Photo from Eva Zhang

Starting college is an exciting and nervous experience for most incoming students — and even more so for those coming from abroad.

Engineering sophomore Eduardo Ortuno grew up in Mexico and said that after coming to the United States, he found it difficult to adjust to speaking English for long periods of time.

“When [international students] go to the U.S., a lot of what we know is from pop culture, music and movies.” Ortuno said, though these sources don’t often provide a comprehensive picture of American life. 

Raj Bhuva, a College and Engineering sophomore from India, said one challenge was getting used to talking about American sports and politics. 

During Thanksgiving break, when many American students visit their families, Ortuno said that many international students, himself included, are unable to travel home due to long and expensive flights.

“When you’re struggling with your first semester and everyone else has their family close by it can be really hard," he said. 

He recommended that during shorter breaks, when it might not be feasible to fly home, international students should reach out to any nearby friends or family that they might have.

Ortuno also advised incoming international freshmen to reach out to residential advisors, as they're often good sources of support for any student adjusting to life at college. 

“At times you’ll feel homesick or slightly uncomfortable, but [there are] always people and resources at campus,” Bhuva said, adding that he advises students to attend events held by the Assembly of International Students and other relevant cultural groups in order to find a community on campus.

College sophomore Eva Zhang, who is originally from China, said there are also academic resources to help international students navigate the unfamiliar American educational system. 

“It took me some time to know that it’s okay to ask for help and ask your advisors anything,” she said.

Both Zhang and Ortuno agreed that attending a university with a large international population was rewarding for them. For the Class of 2020, 12 percent of the cohort was international, meaning that there are close to 300 international students. 

Zhang said she appreciated Penn’s diversity, adding that international students can “relate to each other since [they’re] from different parts of the world.”

Ortuño agreed, advising incoming international freshmen not just to discuss their culture with others, but to “make the most out of it, have a lot of fun and enjoy the diverse student body that Penn has.”

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.