iStudent Corner: 5 College Survival Tips from Gulnar: Part 1

It’s my pleasure to be a guest blogger for PeerTransfer’s International Student Corner.  I would like to thank them for such a great opportunity to share my experience with you!

A little bit about this blogger a la myself. My name is Gulnar and I am from Azerbaijan Republic (wondering where it is? Google it! Or if you are too lazy here’s the link).  I have been studying in the United States for 2.5 years and I’ve graduated with Associates in

Fine Arts in 2012. I’m currently majoring in Advertising Design and Graphic Technologies.  I have been blogging for several years. (You can find my blogs here and here).  For the last 2 years I’ve been sharing my colorful experiences as international student with fellow international students, as well as with anybody who is interested in studying abroad. I am an artist & a graphic designer.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know this three years ago when I started my training in arts. Prior to my US experience, I graduated with a BA in American studies at the Azerbaijan University of Languages, in 2009.  By sheer luck, I ended up at my current college – SUNY Ulster and I am so happy that miracles happen in life!  In a nutshell, I feel so lucky to have found an American family who has been my adopted family during my studies in up-state New York and for all the wonderful people I’ve met.

I thought I should devote this post to some “survival tips” for international students. Everything you are going to read is based on my personal experience, which helped me tremendously to survive and succeed in a completely new environment. My definition of “success” in this case is to make new friends, get used to the new environment, new life style, do well in my classes, and many more exciting experiences! Want to know more? Keep reading!


There are so many reasons to feel shy and hide in your shell (even in your home country), but believe me you will get nothing out of that. Once you have made a decision to be an international student, you have to let go your shyness for good.

LANGUAGE is the main barrier that most of us face in a new country. Remember that you won’t be speaking perfect English in one night (or any other language), perhaps never ever.  Just accept that and move on! (Unless you are some kind of super brain or bilingual.) Be bold! Speak the best English you can! Make sure you participate in regular daily conversations and chats with your friends, teachers and college staff. Write constantly! Oh you are not a writer? Doesn’t matter, keep writing a journal or a blog, put down something about your day, your classes, people you meet.  I think, my language skills have improved simply because I usually write and listen. I can assure you that your language skills won’t improve just by reading grammar books; you have to be around native speakers! Oh lucky you! Now you are surrounded by them, aren’t you? Just take an

advantage of it: listen, talk, & write! Personally, I find writing easier than speaking, because I have that extra moment to put together my thoughts and write a sentence as best as I can. However, while speaking is a little bit different, it should NOT stop you from being involved in conversations with your peers. Also, remember some students will simply ignore you, just because of the language barrier (that’s their loss!).  However, the majority is very helpful and patient with foreign speakers.  Some of my friends love my accent, even though to this day I think that I speak English just like them, but of course I don’t!  And the worst part, I couldn’t fool myself more when I hear my voice in the video footage! Hahaha! Oh well, some things don’t change.. Perhaps a little!


Sometimes even the most curious of us can be drawn back with the amount of new information that we perceive every second in a new country. At some point it feels so overwhelming, you just stop paying attention. My suggestion? Be alert, ask questions, find out anything that interests you, and here comes the link to the TIP # 1, do not be shy!

People are more than happy to explain their ways of doing things, and how things work! Sometimes they even find it entertaining, because your question makes them look at things (that are their routine) from a new perspective. For instance, I found English expressions so amusing! Usually whenever I hear one, I envision a literal mental image of the expression! For instance, “break a leg” or “pull someone’s leg” – Do you see what I do? Or do you hear just a simple weird combo of words? Well it depends on how our brains work! I see images mostly, so to me it’s a literally translated image!  So my friends here find it amusing to explain all those phrases to me! That’s my point! Ask them! Both sides will have fun and learn something new. You might even share your way of doing things! Being an international student means sharing your culture as well, meanwhile learning a new one! It’s a big learning chance and you should value and enjoy it! In simple

terms:  it’s like being a 3 year old kid asking questions, not being ashamed of it.  Instead laughing and being ready to learn! Better late than never (that’s a Russian expression, yes I speak Russian too..)



Asking questions applies to classes as well. During my classes, I am always the one who asks tons of questions, sometimes you might feel some “disapprovement” from your peers, but you know what? Don’t mind that at all! You are here to learn, and the best way of learning is when you’re interactive: you ask questions and instructor is there for you to give answers. After a while your classmates will get used to that. If you have trouble comprehending a new topic, take advantage of the fact that instructors usually have office hours; you can always stop by their office after class or by appointment and get more information.  Or even better:  email them! Email is the best way to reach them and most of the instructors are very willing to help students, especially when you are international! They realize how difficult it must be to be away from everything that you used to have and to adapt to a new language, new people and a new culture.


Many colleges offer tons of extracurricular activities for students, such as clubs, student government, and volunteer opportunities during special events. Those activities are a nice addition to your academic life at the college of your choice, and you can always boost up your resume with that information.

CLUBS! Did you know that transfer students are asked in their college application essays to write about “extracurricular activities?” Colleges are usually interested not only in your academic background, but also in your life skills. I have been a member, and later the president of the Visual Arts Club at my college. To be realistic, those clubs give you an opportunity to create activities that best fits your interest. Since I am an art and design student, mine and the interests of our members include going to galleries, seeing more art, selling art, meeting artists, etc. Being a member of this club allows me to organize activities that will fit all of us! It’s a pretend game or real life stimulation! I think that’s the best way to learn new skills, such as leadership, organization, time management and communication -in real life mode! It’s absolutely amazing!! You will enjoy every bit of it! Of course there will be small frustrations, but without them it won’t be a learning process, right?

VOLUNTEERING. I am also involved in a Student Ambassadors group which is an Admissions Office branch of student groups.  Volunteering helps you improve your communication skills, or any other skills that admissions offices might look for. For instance, I help with my artsy skills: I have done photography for them, decorating college booths for events, and anything else that they asked me to do. Also, make sure to volunteer in the community where you live whenever you find some time. It’s a way of expressing your gratitude by your action.

…to be continued. 



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