In today's society, studying abroad is a big dream for many students, especially in Asia. Studying abroad means new opportunities, new friends, better education and in some case, a better life. It is common for a student to prepare years before the important date. However, are you fully prepared? I was definitely not prepared. I end up regretting things, so I decided to write this article hoping it could help someone. Here is a list of things I, as a high school student, wish I knew/did before coming to the United States of America:
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- It is going to be difficult. There is no overstatement when I say this. You grew up in a country, live in it, socialize in it. You, scientifically, adapted to your environment. Therefore, moving half way across the world is going to be difficult. I'm saying this not to discourage you, I want you to know that it is totally fine to feel homesick or cultural shock or breakdown.
- Things will change, so does people. You will change. Time moves one direction and constantly changes every second. We are time's friends, we move with it. Each second past, you change physically and mentally. Studying abroad is like a character leaving a book and enter a new one. Even though your part in the book have ended, it doesn't mean that the book stops with you; the plot continues. This being said, you can't expect someone to remain the same, so don't be surprised when you feel like your best friend forever act “weirder” or your worst enemy seems nice when you get back.
- I wish I put my mind more in science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, and Biology). Understanding of these subjects will make it a lot easier when studying in the US. Scientific words are hard to understand, so if we can apply what we learned to English, you're good to go. Also, there is an annual science fair for all high school students. This fair requires you to make a science project, and what could possibly be better for a project than knowledge?
- I wish I have read more books written in English. In America, English classes usually requires SSR (Sustained Silence Reading). Basically, you have about 15 minutes class time/each class to read books. You will be graded monthly based on the number of pages that you have read. Usually, you need at least 600 pages to get a 100. This means a lot of reading, every free time you get, you're going to have to read. I wasn't ready for this challenge. Not many teenagers in Vietnam have a chance to read a book due to the overwhelming amount of homework given. Tell me if this sounds familiar? I went to school from 6:30 A.M., get back home at 8:30 P.M., do my homework 'til 12 A.M. The only day in the week that I'm really free is Saturday, but weekend extra classes set in. Every valuable free time I get, I spend it on movies and games. I understand that it is hard to touch a book when you've been cramming school's books every day. However, if you're going to study abroad in the US, try to read books written in English on occasions. I recommend reading genres that you like whether it's romance or adventure.
- Consider reading "Harry Potter." From what I gather, the "Harry Potter" series is good. If you love the movie, read the book! If you didn't like the movie, give the book a try! According to all my classmates and teachers who have read the book, the book is great. You can check the reviews online if you still don't trust me. Another reason is because the book is popular among teenagers, adolescents as well as adults. After reading the book, you will never be “out of topic” when talking with someone. Again, you don't have to if you don't like the genre.
- Be familiar to Netflix and get it if possible (or Hulu). Netflix is love, Netflix is life. The reason why I'm saying this is because Netflix is a good entertainment (After you're done with your SSR assignment, of course). Not just an entertainment, it can be a tool for socializing. The vast majority of American students know and watch Netflix. So when you get to class and someone is talking about the new "Walking Dead" episode, you can join the conversation casually like a boss.
- If you are an ambitious high school student, who aims for scholarships and good colleges (In the US). Take the ACT or SAT test prep course available in your hometown. TOEFL is indeed important for international students, the same applies to ACT/SAT. The ACT and SAT tests are standardized tests, used by many colleges/universities in the US for admission. The higher score you get in those test, the greater chance you will be admitted to your dream college, as well as scholarship opportunities. Some colleges even offer tuition reduction based on the ACT/SAT score. I can't emphasize enough how important these two tests are. Having a test prep course will help you familiar with the test structure and make you feel more confident in the test room. Therefore, you can use all of your potentials. I strongly believe these tests will benefit you.
- Don't waste your time searching for topics like “How to survive high school/college,” ”I'm a freshman, what to do?” or “A day of an international student.” You probably will end up in some vlogs (video blogs) and eventually watching Pewdiepie. The videos made by
vloggersare legit and they help you feel more comfortable, but everyone is different and so does every school. Your experience at school won't be the same from what you see online. So save up your time, and read a book or even watch an episode of your favorite TV show.
- Cambridge courses are legit and effective. (This might only apply to some Vietnamese school). Have you ever wonder what children learn in the US? Cambridge classes teach similar things, especially in Math and Science. Cambridge courses might be considered as a scam, but it worked well for me.
Overall, these are my experiences and what I want to change if I can travel to the past. Some of it might not apply to you or nothing at all, but if it applied to you, don't be like me and keep on saying “I wish.” Just do it! Studying abroad in the United States might be overwhelming, but the experience is worth every penny and every tear.