Moving is frequently cited as one of the most stressful life events, but it typically only involves relocating from one part of your town to another or, in more extreme circumstances, one part of your own country to another. Imagine how much more stressful it would be to move to a foreign country. Compound that with the routine challenges of college life, and you have a vague sense of the kind of pressure that the 886,052 international students in the United States cope with.
Thankfully, as an international student, you’re not alone. While you already have the support of family, friends, classmates, and professors, there may also be a better-equipped (yet less often recognized) resource at your disposal: a counselor. Many universities employ counselors to promote the academic, personal, and social well-being of their students, and they are typically available to see free of cost. These are just a few of the ways in which counselors can help you:
1. Counselors Can Help You Plan Your Academic and Professional Careers
Planning a fruitful academic career that will lead to a rewarding professional career can be challenging for any student. However, it may be especially challenging if you’re unfamiliar with the cultural norms that often inform how one successfully makes the transition between school and work. Internships, for example, aren’t necessarily a global component of education, yet you may be required to complete one in order to enter certain career fields in the U.S.
Counselors are the perfect people to help you fill these “cultural gaps.” Simply meeting with a counselor to discuss career goals can provide you with an invaluable opportunity to express your hopes for the future and reflect on your achievements. For a sharp-eared counselor, this would also be the perfect opportunity to ensure that you’ve fully grasped the cultural dynamics of work and study in the U.S. There’s also the added bonus of the various academic and professional resources typically at a counselor’s disposal for you to utilize, such as tutoring or résumé workshops.
2. Counselors Can Help You Navigate Immigration Regulations
While every student might be able to relate to academic and professional anxieties, as an international student, you also take on the stress of immigration. Visa applications, deadlines for renewals, and impenetrable bureaucratic language are just some of the issues you’ll encounter, but if they’re not met head on with foresight and certitude, the consequences can be drastic.
Again, this is where counselors can help. Many universities that host a considerable number of international students have a specialized counselor who, besides being able to provide the kind of support mentioned throughout this article, also know the ins and outs of student visa regulations. They should be able to assist you with compiling applications, staying on track for deadlines, and cutting through legalese that would stump even a native English speaker. This is precisely the type of inside information that only a counselor can offer, so be sure to take advantage of it.
3. Counselors Can Help You Cope with Culture Shock and Homesickness
This last point might be the least conventionally practical of the three, but that doesn’t make it any less significant. Getting into all of the right classes to set you up for the job you want and having your visa sorted so you can continue studying are both undoubtedly important, but staying in a state of mind that’s healthy is the groundwork that makes those other accomplishments possible. And it’s understandably difficult, after leaving your family and friends to embark for a strange land where you know relatively no one, to remain positive and productive.
As an international student, you may suffer from anxiety that negatively affects your academic performance—which may in turn create more anxiety, fueling a vicious cycle. Counselors understand this and are ready to help. Through one-on-one counseling sessions or group therapy, counselors can offer you a sympathetic ear, which you may not have had since leaving home. Counselors can also provide feedback that may help you break out of problematic modes of thinking. Additionally, because they are plugged into the academic infrastructure, counselors may be able to connect you with the wider school community, easing feelings of loneliness and isolation. The challenges of living and studying abroad are real, but no one should have to go through them alone.
Julie Perron is an editor at 2U.com. 2U partners with leading colleges and universities to deliver the world’s best online degree programs so students everywhere can reach their full potential.