Study in USA : 6 Must-Do's as a Freshman in University

September is just around the corner and this means a new academic year for those of you studying in the Northern hemisphere in countries like UK, Canada and the USA. Whether you are just beginning university life or you're entering another year of study, there just seems to be a whole mix of emotions that can be very overwhelming. Perhaps you had a terrible last semester and want to make it better this time, or it's your first time in a new environment, here are several reminders that I want to share from experience so you won't end up worrying during your most crucial moments.

But before that, a short intro. I landed smack in the middle of Austin, Texas (USA) in 2009 to study geophysics under PETRONAS's sponsorship. After finishing my pre-U IBDP, I thought I could do even better in university. However, I wasn't too happy with how my first semester ended and didn't achieve what I expected. On top of that, there are very few Malaysians there (20 ish including migrant Malaysian students out of a population of 50,000) so there was more adjusting to do. So, over the many semesters I was there till my graduation, I seeked ways to make the most of my experience there.

Me and my university's mascot, Bevo the longhorn.

# 1. Get acquainted with the International Student's Office/Council/Association

The university surely has a ton of resources to help you get started. Usually the International Students Office or Council can provide you with a range of services that may include dealing with your legal status as students to organizing activities for students to mix and make friends. My university (USA) gave me assistance from dealing with removing some courses I opted not to take, to teaching me how to get reimbursements for my taxed scholarship money. They also organized fun field trips to places around the area and also celebrations dinners. [can attach pictures of you and your friends in field trips and dinners, it like you bringing them there for a quick experience]. If they have a newsletter, subscribe to it and you may find an easier way to adjust yourself better.

Here is a field trip to Enchanted Rock in Austin, Texas with other international students. I basically hiked up a massive Pink Granite dome.

This is the Zilker Kite Festival. There were competitions and everyone came here just to fly kites during spring. I was flying a kite that was given free to me!

# 2. Get to know the resources available in the library

The library is a great place to get help with that work you need done. You probably won't have assignments to do right now or have to prepare for a test, but getting to know the resources available can be a last minute time saver. Here are some things you can try asking your library if they have them:

Archived magazines (Try National Geographic)
Thick old dictionaries
Online academic journals (for research)
Old yearbooks (they have these in the USA)
Textbooks (some lets you loan them for the semester. Saves you money)
Instrumentation (rulers, calculators, earphones and other measuring devices)
Electronics (laptops, tablets, headphones)

I once forgot to bring my calculator and managed to borrow one from the library right before the test. So, make the extra effort to explore the library as it will help you a lot throughout the semester.

Taking a look at the post boards can be entertaining sometimes.

# 3. Talk to your course mates and get to know them

There is no loss for you in doing this. In fact, you stand to gain a much by getting to know people right during the first day/week of classes. In fact, it is easier to build that rapport now than later when everyone has their own study groups or course "buddy". They can help tell you if you missed an important lecture and sharing notes saves a lot of time. Not only that, you gain to learn a lot more when you have someone to discuss the course lectures than having to deal with struggling through the course alone.

This was an excursion to San Antonio to attend a geophysics convention with my fellow coursemates in November 2011. Much learning and fun!

# 4. Don't skip class

Okay, so some universities have lecture captures and you can give yourself the excuse of not going because you can study in comfort from home. Well, it may work to your benefit, but what if you had a surprise quiz or if attendance is taken? Cold weatherclass is too far or boring professor are really terrible excuses. Students who succeed almost always make it to all of their classes. The discussions whether you contribute or not is sometimes worth listening too. About the boring professor? Try approaching them after the lectures to talk to them. In fact, giving feedback to professors can help them make the class better rather than you sitting and dealing with their terrible teaching.

Best class that I wouldn't miss out on. Geology field trip to Oklahoma in a string of vans. We drove with out professors and he cooked steaks for us all!

# 5. Dishonesty IS. NOT. COOL... but Collaboration is OKAY. 

I have heard of terrible stories of plagiarism and dishonest students. They get suspension or sometimes, kicked out of the university entirely. It never pays to take credit for other people's work and if you think that is okay, you should seriously question your existence in a university. So, if that difficult writing assignment or math problem gets to you, seek help from a fellow course mate. They are probably struggling with it and you can both collaborate to work on it. If not, you can always get tutoring help or feedback from professors by discussing your work with them.

Yes, dishonesty outside of the academic context has serious consequences as well.

# 6. Don't forget where you put your passport

The first thing you probably want to do the first week there is just rest and get yourself cured from that awful long plane ride and jet lag. Also, you need to settle in again, clean your room (or move into a new one), get books, meet up with friends and do a billion things the first week of getting there. Just remember to keep your passport in a safe and memorable place as soon as you get there. Put a reminder on your phone or email it to yourself. Losing your passport is a huge inconvenience. It is necessary for travel and you most likely need it to prove valid status as a temporary immigrant in whichever country you are studying in, so keep it safe.

This is why your passport is very important, especially during travelling.
Preparing yourself for the worst case scenario is always ideal.

And talking about travelling, this is a picture of me looking out towards the Grand Canyon in Arizona. There will be times of struggle when you're away from home but always remember that the world is a bigger place and there are places that you can find peace. It doesn't have to be the Grand Canyon. It can be a park, under a tree or in a great big hall. So, go out, see new things and set yourself on bigger and better adventures this semester. Good luck! :-)


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  1. Nice post Camy! Brings back the memories for sure.

    Another piece of advice: Try to use winter tires if driving into snow-prone areas during roadtrips. Spending the night stuck on a highway in the middle of a snowstorm (w/ full bladder) is quite an experience :-D