Before you head out on your educational journey across the world, wouldn’t it be nice to have a list of do’s and dont’s to help you along? I know I’d have appreciated one! So here are the top 10 things I wish I knew before traveling to USA.
3 years ago, I quit my comfy computer job back in India, loaded 2 suitcases full of clothes, my beloved gadgets, and a ton of Indian goodies and left on a career-changing trip. I was admitted to a prestigious MBA Program in the United States on a full scholarship and little did I know how my life was going to transform. The loads of advice I got from family, friends and my education consultants was totally unrelated to the actual experiences in the United States. Knowing these things before traveling to USA or any other destination will help you prepare yourself before you embark on your trip to this mystical place.
1) America is a melting pot of cultures and opportunities
Once you are here you will realize that the US is a melting pot of cultures and races from around the world. Especially in the major cities, you will find someone from your own country on every street corner. And Americans are way polite and welcoming than you could imagine. It is customary here to smile and say “Hello!” to every stranger on the street or shout “Bless you!” when someone sneezes. Do not believe your local media on this aspect.
2) International students turn into your local best friends
When I landed at Boston airport, I was picked up by a senior of mine, who is from Pakistan. It was touching to see how seniors are always waiting to help newbies who just “got off the boat”. I stayed with him for a couple of weeks and got baptized in the local culture instantly. Each US school has an international community that is well represented on social media. Find your country specific group on Facebook and write to them about your arrival. I’m sure that they will take care of everything for you when you first arrive.
3) Do yourself a favor, get your own transport (at least a bicycle)
Americans prefer having their own mode of transport, and as a result, public transport is not as frequent and convenient as you might want it to be. Unless your school has a shuttle service from your house, take my advice – GET A CAR. Used cars have a diminished demand here and so are fairly inexpensive. I bought a used Volvo S40 all-wheel drive for just under $2,000 and it worked like a gem during my school years. Plan a budget for this in advance before traveling to USA.
4) Learn to network with people you are not familiar with
A lot of international students tend to stay within their closed groups. In order to be successful in the United States, you need to get out of your comfort zone and mingle with the locals and the other international crowd. Moreover, the two job opportunities I got after graduating were both through networking events in the city. The one thing you’ll discover after traveling to USA is that everyone here is outspoken and they thrive on human connections. Unless you get immersed in it yourself, you will find it hard to land jobs, make new friends and you might even return back to your country disappointed.
5) Do not pack heavy luggage
You will find whatever you need, at whichever place you live and at whatever time you think of. So stop loading your bags with clothes and food to serve you for the next 5 years. There are countless discount clothing outlets that sell good quality merchandise cheaper than in your own country. There are supermarkets to fulfill all your food supplies, even the kind of food you like. I live within a mile of an Indian supermarket, a Russian grocery store, and a Chinese restaurant. Just carry a lightweight suitcase and travel hassle-free.
6) Save the beer money and travel while you can
The school year is also the best year to travel around this gorgeous country. So save up the beer money and travel while you can. Spring breaks, Christmas and thanksgiving weekends are long breaks to plan your trips to the wild west, or the sunny south, or the mystical northeast US. And remember!? The car I convinced you to buy? That will come in handy now, for your long drives.
7) Boarding is expensive, rather rent a house and share it
Accommodation and boarding provided by the schools are usually beyond the budget for international students traveling to USA. You can save a lot more if you rent a condo or apartment close to the school and share it with a fellow student. I saved on the $1,200 per month boarding fee and got an excellent 2-bedroom condo close to the campus. I shared with a classmate and spent just $400 a month. Spent the rest on traveling and parties. Woohoo!
8) It’s colder than you think it is!
Even Key West (the southernmost region of the US) gets cold during the winter. And most schools are on the upper half of the country where temperatures can drop to as low as -30 degrees on the coldest days. So, spending some money on good authentic winter-wear like jackets, thermal inner-wear, snowshoes and ski gloves would be worth the ordeal. And trust me, it’s not crazy here in the winters. Love the snow and it will love you back. Be it white Christmases, ski trips, ice fishing, or skating – the US is a total winter wonderland.
9) You cannot avoid the modified metric system, so learn it
If you are from outside the US, there is a high likelihood that you are used to the standard metric system or the SI system. The US follows its own “traditional” system. Distance is always in ‘miles’ and not ‘kilometers’. Weight is in pounds(lbs) and not kilograms(kg). Temperature is the hardest one to perfect and I still cannot comprehend the Fahrenheit scale (F) since I am used to Celsius(C). Its still hard to grasp the fact that 32 degrees F is freezing point and not 0 degrees C.
10) Don’t study just because you need a job after graduation
The last and most important thing I want to say to you is – study to learn new things and become a smarter human being. I meet and counsel a lot of international students who only aim of coming to the US to get a job. Let yourself lose, choose a program you really want to study, and do full justice towards mastering it. A job should always be an outcome of a successful learning experience and it will happen for you as well just like it did for me.
Hope you liked my tips on traveling to the United States. I am always available for any advice you might need regarding studying in the United States. Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about studying in the United States and applying to schools, visit iSchoolConnect!
A die-hard marketeer, blogger and an education industry enthusiast. Malavika loves traveling, meeting new people and is a full-time dog whisperer