Advice from international students on studying in the U.S.

“Be active! Participate in school activities, make new friends... Of course your main goal is to study, try your best to get good grades, but don’t forget to enjoy other things as well beside the academics.”

If you’re thinking about studying overseas, then getting advice from other international students is crucial, such as those wise words from Vietnamese student Quan Nguyen, a Computer Science major at Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) in Reno, Nevada, USA.

We were so impressed with the stories from TMCC’s students that we gathered them up into today’s article, which offers essential tips for how to maximise your opportunities once in the USA, and how their hard work and persistence is paying off.

Top tip from students - Take the first step

Many of TMCC’s students talk about the importance of having a well-rounded college experience and being brave enough to take the first step - whether it’s in or out of the classroom.

Callista Ziwei Chim from Malaysia explains, "Americans are friendly and welcoming, but I had to have the courage to make the first move. Once I started communicating with them, then they would treat me with kindness. So, be confident and brave to start the conversation."

"For me, [making friends in the USA] was easier than I expected. All you have to do is be active, open your heart and they will come to you," says Quan.

Would you like to speak to someone from Truckee Meadows to find out which programme is right for you? Follow the advice from their own students and take the first step today! Fill in our quick form and one of their reps will contact you to share more information and schedule an online appointment.

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A flexible start to your American education

One theme that stands out when hearing the stories from Truckee Meadows’ international students is “opportunities”. It might sound cliché to say that America is the Land of Opportunities, but there’s a reason why expressions like this exist – there’s truth in it! And those opportunities become even more apparent when you look at community colleges across the USA.

These types of higher education institutions are primarily designed to serve their local communities, creating a variety of educational and career options for students of all ages, backgrounds and financial profiles. Highly flexible in their curriculum design, these two-year colleges allow students to take a number of different classes for a fraction of the cost of a larger, four-year university – an ideal solution if you’re not exactly sure what you want to major in or which career path is right for you.

“The credit-based system used in universities allows students to change their degrees easily as compared to colleges of other countries,” explains Callista. She continues, “Choosing to study in a community college costs a lot less than heading to university straight away. Although there is a huge difference in price, this does not mean the education received is lower quality. In fact, all my professors are experienced in their domain and are always willing to help out. The class size is small, creating a comfortable learning environment.”

In most cases, the credits you earn from those classes can be transferred over to your next university where you’ll complete your Bachelor’s degree. Alternatively, you can graduate from a community college like TMCC with your Associate’s degree and gain up to one year of work experience through Optional Practical Training (OPT).

With benefits like these, it’s easy to see why many international students in the USA enjoy the cost-saving advantages of a community college education, as well as the accessibility of student services that in some cases, prove to be exceptional (keep reading for an example!).

Every student’s voice counts!

Although nearly every university out there will give you the chance to get involved on campus, it isnt too common to be able to meet your university president and spend an evening asking him or her questions about your programme or the institution’s future plans.

But it is at Truckee Meadows Community College. Through their annual Pasta with the President event, students are given a chance to “have an open space to talk to the president, ask questions regarding what is going on campus, suggest ideas and areas of improvement, and simply get involved,” explains TMCC international student blogger Valeria Saborio. The event left such an impression on her that Valeria decided to run for Vice President of the Student Government Association, a role which she says “has opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on how my school works internally and externally. I really admire the way our College President leads our school with such enthusiasm and passion. She really engages with students on a daily basis and is open to hearing students at all times.”

It’s that kind of access to a school’s leaders which makes smaller institutions more desirable for some students. Yet TMCC has over 15,000 students, proving that it’s not the number of students that matters – it’s the attention an institution gives to each one.

That level of student support is also evidenced in TMCC’s learning environment, where there’s an average of 20 students per class and teachers are always available to help students after class or during dedicated office hours.

The thing I like most about TMCC is the people,” says Quan. “People here are really nice, from friends to professors and even the staff. They are willing to help you if you ever have troubles in your studies and your social life.”

When you’re looking at different institutions for your higher education, always be sure to ask what kind of student support exists. For example, find out if they run a Peer Mentors programme like the one at TMCC, which acts like a buddy system with current students helping new ones to find resources on campus and get integrated into the community. They also have an International Club, a social support network for both international and domestic students that organises events and field trips such as the visit to the pumpkin patch farm that Quan joined. He enthuses, “It was an unforgettable experience for me and I also made more new friends.”

Thanks to studying abroad in the USA, Quan says he has had “the opportunity to encounter many other cultures, learn more about those and even make unforgettable friendships with people all around the globe.”

Indeed, an education overseas is about more than what happens in the classroom. Valeria sums it up like so: “This is one of the best times of your life and you don’t want to realise this after it is gone. Appreciate having the opportunity to learn every day, study as much as you can, and give your best in all you do. Yes, college is stressful, but it is also a time to reinvent yourself, build your path and make life-long friends.”

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Comparing an American education to one from back home

Making the leap from home to the United States can feel daunting, but as Truckee Meadows’ foreign students say, adjusting is quick and easy.

Chilean student Yazir Nauhm-Barrios explains, “The American system is different than the Chilean, but it’s not hard to adapt to, because it’s more flexible and efficient. Students can build their own schedule with the classes they want and that fit their degree—it’s great.”

