10 Tips for International Students

10 Tips for International Students

Ideas to try if you're an international student, or to share with your own students. This piece appeared in the Huffington Post on Aug. 25, 2015.

International Students: How to Navigate American Courses, Tutoring Resources, Social Life and Even Campus Fashion

Welcome to higher education in the United States! It's bold, absurdly expensive, and probably very different than education in your country. So here are some tips to help you navigate the system and thrive.

  1. American universities value dialogue and discussion. Come to class prepared. Do the reading, homework or problem sets. Speak up in class. Give your opinion and be prepared to defend it. Don't be shy about asking questions. You will be expected to offer evidence for your claims -- this means showing where the reading or research supports your point.
  2. Prepare to read and write A LOT. American universities assign much more reading and writing than other institutions around the world. One way to negotiate the reading load and practice your English is to compare translations in your own language with the assigned text -- which is often from a foreign language text anyway -- Confucius, Plato, Hafez, Kant, Rousseau, Gabriel Garcia Marquez etc. translated into English. Reading simultaneous translations goes a long way to help you master language, concepts and ideas. Think about why the Plato or Confucius text you find in your own language seems different than the English language version you use in class.
  3. Getting to know a professor is a gateway to understanding the system. Do it! See your teacher after class and/or in office hours. American teachers are required to give office hours and expect to see students, especially ones who might be more comfortable asking questions outside of classtime. If it helps, bring an international friend with you so you can both ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask your teacher to further explain or repeat something that was said in class. Such feedback helps the teacher know better how to slow down and ensure all students understand.

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Ruth Starkman, Ph.D., is a lecturer in Stanford's Program in Writing and Rhetoric.