Being an International College Student in the United States

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CCI Program Cohorts

In the United States, a college student goes to a different type of college as compared to the other parts of the world. It is called a Community College. Although I was an exchange student, not an international student still I was known as an international student in many classes. Being an International College Student in the United States is an honor for me. I met my best professors who had the real business world knowledge. I experienced one of the world’s best classroom environment. The knowledge and skills I gained here are very vital for my career now. However, the journey wasn’t easy. It’s always being at least a little confused and challenging for the first week of classes. The classroom environment and teaching methods seemed so different. You are worried about cooking, health, insurance, attendance, assignments and even finals for the first few weeks. Then, things are getting normal. You find a way to every problem you face as a college student.

Before I proceed I would like to mention some facts to make this post really simple for the readers outside the United States. The United States is home to International Students all over the world. It has world’s largest international student population, with over one million students studying in different programs in schools, colleges and Universities (The Hechinger Report). It has world’s top Universities and colleges which offers many opportunities for research and other academic endeavors. Now the current trend is that most of the times, these International students start their careers at the community colleges. Being a community college student in the United States is a luxury because there are many people in the United States who can’t afford to go to college. Although it’s cheaper than starting a degree at the University. However, it is still not affordable.

There are many reasons to why most people attend a two-year community college to earn an associate’s degree and then transfer the credits to University to earn a Bachelor degree? Such as Cost of Tuition, Class Size and Flexibility. So, what is a community college student? The best community college student definition I found was on EducationUSA website. “A community college student is someone seeking a professional certificate or an associate degree. An associate degree usually takes two years to complete and can be a stepping stone to earning a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university.” EducationUSA

Being a New College Student

On my first day, I heard a few terms which I didn’t hear before like freshman, sophomore and junior. I didn’t understand what are these guys talking about? Then, after getting help from Mr. Google. I came to know the meanings of these terms:

  • Freshman year or Frosh means someone in their first year.
  • Sophomore year or Soph means someone in their second year
  • Junior year means someone in their third year.
  • Senior year means someone in their fourth year.

Experiences as an International College Student:

Anyways, I am sharing my experiences as an International college student in the following bullet points:

Kayaking in Chapparal Park

1. Culture Shock: I still remember when my host family took me to Chaparral Park for kayaking. That was my second week in the United States. There was a lady who had a female dog and I said to her: Your bitch is too cute. Because we have been taught in our country that feminine of the dog is the bitch. OMG I can’t forget the response of that lady. That was probably the first cultural shock. The second time I faced the most awkward situation was during Artie Idol. The Artie Idol was a singing competition on the college level. One of our CCI program student Famosando participated as Rapper and won the first prize. The next day in the Accounting class when the professor asked us how did it go? I said that I enjoyed very well. My friend Famosando participated as a Rapist and got the first place. The whole class laughed at me. Rapist? Really?

Classroom Environment in the United States College
2. Classroom Environment: In my country, the classroom environment is very friendly. All the students know each other because the students stay in the class and the teachers come for the lectures. However, it is opposite in the United States’ community colleges. Here, the teachers stay in the class and the students rush to other classes after the class is finished. It’s very rare to have the same classmate in every class. The students come five minutes before the class starts and leave right away after the class is finished. For international students, it’s very hard to make some good friends. Most of the American students don’t even know where is your country located on the map? For example, my friend Amara Yeo was from Ivory Coast. Many people in the college didn’t even know that there is Ivory Coast on the map. “You know what we study more about the Geography, United States politics and history. I thought the American people do the same and they would know about Africa,” says Amara Yeo Sitafa. “Sadly they don’t know. They told me Ivory Coast is in South Africa which I am shocked.” My case was different because Pakistan is very famous in the news. However, the bad thing for me was that my classmates were scared of me. I made only three friends out of my seven classes in two semester. The reason is that I am a Muslim and they had pre-conceived notions about Islam and Pakistan.

Turnitin Report Sample
3. Choosing Classes Wisely: I was new in the U.S community college. I didn’t know about the classes. I chose a class which was not for me. I was part of the CCI program which covered my tuition. So, I couldn’t drop the class. The only way to succeed was to carry on and pass the class. The stress of taking a wrong class and the Turnitin report that shows 70% copied from Wikipedia almost killed me. However, I learned that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. By the way Turnitin is not a good invention at all. So, you better choose your classes wisely. Make sure the classes are in line with your goals. Try to see professor’s rating before you opt for the class. My experiences in choosing classes in the first semester was bad but in the second semester was pretty awesome.

Free Food
4. Free Food for College Students: As an International student in the United States, you will be out of money every time. One of the most pleasant moments was Free Food in the college. For free food you need to know how to be a college student. You can have free food by attending club events on campus, make a pit stop at the campus cafeteria to see if they have any leftover items from the day, go to church where they serve free meals or a free breakfast on certain days of the week and volunteer at off-campus events with the large Not for Profit organizations. They usually reward their volunteers with free lunch or restaurant coupons. I always loved it. It was really a pleasant moment to have free food.

payday vs rest of the month
5. Currency Conversion: Sometimes it feels that you are super rich when you have American Dollars in your pocket. However, it depends on where you’re from. In my case, a U.S Dollar is approximately equal to 105 Pakistani Rupees. Just saying if I have 100 dollars in my pocket, I feel like I have PKR 10,500/- Whenever I received my stipend, I was feeling like I am a millionaire of my country. After two weeks of the pay, I was feeling like a homeless in the States.

culturally diverse students
6. Culturally Diverse Campus: The community colleges in the United States are very diverse. If you think you’re the only international student applying for a college in the US, you might want to reconsider that. Students come to the United States from all around the world for study. So, you need to be aware of their cultural values. In my cases, most of the times my behavior was okay for me but other students felt very rude and aggressive because that moment I couldn’t do well according to their cultures. From handshakes to hugs, you need to understand the cultural background of the other international students. Otherwise, you are not gonna make friends from all over the world.

Well it is almost the same story of every international college student in the United States. The first year is difficult and challenging. You have to be ready to face challenges. You also have to be open to accept the different cultures and faith. The second year you feel it is very interesting. Then, onwards you will realize that studying in the United States was the best choice of your life.

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Qasim is an accounting and auditing professional in Pakistan, where he graduated from University of Peshawar with a degree in Commerce, majoring in Accounting. Qasim came to Arizona at the invitation of the U.S. Department of State in their Community College Initiative Program. This program is funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by Northern Virginia Community College as a member of the Community College Consortium. Qasim has more than four years experience in the social sector, specifically, working in donor-funded projects with various international organizations and UN agencies like the World Food Program, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and National Education Foundation of Pakistan, among others. He independently began operations of a small business incubator. Qasim's dream is to become a social entrepreneur and serve his country internationally and domestically.

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