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Advice for Expat Students Making the College Transition

By Tina Quick

Summary: Author Tina Quick offers advice for expat teenagers who are heading to college next fall and those entering their senior years.

Advice for Expat Students  - Making the College Transition

International Considerations

Because foreign students and those who are coming home for college have the double whammy of not only learning about being a college student but also learning or re-learning the culture, those who have gone before you made a few suggestions worth considering.

  • Even if you are dead-set against being labeled as an international student, consider signing in or checking in with the Office or Dean of International Students (sometimes called the International Students and Scholars Office). If you find yourself in a dilemma, they will most likely be able to help you out. This is absolutely the first telephone call for any foreign student on campus. They can help you out with anything from finding a lawyer to helping with a medical problem or finding a restaurant that serves the food you are missing.
  • Think about asking for dormitory housing in the international dorm. You may find you relate well with other internationals and you may even find some other TCKs. It would also give you an opportunity to speak the languages you left behind. One drawback is that it may become so comfortable you don't reach out to make friends with domestic students. It's worth thinking about.

Coping With Change

Transitioning anywhere is exhausting, but the first year at college or university is particularly so because you are wearing your best face 100% of the time and may not have that one person yet you feel comfortable discussing your problems with. Be patient. It will come. Coping with change takes a lot of effort and involves stress. It is an immensely tiring time.

Remember to look out for yourself during this time. Find activities you enjoy and pamper yourself a little. The good news is that discomfort is normal and it will pass. Don't take yourself too seriously at this time. One day you will look back and see how comical those early days were.

Who's in Charge Now?

Your parents have been preparing you for this scenario since the day of your birth. They have weaned you off the bottle, taught you to feed yourself, use the potty by yourself, dress yourself and now, take responsibility for yourself. There comes a day when you are the one who is solely responsible for the consequences of your actions. Believe me, this is just as difficult (or more so) for parents as it is for you, especially those parents who have a little trouble letting go. It can be as much a lesson for us as it is for you.

It can be exciting to achieve the instant independence that comes when that umbilical chord is severed and you have your new wings, but it can also be a little scary and lonely. Parents are no longer around to bail you out. In fact, unless it is an emergency or something that would threaten your continued attendance at the school, your parents may remain oblivious to your escapades. You are 18 years old now, an adult who is legally responsible for your own behavior. Many schools assign student advisors to their first-year students who can help in the adjustment process. They are there to guide you and give out advice, but they will not parent you.

Journey into Maturity

Getting a good education aside, the college experience is also a journey into maturity. At least that's what parents would like to believe they are paying for. Not only are you responsible for your behavior but also for your health, your security, your grades, your social life, and your spending, among other things. It would be wise to understand what expectations your parents have before you embark on your new life. While you may be exempt from most family rules and guidelines that applied on the home front, you continue to be held to certain standards controlled by those holding the purse strings to your future.

Financial Considerations

Speaking of purse strings, as was mentioned earlier, setting up a budget with your parents before leaving home will help defray potential panic situations that may involve the necessity of a phone call to parents who may be dead asleep in another time zone. It will also help you determine whether a part-time campus job will be necessary to get you through the semester. Many times students will try to get a job for the summer before the start of school so they don't have the added burden of working while trying to settle into a new place and unfamiliar culture.

About the Author

AS Tina QuickTina Quick, author of The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition, is a well-seasoned traveler and mother of three, college-aged daughters. She is an adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK) who, having made 29 moves (15 of them by age 13) understands well the cycle of loss and grief involved in a cross-cultural lifestyle. Tina has raised her own TCKs across four cultures on the continents of Asia, Africa, Europe and North America.

After spending 15 adult years abroad, Tina made a career change from registered nurse to cross-cultural trainer. Her time spent substitute teaching and coaching in the International School of Geneva endeared her to many students who continue to stay in touch. Their stories and others like them have ignited her passion to work with students before, during and after their college transitions. Witnessing the struggles of students who have not yet learned how to live out the differences their international upbringing has created in them in a positive and fulfilling way has inspired her to create specialized training to suit their individual needs.

Tina is a cross-cultural trainer, writer and international speaker. She is on the Board of Directors of Families in Global Transition (FIGT) and serves as Chair Person of the Program Committee. She is on the advisory committee of TCKid, a non-profit virtual community whose mission is to help TCKs find a place of belonging. She is a member of the Overseas Association of College Admissions Counseling. Tina works closely with colleges and universities, domestic and international schools.

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First Published: Jul 15, 2012

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