etc. We want to remind you of six things your heart can do that will have a profound and lasting impact on your journey as an international student.

  1. Be open-minded

Part of traveling and living abroad experiences is the surprises, pleasant or frustrating. As much as you may crave a new and different environment while you are in your home country, these surprises can stir up negative feelings. You may be confused, frustrated, tired of trying to understand. All of these could lead you to quickly become judgmental and categorize circumstances, surroundings and even people into “good” or “bad;” “nice” or “weird,” or “I like it” or “ I don’t like it.” “I don’t like” may serve as an easy excuse for you to refrain from trying something outside of your comfort zone, from learning some new perspectives, from making new friends and ultimately from having a well-rounded experience as an international student.

Open-mindedness is about accepting the new environment, the new norm and your new self. It can open doors to rewarding experiences and beautiful adventures either in your own growth or in interaction with others.

  1. Be curious

You need open-mindedness to accept; you need curiosity to learn. Your curiosity about others will help you in making deep connections with your new classmates, roommates, professors and campus staff. People will view you as someone who cares and shows interest in others. Your curiosity may be expressed by adding a simple question “how about you” following your answers to a question asked by others, or initiating a conversation “ I see/understand that … (fill in with what you observe or heard from others). I wonder what you think”.

Your curiosity about yourself is critical for opportunities of growth. Instead of saying no to doing something new or challenging, you can choose to be curious about how you may feel, what new things you may learn about yourself through the process, and what new perspectives you may adopt.

  1. Be proactive

For many, a study abroad experience is the first time one leaves one’s home and parents. Now you have to depend on yourself in a long list of things. Deadlines in the United States don’t have the flexibility as they do in many other countries, especially when they are related to your academic calendar and immigration issues. Even when deadlines may be stretchable, your ability to honor them will contribute your diligence, maturity and professionalism. When there is no one besides you to remind you again and again, it is very important to be proactive and plan your time and actions accordingly. In addition, being proactive will give you advance knowledge and a lot of leeway.

Be proactive in mapping out resources on campus you can use for academic and career success; be proactive in building a positive relationship with your classmates, roommates and landlord; be proactive in initiating a conversation with your professor to understand his/her expectations or to discuss any questions/concerns you may have.

  1. Be positive

You will experience good, bad and ugly as an international student. You will very likely have the best experiences of your life and the worst during these couple of years. You may realize it’s very hard to find anyone who can understand you to talk to. You may feel homesick, lonely, vulnerable and even depressed. You may even have an emotional breakdown, believing that you had made a wrong decision to come to the US to study.

Be positive. Be present. If it is scary to imagine what would happen after you graduate, focus on the immediate next steps; if you have only half a glass of water, try to see the half glass full; if you can only see the half glass empty, pour the water into a smaller glass. Remember, everything is in perspective. If you feel down consistently, seek support from a professional counselor.

  1. Be kind

Small, simple acts of kindness can go a long, long way. Your experience of being alone in a foreign country will teach one a lot about compassion and empathy; it can also push one to become more selfish, indifferent, and distrusting. It all depends on how you guide and allow yourself to shape the person that you become. Kindness affects not only your happiness, but also your relationship with others.

Dr. Sonia Lyubomirsky at University of California, Riverside, conducted a study in which students were assigned to carry out five small acts of kindness per week for six week. It showed that the students’ levels of happiness increased by over 40% at the end of the six weeks.

Princess Diana said, “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.” When you find a peer, a friend, or an acquaintance is in need of help, lend a hand and help without expecting anything in return. You will harvest abundantly in your happiness, your self-confidence and self-esteem, a strong network of friends and supporters of you and an admirable character.

  1. Be honest

Honesty is one of the virtues most highly valued in American culture. In some cultures, white lies or maneuvering are effective survival tools at school, university and even the workplace. In the US, those intentional maneuvering and misinformation can harm your reputation as a student and a professional and take away the trust from others. In other cases, they will do disservice to you, as you are reluctant to share the truth with people who care about you and your growth. Sometimes, you may be reluctant to share something because you are afraid of being judged. As a student, you are very likely to be surrounded by professors and campus staff who are there to help you. They are the very last to judge you. In almost all cases, you should feel comfortable sharing with the challenges and difficulties you face. If they don’t know, how can they support you.

By no means it is suggested here that you tell everyone everything without awareness of how the information may be used and possible consequences. You may wonder, “what shall I do if I don’t want to share or answer a question?” Be honest. You may say, “I’d prefer not to answer this question” or “I’d prefer not to share,” which is a much better solution than making up something that is not true.

About Di Hu

Co-founder and principal coach at interEDGE.org, an initiative of DrEducation, to offer online training solutions to institutions to support academic and career success of international students. Follow her on @CoachDiHu

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