This week, Smith welcomes first-year students from 38 countries and 41 states in the United States. For many students, coming to Smith means traveling a long way from home. For me, it was about a 5,000-mile trip to get here last year from my home in Georgia.
Traveling is not a mere change of location. One also must adjust to different social, political and cultural environments. To help new students deal with the culture shock between home and Smith, here are 10 tips, based on my personal experience.
1. The day you leave home might be the most dramatic. However, when you actually arrive at Smith, you’ll be busy with so many different activities that it’s impossible to think about home all the time. Remember to pack something that makes you feel at home—your favorite coffee mug, a blanket, some pictures.
2. Be open to new experiences! Meeting new people, and exploring the town or campus are very exciting. And my favorite part about moving to a new place is people asking questions about me. I get to think about myself from different perspectives; and it is so much easier to start with a blank page. Nobody knows you. You have an opportunity to start recreating, questioning and exploring yourself.
3. Even when you find people to hang out with all the time, try not to ignore others. Sometimes I have very interesting conversations with students that I do not know very well. For example, I took some music classes last year and my best friend does not really like attending classical music performances. I knew some students from my classes who enjoyed attending concerts, so I used to go to different events with them.
4. Be patient. If you are an international student it might be harder to understand some local cultural peculiarities. You will learn a lot just by making friends here. Never hesitate to ask questions and try to understand if someone does not understand your cultural habits. The first step is communication. Talk to others and explain differences if there is any confusion. Do not try to fit people in your own conceptions of how the world should be; and you do not have to fit others’ way of life either. Sharing differences, deciding what is good to keep and what needs to be given up is very hard, but college life will teach you a lot.
5. Remember to have fun with your classes. College is a place to prepare you for the real and tough life, but it will be difficult to deal with hardships without thinking what excites you. Take classes from different departments, do not think only about what you need. Sometimes what you want might encourage you to work harder.
6. Take time to de-stress. Many students are especially homesick during finals week because they are stressed and want to be finished with school. I like to escape campus and study in a coffee shop downtown. It helps to get away from campus when everyone is stressed. Listen to music, walk or take small breaks. Also, it is often encouraging to talk to family or friends from back home when you are stressing out about classes.
7. Smith has many resources to help you, so use them! International and freshman orientations are very helpful. After classes begin, take advantage of the Jacobson Center for Writing, and Spinelli Center for Quantitative Learning to get some help with academics when needed.
8. Remember, you are starting an independent life here. Try to challenge yourself and deal with different problems by yourself, but also remember and know who is there to help you.
9. Have fun! You are going to be working hard at college, so it is important to relax sometimes.
10. When it is time to go back home, get ready for another culture shock. You are going to change during your first year in college, and you will see your home from a different, more critical, perspective.
Culture shock can be…well, shocking, but it is very important for personal growth. It is not easy, but you will learn a lot about yourself, about other people, about your home, and life.