Survival Guide for International Students: Your First Week in the US
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Survival Guide for International Students: Your First Week in the US

Naina Raturi

Table of Contents

Your first week is important for setting the right context to your experience as an international student in the US. Here’s the complete survival guide to make the most of it.

For most students, the first week is the most challenging one. Not only will you be dealing with feelings of overwhelm and homesickness, you will also have to hit the ground running and quickly start adjusting to your new life. This first week plays a crucial role in setting the context for the years to come. So it’s time for you to get to know your surroundings and discover the basic elements you need to survive and thrive in your new home. Here is a survival guide to what you can accomplish in your first week in the United States as an international student, starting from your arrival to setting up the essentials and settling into the grind:

[Planning to move to the US in a few months? Read this checklist and prepare well before leaving: Survival Guide for International Students: What You Need Before You Leave for the US]

Step 1: Touch Down in the US

As you bid adieu to your family and friends and board the plane, you are swarmed with all kinds of emotions.  Anxiety will kick in, especially if this is the first time you’re traveling to the US. Remember to enjoy the whole international student experience. Keep yourself calm, stop worrying that you may have forgotten something, and try to have fun. Once the plane touches down, follow your fellow passengers to collect your bags and proceed through to customs and immigration for your passport and visa check. You’ll then come out in the arrival hall of the International Terminal.

Step 2: Arrange for Airport Transfers

It’s always a good idea to do some prior research on your transport options before you leave your home city, so you don’t need to think about it when you arrive after a long flight. Make sure you have the destination address easily accessible for quick reference. Many international students don’t have any accommodation yet and book a hostel or room at the destination city before leaving their home country. You may or may not be in the same situation, but whatever your situation is, prepare accordingly.

Public transport infrastructure is often limited in the US, and cabs are very expensive. Once you step outside the airport, you’ll see that the roads can be very busy, difficult to navigate, and fairly daunting to a visitor (especially one who is used to driving on the left side). If you know someone in the city, it’s best to have them come pick you up at the airport. The next best way to get to your destination is by airport transfer or student pickup facilities offered by your university.

US universities have an international students office or a student organization that provides assistance with all activities once you are in the US. Check with them beforehand if they offer any airport pickup facilities for international students. Most universities in the US offer an airport pickup as a courtesy, but some may not. If your university does not, they will still help you out with helpful information in the right direction. Don’t hesitate to clear all your doubts with them!

Step 3: Get Some Rest

You’ve reached your accommodation! Introduce yourself to your housemates (if you have) and explore your new home. Do a cursory check to make sure everything matches the agreement, and make a condition report to show your landlord within the first few days of moving in.

But don’t rush into everything. Remember, you’re coming from a totally different time zone and your body needs to adjust the new timezone. Jet lag is inevitable and seemingly unrelenting. How are you going to settle all your things while feeling woolly headed all the time?! Prioritize and tackle your urgent tasks in order of importance, while being mindful of the fact that your body is still getting used to the new routine. It usually takes the average person about a week for their sleep patterns to fully adjust. Until then, be patient, eat healthfully, keep yourself well hydrated, and get enough well-timed sleep.

Step 4: Take Care of the Essentials

Now that you’re officially living in the US, let’s start the most fun part: it’s time to get out and explore your new surroundings and shops. You can always reach out to your peers, or relatives or friends - or even the local travel guide -  to locate good shops, restaurants and gyms in your neighborhood. You’ll soon figure out the essential stuff that you need in your new place. If you are living on your own, you may have to buy everything apart from the furniture yourself. If you are living with roommates, you will share a lot of general essentials with them and you will only need to buy basic personal items, such as bedding, etc.

Also, pay attention to some of the paperwork that will inevitably follow: Find out about health insurance (check if your mandated university has a plan for you), figure out your driver’s license situation, etc.

Step 5: Get Connected to Friends and Family

You need to stay connected with your family and friends. Most universities and on-campus student housing options (as well as many public places) offer free and reliable Wi-Fi connection. You can always use free video call apps such as Skype or WhatsApp to reach your family and friends (and also save money). If you are in off-campus housing, you may need to set up Wi-Fi or your roommates most likely already have Wi-Fi set up in the house.

Getting a mobile contract plan should be the next thing on your priority list. There are two main types of cell phone services: prepaid plans and monthly plans with a contract. Most of these plans need an unlocked phone, so do check the compatibility of your phone technology in the host country. Some cell phone companies may ask for proof of your address if you are signing up for a contract. This includes a letter or a utility bill that has been mailed to where you are currently living in the US.

  • Prepaid plans can be availed with minimum checks. They do not require a Social Security Number or a credit history. Prepaid plans use the same cell phone networks and offer the same services as contract plans do, but usually at higher rates.
  • Contract plans require a monthly payment and can include amazing offers on calls and messages. In order to qualify for a contract plan, the applicant’s credit history is usually required. However, since new international students do not have any credit history in the United States, they typically make a security deposit to the cell phone company instead.

There are plenty of options for a mobile contract, in any case, so make sure to do your research before picking a plan.

Step 6: Set Up a US Bank Account

As an International student, you will be required to carry out multiple transactions in the initial few days - for paying your tuition fee, buying essentials, paying for a cab, food, rental deposits, etc. If you use your home country card for all this, you will rack up astronomically high charges from your bank.

Instead, it’s ideal to have a US bank account that offers a safe place for your funds, avoids foreign transaction fees, and helps kickstart your financial footprint in the country. But, while it may sound simple, you can’t just step into any bank and open a bank account. It’s a fairly daunting task for outsiders, including for international students. You need to overcome a lot of hurdles to open a bank account as an outsider, and it involves more effort, and perhaps more stress, than for an American citizen or resident. Some banks also require a Social Security Number or SSN. If you’re wondering how to manage all this, reach out to us at Zolve. We can help you open a bank account without needing an SSN. This post explains how you can open a US bank account as an immigrant.  

If you are planning a longer term stay in the US, it is very important to build a credit score. In the US, your credit score determines whether you get a credit card, a personal loan, a nice apartment, or even a decent car - and under what terms. Many immigrants have been denied access to banking privileges due to a lack of a credit score. Opening a US bank account is the first step in the right direction towards building your credit score.

Step 7: Enjoy Life as an International Student!

The first few weeks in a new country is going to be stressful. But it will also be thrilling. Whether you like it or not, you’ll soon fall into a routine and get a firm handle on things. You’ll fall in love with the city around you and consider it a second home. Embrace this opportunity with open arms, be grateful that you have the chance to study abroad, and make the most of it. As you get more deeply engrossed with the local culture and people, you will have no problem fitting in and make tons of friends.

So there it is: Everything you need to know to have a successful first week. Make sure your stay in a foreign country is filled with lots of learning and full of excitement, laughter, and fun. All the best! :)

Follow this space for more posts like this. We hope they will help make your life more comfortable in the US.

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