Accounting major from China Hui Zhu agrees, “It is a really different educational system, but I like it more than [the] Chinese education.”

Callista chimes in, “Getting used to the American educational system is not difficult. The education system here provides students with a lot of freedom. So, having discipline and good time management is crucial.”

She continues, “The reason I chose to study economics in America is that I wanted to improve my language skills and to learn more about the practical side of economics. This gives me the upper hand when I step into the real world.”

Learning life skills while studying in the USA

That connection between the classroom and the real world is a crucial decision-making factor for many students today. Originally from Thailand, TMCC student Boonpa Ing-Anuraksakul gives another example: “In my logistics management class, we had case studies to discuss: Ford company, HP, Ralph Lauren, and so on. We imagined that we were managers and analysed the problems and solutions. We applied strategies that we learned from the textbook to solve problems. In my country you pretty much memorise the textbook, but don’t learn how to apply knowledge and cannot talk in class. Here, you learn to apply and talk about the experiences. I know how to sort and solve problems.”

Problem solving is a key 21st century skill that employers all around the world look for in job candidates, so getting this kind of experience while you’re studying will give you a genuine advantage. Through case studies and interactive group work, you’ll be exposed to various scenarios to test your skills. Working part-time while you’re studying or getting involved in student clubs and organisations are great additional ways to gain skills first-hand.

When reflecting on her role as Vice President in TMCC’s student government, Valeria elaborates, “Having this job is very challenging but rewarding. I have learned so much about being professional, working as a team, developing strategies for complex situations and optimising the resources that we have at our college. It makes us so happy to see our students accomplish their goals and to know that we were able to contribute to their success.”

Learning from the best and taking that knowledge home

Like many international students today, you’re probably considering universities in several countries. With international enrolments topping one million, the U.S. is the most popular destination for foreign students, and its high quality standards continue to be a strong draw for many, including students at TMCC.

Yazir explains why he chose to study Fire Science Technology and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) there: "The chance to learn from instructors with vast experience, and with top-of-the-line infrastructure is what I like best... My maximum goal is to contribute to the modernisation of the emergency management system in Chile. There are learning training methods that I’ve acquired in the U.S., which might be of use to train Chilean firefighters."

Chinese student Hui agrees that quality counts: "I want to be an accountant. America is a very developed country, but China is a developing country. I believe that what I learn in the USA will help me a lot in my own career and in the needs of my country."

While TMCC students enjoy each day to its fullest, they never seem to forget their end goal: taking newfound knowledge and skills back home. When asked what she cherishes the most about her time in America, Boonpa comments, "The most important thing my U.S. education taught me is English skills. Before I came here my English was really bad and it was hard to find a job. Most international companies require English skills. Now, I can work in different countries and my job opportunities have expanded."

Naturally, learning a new language like English isn’t easy. Boonpa continues, "The first ESL class was tough. I didn’t understand what the teacher was saying. I spent a whole day studying. Reading and listening helps. I spend a lot of time speaking English and don’t speak a lot of Thai. I can feel my English getting better. Because I study different classes, I learn new vocabulary. For example, I didn’t understand the news about politics. Now I understand because I studied politics."

Many foreign students at TMCC note the transition they’ve made during their time there, no matter how long or short it might be. Economics major Callista remarks that after six months, "I gradually found myself being able to fluently speak English soon and I feel less nervous and shy while using a new language. My confidence in my English skills has gone up significantly."

And while it might feel unnatural at first, Boonpa explains how important it is to adapt and be proactive. "If the teacher asks a specific question, I’m going to answer. Sometimes I share my experiences in class. Before I felt shy, now I feel better with public speaking. Talking in the class counts as participation. You can’t make a good grade if you stay quiet."

Love the mountains? Then Reno is for you!

A school’s location also plays a big part in the kind of experience you will have as a student in the USA. Situated on the California-Nevada state border, TMCC’s home city of Reno is framed by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and is a short drive away from Lake Tahoe where you can bask on sandy beaches, swim, kayak, fish or hike, plus ski and snowboard in winter. With 300 days of sunshine a year, there’s “countless reasons not to stay home”, as Yazir explains with a smile.

Truckee Meadows Community College offers a near 360-view of the mountains, so it’s no surprise that it’s been voted one of the top 15 most scenic community colleges in America. The city of Reno is popular amongst tourists and students, and its smaller size makes it safer and easy to get around as well as offers a “calm and quiet environment”, which appealed to Callista and Quan.

To learn more about TMCC’s location, check out the video below, which was created by two TMCC international students from Costa Rica, Jeff and Valeria, as a way to welcome new international students and show what they love about TMCC, Reno and the surrounding area.

Before you fill in TMCC’s contact form, we’ll leave you with some parting thoughts from Yazir on the importance of perseverance: “I know that for many, studying abroad, especially in the U.S., is a dream. I consider myself fortunate for having this chance. But luck isn’t everything. It’s very important not to get discouraged and not let all the obstacles, whether financial, language-related or bureaucratic, undermine our dreams. There might be times when you feel uncertain of whether the project is even going to work out. This causes an overwhelmingly demotivating effect. So, take a break, but then carry on, step-by-step. This is a dream that is possible.”

Ready to follow your dreams? Fill in our form and an Admissions Counsellor from Truckee Meadows will contact you to schedule a private, virtual appointment to help you study abroad.