How Students Adapt

College students in class

All college students–domestic and international–live in a new culture with new friends who have had very different experiences. Finding friends is one of the first steps in feeling at home in a new community.

Social activities and sports can be a good way to find new friends. Colleges and universities have many clubs and organizations where students can find others with similar interests. The international student office is likely to schedule events that feature the festivals and food of different countries. These events celebrate the heritage of international students, and they teach American students about the cultures of international students.

International students must balance their interest in meeting American students with  spending time with students from their home country. They want to make strong friendships with Americans, but some days they just want to speak their own language. If students spend all their time with people from home, they may miss opportunities to learn from Americans. But if they spend all their time with Americans, they may feel lonely.

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College students are at an age when they want to date. Families may not want their student to be in a relationship with a person from another culture. Dating is part of the experience of young adults, and going on dates is how they learn what they value in a partner. Often college students spend their time with a group of friends, not with just one person.

Alcohol and Drugs

Parties on U.S. campuses may be different from what international students experienced at home. In the U.S., the legal drinking age is 21. College students learn to drink alcohol without guidance from parents and older adults. Some groups of students consider socializing to be all about drinking heavily. But there also are groups of students who prefer not to drink or they drink very little. Parents can influence students’ behavior by letting them know what you expect. Encourage your student to find friends through clubs, organizations, or sports teams where drinking is not the focus.

Similarly, some students use illegal drugs as a way to socialize or to reduce the stress of school. Non-prescription drugs are illegal, and the penalties for using them can be severe. Again, let your student know your expectations and be sure that they understand the risks of breaking the law. That can make a difference in whether your student chooses to use drugs.

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Students may change the way they dress, their hair style, and their behavior when they get to the U.S. In most cases, this is more about being practical than about trying to look like an American. All students–international and American–tend to dress in comfortable clothes that don’t require a lot of care. Jeans, sweatshirts, and sneakers allow students to dress quickly and get to class on time.

Some students adopt an American name–a name that they believe their new friends will be able to pronounce more easily. They will still be registered in school under their given name, but they will ask others to call them an Americanized name. This is not a rejection of family and culture; it is done to fit in. At home, they will still go by their given name.