By Laura Gomez Cadena, BA in International Affairs and Economics, GWU 2018
Studying abroad is a great opportunity. You not only get to embrace a different culture and different education system, but you most importantly will learn to see the world from the perspective of many other students around the globe. Being born and raised in Colombia, I was fortunate that, throughout my formative years, I had the opportunity to travel and study abroad on many occasions. I decided, when coming to GW, to make this experience worthwhile. This is why I want to share five important tips with all the students who have been, would be, or are an international student, especially those at The George Washington University.
- Leave your comfort zone
The first thing I did when coming to GW was meet a group of students who speak Spanish that later became the “Latin crew.” It was great to just find people in an unknown place that not only share your language, but also your culture and experiences; they became the basis for my group of friends at GW. However, I started to understand that being at GW was more than just finding that comfort zone in an unfamiliar world. I needed to interact with diverse students that could better help me understand the place I lived in. I became friends with many students from all over the world and I knew that I would broaden my horizons by moving beyond my Hispanic friends.
So, get out of your comfort zone! Take advantage of the fact that you are in an amazingly diverse community not only to improve your English, but also to understand other cultures, or even learn a new language! Amazing resources, such as the French café are available and the city has plenty of cultural activities to offer.
- Be open-minded, but do not forget your roots
Being open minded, embracing all types of different cultures, respecting them, or even adopting some of the amazing aspects you can get from them is by far one of the most important things to do. However, it is more important to never forget where you come from. Everyday I remember that I am working to help my country and its people improve. My childhood, family and friends that I left back in Colombia define who I am; it’s the support of those who I left in my home country that allowed me to be where I am today. Don’t forget your past either! Where you come from should make you proud and a stronger person. A way I’ve decided to make sure I keep working for my country is by working with GW PorColombia. Whether you are an international student, a first generation, or an American student who will be leaving to study abroad, try to keep your culture with you too; that is one of the most valuable things you’ll have. I’ve done this by getting involved in a student org specific to my country, but other ways exist, such as attending events in your embassy and attending talks regarding your culture
- Use on-campus resources
Something I’m very proud about being a Colonial is to know all the amazing opportunities GW has created for international students, starting with an office that makes sure you keep your legal status all year long, to a student that advocates for your rights in the student body! The International Services Office (ISO) is definitively the number one place to start at. With amazing advisors that would walk you through any process you face as an international student, it is a place you will find countless resources to better adapt to the community. Another resource is using those students that have decided to be your advocates. The director and assistant director for international students at GW represent all the international student communities and are in charge all year long to develop new initiatives that would improve your experience on campus and abroad. As the assistant director this year, I’ve been focusing on improving internship and job opportunities for international students back in their home countries, or abroad, through the networking with GW alumni in these countries. Referring to these student leaders would be very helpful. Another great resource is getting in contact with the International Students Community (ISC), “a student org who brings international students at GW together in order to engage them in different cultural, social, and leadership experiences on campus”. Finally, taking advantage of the International Students Career Ambassadors (ISCA) would allow you the opportunity to be advised by a peer international student, who has been specifically trained to “provide peer-to-peer career advising for all international students across campus”
- Network, network, network! It never gets old.
One of the most important things I have learned from not only being an International Affairs major, but from holding leadership positions on campus is the importance of networking. Talking to people who come from the same country or with whom you share a career path could be useful. This was something told to me by every advisor and career coach I met at GW, but my biggest question was: how do I do it? After many interview meetings, cafes, and lunches, I have two tips that could improve your networking skills. First, have a career card. Having one of these with your basic information shows that you are prepared for anyone you meet and for any offer you receive. Second, use LinkedIn! When I first came to college it took me a while to create a LinkedIn profile, but eventually I figured it out. It turns out that it’s a great resource to find professionals back home and abroad to connect with.
- You are not just an international student: you are a student of world!
Being exposed to such a multicultural city allows you to better understand diversity and transforms you into a student of the world. But being a student of the world doesn’t necessarily mean that you physically traveled to a different country: it is anyone who seeks to learn about cultures other than his or her own. This is because we are today in a world with less communication barriers, and by sharing the experiences with each other, we convert ourselves into global students. So remember, you are not only an international student: you are a student of the world!