Settling In: Student Life After the First Few Weeks

The first few weeks of student life on the J-1 program can be a bit stressful to say the very least. While you are taking in all the exciting new possibilities around you, you are simultaneously being bombarded by constant cultural differences and new surroundings. What anthropologists and sociologists like to call “Culture Shock” is, in the simplest terms, that nagging sensation that everything around you seems strange and confusing simply because you have changed your physical location. Transplanting yourself from a comfortable and familiar environment brings with it the inevitable realization that you are no longer at home; adapting to your new life is going to be a challenge. But rather than harp on the negative, there are ways (some of which you have probably already figured out) to help you ease into living abroad.

Dusan arriving at DFW airport

To begin, try to distance yourself from your home country. No, that doesn’t mean sever all ties with your family and friends, but do your best to keep contact to a minimum. An effective schedule is twice a month, or at most once a week for phone calls and video chats. This may sounds a little radical at first, but time and again students have driven themselves crazy with homesickness by keeping in constant contact with friends and relatives back home. Cut the tether. Remember that you undertook this endeavor to broaden your horizons. This is harder to do when you are still looking back as opposed to ahead. Instead, talk to your home country about your host family and new acquaintances at school. You will be surprised when people marvel at hearing stories about where you come from, and how different it is from the U.S. Their interest and support will help you adjust to living in your new home.


Another adjustment strategy that you should try is to dive right into American culture headfirst. Read American books and magazines, watch American movies, listen to American music, and speak English to everyone. This will not only help you improve your language skills, it will also give you something to talk about with your peers. Additionally, immersing yourself in American culture will make your experience here more memorable and easier to navigate. You will be more receptive to the way people talk, act, and think if you try to understand your peer’s cultural influences. At the same time offer your friends and host family some cultural artifacts from your home country. Lend them a book, recommend a film, clue them into music that you listen to back home, tell them what kind of foods you like to eat, or what you do for fun. Exchanging culture is what the J-1 program is all about, and being interested in what other people do will show them that you are making the effort to learn what it is like to be an American.

While you are doing your best to adjust to life in the U.S.A., also try to keep in mind that school and family are two very important parts of your life in here. Your host family volunteered for the program, and your school wanted to offer you an American education. Both did it for the experience and the opportunity to help you realize your dream of studying abroad. Although your family, peers, and teachers may think and act differently than people did in your home country that doesn’t make them bad, strange, or weird. Reconciling cultural differences is what makes this program so important, and the first step in accomplishing that goal is learning about one another.


Now that you have been here for a few weeks you should be settling in nicely, getting involved in activities, and making friends. The first few weeks may have been chaotic and disorienting, but that time has passed. So relax, enjoy yourself, give it your all in school, and learn as much as you can. Don’t think about what you will do when you return home but what you will do with the time you have here. How will you make every moment of this experience count? The choice is yours.

Getting Involved in Your Community

For arriving students, one of the most important parts of the exchange visitor program is getting involved in the locality in which you find yourself placed. The benefits are numerous, not the least of which will be the enhancement to the overall experience of being an exchange visitor. It will also help you to build memories, make friends, and feel like a part of something greater and larger than yourself. But what is “getting involved”? What does being a member of a community really mean? And how does one find a route to get there?

Boglarka Tampa

For starters, you need to divest yourself of the fear of meeting strangers. Since you have decided to come on the J-1 Exchange Program in the first place, perhaps this is a fear you have already conquered. However, if you need a little boost the easiest way to get involved in your community is to find groups who share your interests. Are you an avid football fan? Perhaps you can find a club or join a team through your school. Do you consider yourself an artist? Many communities have interest groups that will help you to explore your talents. Joining a groups such as these offers the opportunity to meet like-minded people, improve your English skills through discussion and conversation, and offers an inroad to meeting more and more people as you increase your network of acquaintances.


If you are not sure where to begin, good places to research existing groups are church bulletins, local shopper newspapers, libraries, and local events, such as fairs and open markets. These places will post notices about upcoming events, groups to contact, and places where people congregate. By keeping an open mind and thinking about what makes you and your new neighbors similar as opposed to what makes you different, you will naturally devise more and more ways to meet new people. Always make responsible decisions about where you are going and how you plan to meet new people. Be safe by being careful.

First Bus Ride

It is also worth mentioning that community outreach organizations and service groups are always looking for volunteers. A great way to make strong connections in your community is to show your community that you care by pitching in and helping out. Look for opportunities like food pantries, soup kitchens, and clothing drives, as well as hospitals, Salvation Army, and Red Cross Locations. Charitable organizations like these are great places to meet people and extend your friendship. When people see that a visitor to their country cares enough about them to help out, they will be happily impressed with your efforts and appreciative of your help.


Are you still not convinced? Consider a few other things. First of all, this program is not just about academics. Of course, doing well in school is of the utmost importance, but learning about American culture is at the same level. There is no better way to learn about how Americans live then to get to know a few. Additionally, your school is going to be your second home. Consider that you will spend more than eight hours a day within its walls. It would be a shame to miss out on the opportunity to get to know your classmates, especially when you will be spending so much time together.


Ultimately the decision is yours, but if memories and experience are the reasons you joined the program, then get out into the community and get to know your neighbors. Join clubs at school, volunteer to help with homecoming, learn to play an instrument, or show off your talents by joining one of the sports teams. Whatever you decide just remember to get to know the place you live in. You have been given the chance of a lifetime. Make it count. Good luck!