What advice would you give to an international student who’s been admitted to a U.S. college?

A friend of mine introduced me to a Bulgarian student who’s been accepted to study Biomedical Engineering at NYU today. We chatted about the U.S. education system, fitting in the college environment, and the expectation from going to school in America. I’d like to share what I had to say about “Your First Year in a US college” at an “International Perspectives: Cross-Cultural Dialogue” series event. Feel free to comment and share your experience.

Fitting in the U.S . college environment:

Orientation is not just for fun! Use the time in your first week in college wisely! Write down names. Go to the administrative offices: Registrar’s, Bursar’s Financial Aid, Student Affairs. After all, it’s better to know these people sooner rather than later. In my case, they got to know me by name fairly quickly.

Challenge yourself. Don’t just take the easy classes to get a 4.0 GPA. Take a mixture of classes. Take the classes with the hard professors.

Visit professors during office hours.  Talk to your professors if you have questions or are having a personal issue. They have office hours for a reason!

Speak up and participate in class.  Most of my classes had a 10 – 20 % class participation grade. Do not be shy to raise your hand and speak up. Get out of your comfort zone. This will also help you build relationships with your professors.

Keep in touch with the International House. Talk to the International House if you feel down and just need someone to talk with. They are here to help you!

Make international and American friends. Make friends with your international and American peers. Do not limit your circle to just international friends. Your U.S. peers have grown up there, are familiar with the culture, and can guide you during your adjustment to the new academic setting. Mix and mingle with everyone.

International Perspectives: Cross-Cultural Dialogue

When I was an MBA student at Cambridge College, I got invited to speak at an “International Perspectives: Cross-Cultural Dialogue” series event entitled “Cultural Competence.” The purpose of this event was to elevate awareness about international students and the obstacles they overcome.

In this event, specifically, I talked about culture shock. Today I’d like to share what advice I had for international students:

What recommendations would you make for international students who are dealing with culture shock?

Do not judge. A lot of things will be different. It is important not to view everything as good or bad when you compare it to your own culture. Be open-minded.

Listen and observe. Watch others’ reaction in different situations. The more you know about how Americans behave, the less uncomfortable you will feel.

Ask questions. Don’t assume you will always know what is going on or that you will always understand everything. Be honest with your professors and staff — ask them for clarification when you do not understand something.

Join clubs on campus or start your own club. Get involved in on-campus activities and meet new people. Get out of your comfort zone. If you don’t find a club you like, start your own!  

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5K in my hometown of Septemvri, Bulgaria

I was running on the main street in my hometown of Septemvri, Bulgaria when two elderly women stopped me. I was listening to music, paused it, and put down my headphones.

  • Why are you running in the swelter? (It was 11 AM,  26 °C)

I looked at them, smiled, and said I was getting ready for a marathon.

They looked at me astonished and said, “Aa, bravo! We were wondering why anyone would run in the middle of the day. You don’t see this around here.”

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Boston Content Hackaton

I took part in the first Boston Content Hackaton a few weeks ago. The teams were randomly selected and paired with companies. Our team of four was assigned to work with RainTap, a company selling custom tap handle umbrellas.

In the first 10-15 minutes, we learned about the company, their customers and challenges. When we moved to the brainstorming session, we asked lots of questions and explored a variety of ideas.

RaitTaps has been struggling with content marketing. We consulted Ben, the company’s Founder and CEO, on a new content marketing campaign and helped him hack together a new approach to tackle the problems he’s been facing in his day-to-day operations. We followed IDEO’s 7 Important Rule to Unlock the Creative Power of a Brainstorming Session:

  1. Defer judgement – you never know where a good idea is going to come from.
  2. Encourage wild ideas – think about what you really want without the constraints of technology or materials; wild ideas can often give rise to creative leaps.
  3. Build on the ideas of others – be positive, use “and” instead of “but.”
  4. Stay focused on the topic.
  5. One conversation at a time – more likely to build on an idea and make a creative leap if everyone is paying full attention to the person who is sharing a new idea.
  6. Be visual – put ideas on post-its & whiteboards – get creative!
  7. Go for quantity – as many new ideas as possible.

In a hour, we discussed Ben’s challenges, brainstormed and refined ideas, built on the best ideas, formulated our recommendations, and then presented our suggestions to the other teams in 5 minutes.

I learned that the goal of a brainstorming session is not a perfect idea; it’s lots of ideas, collaboration, and openness to wild solutions.

You can read Ben’s blog post about his experience at the hackaton and learn more about how our team helped him here:

You Should Get Hacked – At Least Your Content Should