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5 Freshman Mistakes We Made That You Can Avoid

We're not ashamed to admit it; we made some mistakes when we came to the U.S. for the first time. We brought the wrong things, said the wrong things, and ate the wrong things. But hopefully you can learn from our mistakes. Here are five mistakes we made in our first year that you should avoid:

1 Poor packing

We’ve fallen victim to two opposite instincts when it comes to packing for the trip to the U.S.: the desire to bring literally EVERYTHING from home, and the attempt to pack for what we thought America would be like. Both approaches failed.

Tara said her mom tried to overload her suitcases with all of her stuff from back home in China, but when it came down to it, “you can get 80 percent of what you have at home in the US, especially if you live in LA, San Francisco, New York or other cities with ethnic and immigrant communities. However, there did end up being things I couldn’t find in the U.S.”

In particular, she wished she’d brought an electric rice cooker and Chinese spices to cook her favorite foods from home.

Senzeni, on the other hand, cautioned against leaving home without certain clothes, thinking they won’t be in style in America. Not true, she said. You may think college kids only wear jeans and t-shirts, “But pack at least three formal outfits. I had to attend five receptions and dinners in the opening week of freshman year where t-shirts and jeans were a definite no-no.” And prepare for the cold weather, but don’t forget, “When you arrive in August, the weather will be hot and humid and you will love yourself for bringing a tank top and a pair of shorts.”

2 Not getting involved right away

It’s easy, and natural, to feel overwhelmed at the beginning. But give in to that feeling and you’ll only feel more homesick. We’ve found that getting involved in campus life actually helped us get over the anxiety.

Sebastian said he had a difficult time when he first arrived at the University of Kansas. Between moving into a new place, adapting to a new culture, and getting accustomed to new food and weather, “I was too busy to even meet new people. And without people around I got homesick real quick. I missed my family, friends and so many people that it made my whole stay hard for the first week or so.”

“And then I met some Bolivian guys, and then American people too, who made the whole experience different.”

Alex described it like this:

Alex gets down in Washington, DC
Alex gets down in Washington, DC

“It’s a mesmerizing experience when you arrive in a new city. It’s a new life, a new culture and a new reality. It has you feeling strange, kind of like a thrilling cocktail of excitement, tension, a bit of loneliness and some insecurity. It’s an unfamiliar territory for most of us and we just don’t know how to deal.

But if we allow ourselves to explore how we feel, we find that involvement is the key. When we start to involve ourselves with the city, the food, the people and the little things, we start to truly appreciate our new home.”

3 Looking the wrong way when crossing the street!

It may seem like a small one, but we’ve almost lost a few bloggers who weren’t sure which way the cars would be coming from. “Yes, I almost got run over by a car, after frantically hopping all over the place and glancing confusedly in all directions like a flying insect under threat,” recalled Simba of his first few weeks at Oberlin College.

If you’re still wondering, look LEFT. In America, cars drive on the right side of the road.

Luckily, in some places cars are more willing to stop and let you cross the road. “I remember when I first came here — I felt like the king of the road for a few seconds, with cars waiting on me to cross,” said Rudro about his experience in Chico, California. Just don’t try that in New York.

4 Overdoing it on American food.

Tara has described food in America as bigger, sweeter and more available than anywhere else. Almost every one of us has found it easy to get sucked in.

The ice cream freezer at a supermarket in Washington, DC
The ice cream freezer at a supermarket in Washington, DC

When Jihye arrived in Washington, D.C., she was amazed when she went to her first supermarket:

“You can find a whole aisle of ice creams in grocery shopping mall such as Safeway, Harris Teeter, or Target etc. It is so exciting for me to see all different kinds of ice creams. I can find a lot of ice creams in Korea, but not a whole aisle! You can have your time for philosophical speculation (for example, what kind of flavor will make me happy?) while you are walking through the ice cream aisle!”

Promise got over the excitement pretty quickly. Not long into his stay in Minnesota, he discovered, “Ah! I am tired of sandwiches, pizzas, cookies, milk, chocolate, strawberry ice-cream…”

But Tara cautioned, “Around three months after you get to America, you will be totally comfortable with the big portions, and amazed at yourself being able to eat it up effortlessly.”

She wasn’t pleased with that accomplishment.

5 Not seeking out help

Jamal discovered something important during her first week in California, “That is: always ask questions, otherwise you don’t get what you want – or at least, otherwise people won’t know what you want.”

“Two days after leaving my home town I got to my college town of Oceanside, California. I went to International Students’ Office and I met with my counselor and some other staff working there. They were very nice people and they tried to help me in many ways. It’s very important to set up a plan for the first semester, to choose the right classes for your major, and the counselor is always willing to help students with those sorts of things (or even with how to find the right bus).”

