By Sandra Boggie
So, you have done your research, you have selected colleges to apply to, applied, gotten accepted and made a decision! Congratulations because in about three months, most of you will be leaving the places you grew up for 17 years or so to come to St. John’s College. While the city of Santa Fe is fairly easy to navigate, adjusting is still going to be a problem and let no one tell you it isn’t. Being a freshman in college is hard, but being a freshman in college in a completely different country is another experience altogether. It’s definitely exciting, but it’s also intimidating.
As a current international student, I am here to reassure you that even though those butterflies keep coming, the entire process is definitely worth it. Luckily for you, I am putting together this fantastic guide to help you navigate the entire prep process.
Let’s look at some important preparation prior to leaving your country:
Visa rules, including application and processing time will vary depending on the country you are from. You may want to check your local US consulate website for more information before you choose to begin the application process. Visa processing time may take between 6 to 8 weeks so you want to make sure you begin the application process as soon as you can. Make sure to be aware of the specific requirements for your country, but the college does have some very useful general information.
Your country’s US Consulate website will list all the things that you will require prior to your interview. One thing they will not tell you though is that the amount of money that reflects on your bank statement should be able to cover the difference of your awarded aid from the cost of attendance. What I mean is, the amount of money in your bank statement should be equal to if not more than the amount of ‘family contribution’ indicated on your I-20.
Internationals, I understand the excitement that comes with knowing you are going to study in the US! Do not forget that the officer wants to hear that you have intentions of returning to your country after the 4 years of study. Do not let your excitement make you say something like you are looking to get a good job and settle in the U.S and have a family. That is a whole separate process!
After you get your visa, you have to pay the SEVIS fee. Or maybe if you go to a nice High School, they will pay for you 🙂
SEVIS stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Program and is a program within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement which monitors students and exchange visitors in the United States with F, M, or J visas status. The fee to get into the system is usually about $200 but I am not sure if this varies per visa type or country so you may want to Google it! This fee is very important because without getting into the SEVIS system, you will not be allowed into the US.
Well, I guess you can now book your tickets! See you on campus! :)*
It is mandatory for international students to register to the college’s Health Insurance after enrolling. The health office is definitely going to send you all the information that you need. It is going to be a breeze because they have outlined all the important stuff that is required of you. At the college, international students are covered by Geo Blue Company. If you have your own private health insurance that will cover you in the US, and get it approved by the college, then you are welcome to use it but most of us let the college do that work lol. We have a well-equipped Student Health Center providing care for all students with their routine health problems and minor injuries.
Something to remember though is that you will have to take a bunch of tests before you can come here. If you haven’t yet, start making arrangements with your local healthcare provider on how to get the tetanus, meningitis and TB vaccines. For your own good also, just do a bunch of random tests like eye, ear and dental checks. You just want to know that all is well before you go to another country cause healthcare is dang expensive here.
WHAT TO BRING
The US is a country with four seasons. Winter was a shock for me so just carry warm stuff like winter coat and boots so you don’t have to buy them during the season as they tend to be a bit pricey. You should also bring light clothing items, as it gets quite warm starting in June. Carry cute dresses for the summer and nice sandals *wink*.
Do not bring in any plants or food without declaring or else you will get in a ton of mess with customs. On the flight, the attendant will give you a form to fill. In that form, you have to declare if you have the items listed. That way, it will be a breeze entering the US soil. Who wants to come all this way only to be put on the next flight back home?
Before I forget! Always check the baggage restriction with your respective airline; check the weight limit, limit on the number of bags that can be checked in and so on.
Let’s look at some important stuff once you get here:
You will be jet lagged, at least the first few weeks. I never suffered jetlag but it is a very personal experience and most of my other international friends were sick for days! Leave home well rested because flying halfway around the world is stressful. While in the plane, rest and reset. Don’t prolong jet lag by reminding yourself what time it is back home. When the pilot announces the local time, adjust your inner clock to that time. On arrival, stay awake until an early local bedtime. If all these don’t work out and you have no fear of medication, you may want to try Ambien, which is a sleep aid. Start looking into a regimen to get through a jet lag. You don’t want to be left behind as far as class attendance goes.
Honestly, your version of America, prior to getting here is based on TV stereotypes. Americans are people just like everyone else. Feel free, feel at home. This is the one country that embraces diversity like no one’s business. Oh and the Santa Fe campus is literally a home away from home.
Make friends. Seriously make friends or else you will be all alone on campus, on Thanksgiving, scrolling through Instagram photos of everyone else’s family and food programs. If you take my advice though, you will be in an American home roasting turkey, corn on the cob, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie and generally just having fun with your friend’s family.
Quit the temptation to convert everything from American dollars to your home currency. That habit has a weird way of making you feel so rich or abysmally poor!
You pronunciation and your spelling of certain words will be totally off from everyone else’s. Remember, your way isn’t wrong, it’s just different.
Be ready to go days without talking to your parents and friends back home because when they’re up and free to call, you are probably in class. This is caused by the time difference. If you are from East Africa for example, you will experience an incredible 8-hour difference! It’s okay though. Soon enough we all figure out a schedule that works.
While the culture of tipping may not be very well established in some countries, it is a norm here. You want to have a bit more when you go out. Oh! There are taxes also. Be ready to spend a little bit more.