By Jasmine Bager, Columnist
Moving to the United States to study can be overwhelming. Changing addresses to another country can alter your whole world, but relocating across several continents can seem like another universe. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t still be you. Swapping your childhood room for student housing can leave you confused. The transition will be easy for some, and harder for others. Just remember, that every student in your freshmen class will likely be experiencing college for the first time, too. It can be strange (for all of you) at first, but it will be manageable. I should know. I grew up in Saudi Arabia and relocated to the United States for college. It was challenging and thrilling, but I survived, and so can you. Here are some tips from one continent-hopping student to another:
1. Online shopping: before your arrival, order your bed sheets and mattress cover (to protect against bedbugs) so that it can be delivered on the day you arrive. That way, you won’t need to rush to the store and overpay or drag extra luggage from home. Bring a small bottle of shampoo with you so that you don’t need to run to the store upon your arrival. Bring slippers or flip flops for use around your new room.
2. Carry your Student I.D. with you at all times. Not only is it for security purposes, but you can use that Student I.D. for more than just entering campus. Many museums, galleries and shows offer free admission to current students. Movie theaters and many restaurants and Cafes (usually around campus), often give deep discounts or specials. Some software companies and computer repair shops also offer deals. Just ask!
3. You can check your U.S. bank account on your computer, tablet or smartphone. Online banking allows you to deposit checks directly on your phone, by taking photographs of the check when prompted. You can also ask for ATM receipts to be emailed or texted, when you pull cash from the machines. Try to always have cash at hand.
4. If you have an unlocked smartphone, like an iPhone, you can purchase a prepaid sim (or a plan) and download free apps for subway times (if you use public transportation), or maps if you walk or drive. You can also check the weather by downloading an app. Skype, WhatsApp and other tools can help you stay in touch with family and friends—both old and new.
5. There are usually a local farmer’s markets where you can get good deals on organic produce and help the local farming community. Many stores offer a small discount (about 10c at Whole Foods) if you bring your own canvas bag to be used after purchasing, instead of using one of the bags at the store.
6. Compare travel deals online! Americans (or people in the U.S.) love to travel, and sometimes booking flights in advance can be beneficial, but last-minute deals can also be made. Call a local line, instead of the main 1-800 number, when you want to book a hotel room or arrange for a trip to another state for Spring Break or any other holiday.
7. Read the freebie local newspapers and campus papers that are in news boxes around town. The articles will help make you familiar with the current happenings and the local ads will show you which companies are most popular. Check out your city’s official website, too.
8. If you don’t have a TV, there are perfectly legal and free (or low-cost) options to stream online, like Hulu.com or Netflix.com.
9. Take a photo or scan copies of your passport, I.D. and other important documents and email them to yourself. In the unfortunate case that they are lost or stolen, you can always forward them to authorities or print them out.
10. Visit your campus information center at least once a month, they usually have flyers for free concerts or events on display, and some offer tips and trips to local landmarks. Often, school clubs offer free pizza there, too!
11. If there’s a cool event or show that you really would like to attend off-campus, contact the public relations representative and ask to be a volunteer. Usually, you are there to support the organizing team and are given small tasks, but don’t have to pay for admission. That way you can develop contacts, network and enter free. This relationship could lead to a job or internship and added to your résumé.
12. There are bookstores (such as Barnes and Noble) where you can sit and read without needing to buy. Most have coffee shops within the same store and plenty of comfortable tables and free WiFi to go around, which can be convenient for students hoping to move away from the campus library. Not all of these places offer plugs for your computer, so try to come in with a fully-charged laptop or smartphone, if possible.
13. If you drive a car, parking at the meters is usually free on Sundays and after 6:00 pm on weeknights (check signs, as those times may vary).
14. Just as amazon.com offers reviews for books and toys, Yelp.com and other apps/sites offer restaurant/cafe reviews. Those listings will say if the location offers free or limited WiFi. It will also say what the price range is and will show photos taken by customers, as well as recommendations of certain menu items. You can search by distance or zip code.
15. Many Cafes and restaurants offer free WiFi if you purchase a cup of coffee or snack.
16. From the airport, instead of taking a cab, try to book a shuttle, it is often half the price and you can sometimes get coupons online or in person to get further discounts.
17. Buy essentials in bulk, like toilet paper, washing detergent and non-perishable items. Check Consumer Reports magazine (online or in stores) for store brands vs. name brands—often the price difference is huge but the product isn’t.
18. Bring your favorite pajamas and house clothes. When you are feeling sick or homesick, having your comfortable sweatpants from home will help make you at ease. Don’t just bring your best clothes, try to pack some small comforts from your hometown, like any special teas or candy bars.
19. Get a labeled folder or envelope to add your receipts/warranties of large purchases, such as a mini fridge or new mattress. Add it to a drawer or to the pocket of your suitcase, for easy access.
20. Water is safe to use from the tap. You can purchase a filter that attaches to the sink or buy a filtered pitcher/bottle and fill up at home or from fountains. You’ll save money and help the environment.
21. Before classes, get to campus early and locate your classrooms ahead of class day. That way, you won’t be late on your first day! Visit your professor’s office hours and introduce yourself.
22. At the cafeteria, ask the workers there which is their freshest item, and try to order that.
23. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be there to answer them, should someone approach you. Join a club and sport or activity and don’t be afraid to let people know where you come from.
24. Purchase a First-Aid Kit for your room and carry granola bars or small snacks in your bag at all times. Find out what your health insurance covers and try to get a check-up before classes get too crazy. It will be easier to know where the clinic is before you get sick!
25. Exchange numbers or Facebook account information with at least two of your classmates from each course. That way, if you need to miss a class for any reason, you can get in touch with someone and perhaps get a copy of the notes. It will also be a great way to make friends and build your network!
There are a million ways to adjust to college, and these tips will help get you started. Remember, pack light, open your eyes (and heart) and enjoy your new learning adventure. Should you have anything to add to the list, or if you would like to get in touch, contact me at @JasmineBager. Congratulations and best of luck!