How to: College as an International Student

Vanessa Pangbourne Social & Diversity, Trojan Spirit, Vanessa, Why USC Leave a Comment

The transition from high school to university is a huge one as is, but I also moved countries when I was moving into my freshman year dorm. Two years before that I moved from Santiago, Chile to Vancouver, Canada and I moved between countries a handful of other times too. As an International student, there are a few extra things to consider when starting university, so here are my tips for a smooth high school to university transition, when there is also a major geographic change.

Move in day with my sister and grandma (she flew in from Chile for this!)

1. Stay organized

A lot has to happen before you get to USC: Visa paperwork, packing, multiple goodbye hugs and all kinds of planning. Try to keep it all organized. I thoroughly enjoy making lists (prime example right here). I made lists for what I wanted to bring with me, paperwork I needed, things I would buy once I was there, etc, etc. Which leads me to my next point…

2. Buy what you can instead of packing it

Assuming there is a relatively long flight ahead and usually fees for extra or overweight luggage, it is just easier to buy most things once you get to LA. Since USC is right by downtown there is no shortage of stores to cater to your freshman needs. I limited my packing to clothes and things of sentimental value but pretty much everything for my room and school I bought at Target (which we don’t have in Canada so it was very exciting). Now there will even be a Target on campus, how convenient!

My dorm room freshman year! Complete with a giant Chilean flag ***not texan flag***

3. But bring the important stuff.

If you have some wall art you love or a pillow you can’t sleep without, it is worth the extra luggage space. Everyone gets homesick, even the people that live 20 minutes from home, but especially if going home isn’t easily accessible. Having a couple of comforting things to remind you of home can be helpful. I brought Chilean chocolate because you can’t get it anywhere else and it’s my favorite (even though it probably contributed to my Freshman 15 oops).

4. Skype and facetime are your best friends because culture shock is real

Call your family, your friends and even your dog (maybe that’s just me… ok). If your living situation is like mine was, most people around you will be American. You’re going to want to tell someone about how confusing football is and how USC tailgating is insane. Your new American friends might not relate when you don’t know where some states are (the Midwest isn’t in the middle or the west or the western middle???) so don’t forget to talk to people who can laugh and be confused with you. This could also be other international friends at USC

Still don’t understand football

5. Find a community

It is not hard to make friends your freshman year because everyone is on the same boat. Try to find a group of people you can keep coming back to. For me, that was my floormates in Birkrant (read my post about it here) and SHPE, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. The best way to find a student org you like is to attend the USC wide and Viterbi specific Involvement Fairs in the first few weeks of classes. I added my email onto every email list that sounded remotely interesting and went to what I could. Eventually, I found the communities that worked for me.

BK 7 before our first football game

Sometimes people think that international students stick to each other or people from their home countries, but that’s not true. Part of the reason I chose USC was that it has one of the highest international student populations of any American university and I knew that if I was going to be moving, alone, to a new country I didn’t want to be the one international kid. At the same time, USC students like to be involved and be an active part of their communities, no matter where they are from. I found other international students and students from every state in every one of my classes and organizations. Overall, USC has been incredibly welcoming and I can’t wait to get back in a few weeks!

To keep up with my fairly ~international~ summer follow me on Instagram!

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Vanessa Pangbourne

Vanessa Pangbourne

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