No matter what challenges you may face – whether it’s an inability to cross the street or overwhelming homesickness – asking for help can make all the difference.

Did you make mistakes as a first year that you think others should learn from? Share your suggestions in the comments or using the form below!


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Taliban push for normalizing male-only higher education

FILE - Taliban members are seen at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 14, 2023.
FILE - Taliban members are seen at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 14, 2023.

In coming weeks, tens of thousands of students in Afghanistan are set to sit for university entrance examinations.

Notably absent from the list of candidates will be females.

The upcoming exams are expected to determine the admission of about 70,000 students to public academic and professional institutions this year.

Last week, when officials from the Taliban's Ministry of Higher Education unveiled the specifics of the upcoming exams, they conspicuously omitted any mention of the exclusion of female students from university admissions.

Despite facing widespread domestic and international criticism for their prohibition of women from educational and professional opportunities, the Taliban have persisted in enforcing discriminatory gender policies.

“The exclusion of women from higher education significantly limits the country's economic potential, as half the population is unable to contribute effectively to the workforce,” David Roof, a professor of educational studies at Ball State University, wrote to VOA.

In December 2022, the Taliban suspended nearly 100,000 female students enrolled in both public and private universities across Afghanistan.

With the nation already grappling with some of the most dire female literacy rates globally, Afghanistan has failed to produce any female professionals over the past two years.

According to aid agencies, the absence of female medical professionals, compounded by other restrictions, has contributed to the deaths of thousands of young mothers in Afghanistan.

The United Nations reports that over 2.5 million Afghan school-age girls are deprived of education.

“The interruption in education can result in a generational setback, where entire cohorts of women remain uneducated and unqualified for professional roles,” Roof said.

'Hermit kingdom'

The elusive supreme leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, purportedly responsible for the ban on women's education and employment, has never publicly clarified his directive.

Initially, when secondary schools were shuttered for girls in March 2022, Taliban officials said the action was "temporary," insisting that the Islamist leadership did not fundamentally oppose women's education.

However, more than two years later, Taliban officials have provided no rationale for the continued absence of girls from classrooms.

“They have normalized gender-apartheid,” said an Afghan women’s rights activist who did not want to be named in this article, fearing the Taliban’s persecution.

“This is a new norm in Afghanistan, however insane and destructive it may look in the rest of the world,” she added.

In January 2022, the U.S. Department of State appointed Rina Amiri as the special envoy for Afghan women, aiming to garner international backing for Afghan women's rights.

Amiri has actively engaged with Muslim leaders, emphasizing the importance of women's rights in Islam, in hopes of influencing Taliban leaders.

Despite these efforts, there has been no indication from Taliban leaders of any intention to abandon their discriminatory policies against women. “There is no indication this will subside,” Amiri told a Congressional hearing in January.

Senior U.S. officials have also warned the Taliban that there will be no normalization in their relations with the international community unless they allow women to return to work and education.

Thus far, the Taliban’s response has been that they value depriving women of basic human rights more than having normal relations with the rest of the world.

Hong Kong can help link students in US, China 

FILE - A visitor sets up his camera in the Victoria Peak area to photograph Hong Kong's skyline, Sept. 1, 2019.
FILE - A visitor sets up his camera in the Victoria Peak area to photograph Hong Kong's skyline, Sept. 1, 2019.

Pandemics, climate change and other global challenges require nations and scientists to work together, and student exchanges are a great way to foster that cooperation.

Writing in The South China Morning Post, Brian Y.S. Wong explains that Hong Kong has a crucial role to play in connecting students in the United States and China. (May 2024)

Learn about religious accommodations in US colleges  

FILE - St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., March 16, 2022.
FILE - St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., March 16, 2022.

From prayer services to housing options and vegetarian meal selections, colleges in the United States offer ways to accommodate students of various faiths.

In U.S. News & World Report,Anayat Durrani explains how you can learn about religious accommodations at colleges and universities. (April 2024)

US community colleges create unique bachelor’s degrees

US community colleges create unique bachelor’s degrees
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In the United States, community colleges traditionally give two-year associate’s degrees and certificates. That is changing as more of these colleges develop bachelor’s degree programs. The higher degree from these schools is making college more accessible and affordable nationally and internationally. Robin Guess reports. Camera: Roy Kim.

Purdue U student from Nicaragua loves soccer and her studies

FILE - The Purdue University Marching Band plays with facemasks in place before the start of the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, May 30, 2021.
FILE - The Purdue University Marching Band plays with facemasks in place before the start of the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, May 30, 2021.

A student from Nicaragua blends academics and athletics to excel at Purdue University in the U.S. state of Indiana.

Andrea Martinez talks about her passion for soccer and her studies here. (April 2024)

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