After researching your options, applying to schools, gaining admission, and selecting your new academic home, the real fun begins! You’re moving to another country and starting your university adventure, and being far from home can be exciting but challenging. New opportunities await you both professionally and personally, but you’ll also be navigating a foreign country, a different language, and a new college campus and living experience—all while attempting to make connections and friends.
It’s important to remember that you’re not alone; over one million international students study in the US each year. While you may initially feel anxious as you experience culture shock adjusting to university life, you’ll quickly find there are people in your new community who want to support you through this big transition. There are students who want to be your friend and share in your adventure. There are many opportunities to connect with students but knowing where to begin is key. Here are some places, programs, and tips to help you meet new people and make lasting friendships on your future campus.
1. The international students office
It may have different names on university campuses, but your school’s international students office is a great place to start making connections when you arrive. This office ensures international students have a smooth transition to university through events and activities like international orientation, Welcome Week, local sightseeing tours, and casual meet-and-greets for new students. At these events, you’ll meet other international students like yourself as well as current students who are eager to connect with incoming students and pass what they’ve learned onto you.
It’s important to take advantage of these opportunities, so take the time to attend campus activities and events. They’re designed to help you meet faculty, staff, and students who can make you feel welcome on campus. You’ll have many questions when you arrive, from where to buy items for your dorm room to where a specific office or building is located, and they can likely answer them for you. Remember, you’re now part of a diverse, global community that thrives on togetherness and inclusion. You may walk in by yourself, but by the time you leave, you’ll have made new connections that will last a lifetime.
Pro tip: As you attend various events and meetings, connect with others on social media and exchange contact information so you can reach out during your first month. Don’t be afraid; it can be as simple as asking to get coffee or have lunch with a fellow student who makes you feel at home in your new surroundings.
Related: The International Student's Guide to Campus Life
2. Student organizations
Another great way to meet new people at university is joining student organizations. You’ll undoubtedly see flyers across campus and in your residence hall promoting different groups to join. Many campuses also have lists on their website, making it easier to find clubs you may be interested in joining. You’ll receive campus-wide emails to your student account as well. Look for international student organizations to start with if you’re unsure where to begin. They often plan events where you can experience restaurants, museums, and local attractions with other students. Sharing these new cultural experiences together can create lasting memories with your new friends. In addition to social activities, an international students club may also bring in guest speakers to share cultural stories and have open dialogues on a wide range of educational and informative topics that can help you adjust to your new home.
But don’t stop there. It’s important to get out of your comfort zone when making friends on campus. International students tend to stay in small groups with others from similar backgrounds. While this can be comforting, it’s also limiting. It only takes one person to open you up to a new social group. Try attending different student organization events and getting involved on campus—the more you step out of your comfort zone, the more confident you’ll be and the more you’ll gain from your experiences. By talking about yourself and your culture, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many students are also eager to share their stories with you. These small interactions create a sense of togetherness and belonging as you settle into university life.
3. Friendship programs and host families
A large part of attending school outside your native country is to experience a new culture and open doors to local opportunities. Friendship programs are non-residential programs that connect you with an individual or family in your community for the semester or year. Through monthly activities, you and your friendship family will share in cross-cultural activities you may not otherwise experience on campus. Typical friendship program activities include home-cooked meals, local sightseeing, holiday traditions, and conversing about cultural similarities and differences. A friendship family often becomes a home away from home and a significant part of a student’s study abroad experience. Local families who participate in these programs are excited to welcome you into the community. Take advantage of their hospitality, knowledge, and generosity and share your culture with them. This mutual exchange of stories can create lifelong bonds. Similarly, host families are another way to immerse yourself in a new culture. In this program, students live with a family during their academic stay, which allows you to truly experience day-to-day life within your community. If you’re interested in these types of programs, be sure to ask if they’re offered at your prospective school(s).
Related: 6 Common Misconceptions About US Colleges and Universities
Whether you get involved in student organizations, participate in residence hall activities, or opt to be part of a friendship program at your university, always remember to be yourself. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation and introduce yourself; you’ll often find something in common, and a simple hello could turn into a lifelong connection. The more people you talk to, the more your friendship circle will grow, and the more rewarding your study abroad experience will be.
Find more great advice on navigating campus life at your new university in our International Students section.