International Students: What I Wish I Knew Before NYU

Tiffanie Hwang
International students at NYU often struggle to adjust to the college environment and American culture at the same time.

Going to a university is a daunting experience, as students find themselves in a new setting — often a new city or state, with unfamiliar faces. But college is an even bigger adjustment for students studying in a completely different country.

NYU students aren’t strangers to a global student body, seeing that NYU has the second highest number of undergraduate international students in the United States, with more than 5,000 coming from over 130 countries. Adjusting can be a difficult transition, as international students must acclimate not only to the NYU campus, but also the New York City way of life.

NYU students work year round – not just in the summer – but international students require special permission, or sponsorship, from the United States to work or intern here.

CAS junior Samaira Prothi, an international student from India, wishes someone from NYU or Wasserman would have helped explain sponsorship and the complicated process to her.

“Norms regarding visa policies and changes in sponsorship rules tend to be huge challenges,” Prothi said.

NYU provides resources to help international students transition, but these resources don’t always reach their intended targets, leaving students unaware of their presence.

“Wasserman and OGS [Office of Global Services] tend to be great resources, but I would appreciate greater coordination and vigilance on their part to keep all international students informed,” Prothi said.

Many students experience culture shock, with even little things inherent to American culture that can make it seem very foreign. CAS senior Jun Park from Brazil experienced this with American food norms.

“I wish someone would’ve told me that in the United States, you eat pizza with your hands and not with a fork and knife,” Park said. “I used to look like a fool for such a long time.”

Some students have had to deal with more immediate consequences of cultural differences. Park experienced this firsthand when he encountered tipping culture.

“My first time here, I just left a restaurant, and the waiter ran after me saying I had to tip,” Park said. “Of course I did after, but I just didn’t know, because in most countries, you don’t tip or it’s optional.”

For some students, it can be difficult to navigate a new social scene while balancing a social life with schoolwork. CAS junior Jane Han from China encountered this dilemma when trying to decide what she wanted to do with her future while trying to make friends.

“It was hard for me to figure out my goals for the next four years and still enjoy and learn the social scene here — the drinking culture, how to make friends and not just stick to my same circle,” Han said. “It would be helpful if international students had orientation leaders or staff from NYU that would actively try to guide you through the process. It would make the international student’s experience and adjustment to the school and city a lot easier.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb.6 print edition. Email Tiffanie at [email protected].



  1. For a long time I have wished that there were guides to assist students from other countries or even from other parts of the country about considerate public comportment, that we in this country try to keep to the right of sidewalks or stairs and that it’s difficult to negotiate walking with 5 or 6 friends without causing others to be pushed out into the street or lag behind a slow moving group.

  2. Being an international student difficult, on top of our already complex culture and language. Assimilation assistance must come from numerous sources to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey. Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand so we all have a win-win situation.
    One such new award-winning worldwide book/ebook that reaches out to help anyone coming to the US is “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” It is used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors. It also identifies “foreigners” who became successful in the US and how they’ve contributed to our society, including students.
    A chapter on education explains how to be accepted to an American university and cope with a confusing new culture, friendship process and daunting classroom differences. Some stay after graduation. It has chapters that explain how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.
    It also has chapters that identify the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
    Good luck to all at NYU or wherever you study or wherever you come from, because that is the TRUE spirit of the American PEOPLE, not a few in government who have the loudest voice!


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