What I learned during my first semester at an American university

Hello! My name is Alena, I am a copywriter at Repafi. Last year, I won a Fulbright and flew to the University of Arizona to study for my master’s degree in my dream program: teaching English as a foreign language.


My first semester in the USA ended last December. It was an experience like no other, and I had time to reflect on what happened and learned some important life lessons that I want to share.

Make choices and take responsibility for them

In a master’s program in the USA, you need to choose the courses you will take every semester. According to the rules of the program, the only specific requirements will be the number of courses and credits, that is, credits per semester. You choose everything else yourself. It is clear that choosing a course in physics when you are studying linguistics is a fantasy scenario, but in general the courses can be quite varied and related not only specifically to your field of study. So, if suddenly in the middle of the semester you realize that you made the wrong choice, it will be too late to change anything. You will need to do final projects and take a test.

By the way, regarding final projects: often within the framework of one course, several options are provided at the beginning of the semester. And you will most likely need to choose it at the very beginning, because working on the project will take a lot of time. If the chosen project is too boring, requires resources that you do not currently have, then you will have a hard time, and the professor is unlikely to agree to a sudden change of the entire project in the middle of the path.

Work in a group

More often than not, projects and other assignments become part of group work. If you also studied in the CIS countries, then, most likely, working in a group means that one “excellent student” does all the work, and one “artist” takes on the visual component, and grades are given to everyone else simply because they were lucky .


This will not work in America: everyone will work in a group, and the teacher will personally supervise everyone and carefully evaluate their contribution to the group’s work. So I had to reorganize and choose exactly the part of the group work that I could handle. Coordination of one’s work with other group members was also a mandatory element. You can’t just do your part and stay away. For everything to work successfully, I had to learn to be a puzzle in the overall scheme.

Ask for help

I had to learn to ask for help. If you, like me, often feel like you can handle everything on your own and it’s better not to ask others at all, but at the same time you want to study in a new country, I have bad news for you. .

You still have to ask for help and they will really help you. For example, how could I know what a lease agreement is, how to sign it, what documents need to be provided, where to find a person who will sign “for you”, that you are such a responsible and good international student (this person is called a “cosigner”).

The story of signing a contract to rent an apartment is just a drop in the ocean, but without the help of those around me, I simply would not have had a place to live. And this is very important 🙂

Find additional resources

It is also important to find additional resources. For example, I had no rental history for more than a year, I did not have a taxpayer identification number, and for many companies that rent housing, this is a decisive factor. It was necessary to somehow bypass the mechanisms. For example, sign a contract with the owners of a private house, explain the situation, take a receipt from the university so that they believe me and yes, it worked. But it might not work, of course. Then we would have to look for more resources and try to find an alternative solution to the situation, because not everything always works according to plan A. Sometimes you need to try all the letters of the alphabet to find a working plan.

Build connections with others

I think you’ve heard more than once about the power of networking, and how important it is to meet new people, expand your social circle and exchange contacts, especially in America. That’s right: networking is my everything in this country. By exchanging contacts with other people, I:

  •  got a job as a volunteer, and this work will also be included in my experience
  •  found a new, more comfortable place to live
  •  lived for 10 days in a temporary apartment while looking for housing
  • I learned about how the transport interchange works and how to get where.
  • I found out about a store where all goods are for a dollar and stores where you can buy food like herring and buckwheat
  • I signed up for a temporary subscription to such cool services as Amazon, Spotify and Hulu from my student account
  • met many wonderful people from different countries and states of the USA.

Take a break

Perhaps one of the most important life lessons this semester has been the understanding that taking a break is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you can burn out, develop problems with sleep, mental health and the nervous system, which, in principle, happened to me at one critical moment.

Four courses at the master’s level in the USA is already a lot, but on top of that I was also solving problems with temporary housing, trying my best to establish networking, moving from place to place four times, teaching several online lessons a week and writing for Repafi.

I love all this and did it for myself and to improve my quality of life, but at some point the system failed. Just before Thanksgiving , I got sick with coronavirus, had to take a break and later signed up for therapy.

I sincerely hope that this semester I will be able to maintain the notorious work-life balance and enjoy the passing moments.

Believe in yourself

All my final projects are sh*t.

That’s what I thought in the last weeks of last semester. I spent all my days improving the final touches, changing texts, presentation slides, and still, it seemed to me that this was not enough, that I did not have enough academic knowledge and experience to work on such serious projects.

As a result, I received A in all four projects, this is the highest grade.

It may seem to you that you are not doing enough, that everything you do is unimportant for other people, that you do not have enough experience, knowledge and something else. But the thing is that you don’t have enough self-confidence, not enough self-esteem and not enough outside vision.

When you look at yourself, it seems that everything is bad, or at least not as good as others. Ask others to look at you and evaluate what they see. Surroundings does not mean strangers on the street or colleagues who compete with you for a salary. Ask friends, loved ones. And it’s understandable that they will say that everything is great. Let them say so, you have enough criticism both from yourself and from other ill-wishers.

Often we need to hear words from a person who loves and appreciates us. It’s great if you can become that kind of person for yourself. I would like to believe that my first semester in America taught me to be that kind of person for myself. And I really hope that you can do it too.

Try to believe in yourself, find time to reflect on what happened and just live this life the way you want.

Do you dream of studying in the USA, but don’t know where to start? Individual consultation . Suitable for those who need a clear list of actions to enroll in a university or for those who want to enroll abroad, but do not know where to start. During the consultation, our specialists will study and evaluate your documents , advise you on financing opportunities , prepare your personal admission plan and give recommendations : what to improve in your profile and how.

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