Life outside classes as an international student

by Bertrand

As an international student, experience outside classes in United States will certainly differ from other local students. Regardless of which part of the world one is from, undergraduate or graduate, regardless of what experience one had before, regardless of which academic major one is following, there are always adjustments that need to be made to fit in this new environment. There is a big range of challenges; from culture shocks, language’s challenge, adjustment to different academic system, home sickness and much more. Fortunately, there are different ways to cope with this challenge. One of the efficient ways to adjust to a new environment is to make new friends, consequently sparing a portion of time spent missing home.

From my own experience, my life outside of classes has been a blast so far. I came to UAF as a graduate student, after completing my undergraduate studies in California. Obviously, the culture shock or English language was no longer the main concern, yet Alaska is different. Alaska was a brand new experience to me: I had never been in Alaska before and I knew nobody, not only at UAF but in the whole state of Alaska; I only knew few names of admission counselors or other administrative personnel who assisted me through my application process. A big applause to them, they made my application process very smooth and enjoyable.

Welcome sign at UAF (online picture)

I came to Alaska with two main goals: Academic objective of course was a priority; however exploring Alaska wonders as much as I could was another important goal. The question was ‘How could I balance my academic life and still maximize my chances to explore Alaska?’  After a little bit over one year in Alaska, I can now suggest an answer to this pertinent question: “Make friends and be involved,” simple as that. From the very first day an international student steps in UAF campus throughout the stay, there are plenty of resources, people who care, and many opportunities available. However, one needs to be involved and stay active to get the most out of it.

One of the common concerns for a non-local student is transportation: as a UAF student, there is no need to worry: Your Polar Express card (Student ID card) got you covered. UAF students ride city buses for free; just show a Polar Express card and then relax and enjoy the ride. The bus network is very convenient; city buses will get someone pretty much everywhere around including neighboring cities such as North Pole.

Another corner-stone step to take as an international student at UAF is to join student clubs or associations. UAF has more than hundred students club and association. They cover a wide range of activities from more recreational-oriented clubs like dancing, running, and cooking, to more academic-oriented club like IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Student Branch. There are no fees or time commitment, just join a club and have fun. The biggest advantage for being a club member is spending time with people with same interest or hobbies. This is an efficient way to make friends, and a golden opportunity for an international student to connect. Not everyone is interested in knowing what’s happening abroad, however a club focus will give you a first & good hint on this: for instance, members of a foreign language club are likely to have a broaden worldview or to have more interest in knowing about international community.

Students posing in front of UAF Time and Temperature sign to join the 40 Below Club 
(Online picture)

I myself am a member of a Soccer Club, IEEE student branch, Catholic Student Association, and French Club. My first friends I made in Alaska are mostly people I met in these clubs. Besides sharing close interests, hobbies and regular meetings; club members are good friends of mine, and our friendship extends beyond club meetings: we organize different activities including potluck parties, volleyball pick-nick, movie nights, and different random parties, or just hang-out.
No matter what one’s hobby (I assume a good hobby of course) or interests are, I bet they will find a matching student club or association at UAF to join, or just start one. Being part of an active student club is super awesome!
Another good resource for an international student is the office of International Programs and Initiatives. As of Fall 2012, UAF had more than 250 international students, about 2.35 percent of all  enrolled students. International Programs and Initiatives' job is to make sure international students’ experience here at UAF is enjoyable. They interact with international students on a daily basis, which means they know a lot about it. As an international student, whatever concern or question one may encounter, it is likely that they have seen it before and know how to handle it.

Flags hanged in Wood Center representing diversity at UAF (online picture)

Last but not least, the Department of Recreation, Adventure, and Wellness (DRAW). DRAW helps and facilitates students to explore Alaska. Their mission is to provide the university community with opportunities and facilities to lead active, healthy lifestyles through sport and recreation on campus and out in the beautiful wilderness of Alaska. At DRAW, students can rent outdoor gear for most of the available adventure in Alaska at an inexpensive price. Equipment includes boats and accessories, climbing gear, camping gear including tents and much more. Moreover, DRAW organizes trip and events. This is my favorite part: At a very affordable price, one can join a trip or an event with enthusiastic students and staff  and get out to explore Alaska. As an international student, I have found this as the most safe, affordable, and informative way to explore Alaska. Trips will range from a one day trip to go rafting or hiking, to a couple of day’s trip camping in the wild. I myself rented canoes from DRAW few times, and went to a rafting trip with friends. It was awesome and I enjoyed being with a group of students and faculty where I could ask any question to know more about Alaska. 

Participants in a UAF Outdoor Adventure day-long raft trip paddle down Nenana River 
(Online picture)

Balancing academic life and social life at college is one of the useful tips to successfully graduate from college. For an international student, socializing inevitably requires making new friends. UAF provide plenty of opportunities for international students to get involved and make new friends. However, it takes one’s personal effort to get up and get involved. 

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