#92 TRENDING IN Student Life 🔥

Navigating American Student Life in a Short Duration of Time

student life

Sun, August 06

The United States attracts a diverse community of international students seeking academic excellence and cultural enrichment. As one of these students, my journey of moving from America to Lebanon (and back) provided valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities of transitioning into a cross-cultural lifestyle. I aim to shed light on the experiences of international students in America, sharing my teenage years as a relatable story for a broader audience facing similar challenges.

I lived in America from birth until around nine years old. Then, my family moved us across the world to Lebanon, their home country. I had to adjust to an entirely new system and way of living completely different from America's.

I did not know Arabic then and had to learn a new language quickly so that I could communicate with my family members and pass my Arabic classes. Arabic is complex but beautiful.

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You write it from right to left, unlike English, which is reversed. I also learned some French because it is the other primary Lebanese language. After finishing 11th grade, I moved back to America in early August of 2019 to start 12th grade here and pursue an American college education afterward.

My father did not study in America and did not know anything about the requirements, so I was also oblivious. Moving across countries during childhood can be a challenging experience. The cultural and linguistic adjustments I faced presented unique obstacles, affecting my academic path and college prospects. Additionally, I had to navigate my current American student life in a short duration of time. In this article, I will inform you, my readers, about what I did and what I wish I had done. Hopefully, by sharing my experiences, I can provide some insight and guidance.

When I returned to the United States for my senior year of high school, I encountered numerous challenges with credit transfers and a different grading system. My counselor informed me that I had to take ENG II, ENG III, and ENG IV, besides other classes I needed to graduate. I was perplexed.

I had taken English courses in Lebanon, which were suitable for my grade level, so I was surprised it did not transfer. Besides that, my PE classes did not transfer, as well as my art classes and some others. My GPA, for some reason, changed to a very low score. I explained that Lebanon's grading system is unlike the one here. Over there, only some things are scored over 100. We have classes over 20, some over 40, 60, 100,120, and even 160. We cannot get the full score for many of the courses. For example, the highest score in English was 32/40, and in philosophy, 36/40. It was complicated.

I was considered an intelligent student who earned high scores in Lebanon, but due to how it transferred, my scores looked terrible in America. I was also told I had to take the ACT exam immediately. I did not earn a good score due to the lack of preparation.

After a month or two, I studied and retook it and earned a higher score, but I could do much better. I planned to do it next year, but unfortunately, COVID-19 happened, and I couldn't. I felt like America failed me, but no one expected the sudden onset of a pandemic, so it was out of my hands and theirs.

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I knew that I had to keep going and try my best because I came here to live a better life and even though I am not presented with opportunities, I will make them happen. I faced numerous challenges and obstacles, but my determination to create a better life for myself fueled my resolve. My story of resilience and resourcefulness illustrates how I faced limited opportunities and took it upon myself to carve a path to success.

1. Embracing Challenges: Excelling in High School Despite Setbacks

Words of encouragement here are: You gotta start somewhere and better late than never.

Despite the initial setbacks, I remained determined to succeed. I will start with what I did to make me feel like I could change my rocky path. I committed myself to achieving straight As in all of my classes.

I was upset that I was placed in courses with students in 10th and 11th grade while I was a 12th grader. I was embarrassed but knew I couldn't do anything but move forward. Even so, I did really well in the state exams required for certain subjects in high school. I did better than the majority of my classmates and scored the highest in the ENG II and US History LEAP exams in my class at my Louisiana high school. This pdf will show you what courses they are administered for and how results are reported: high-school-assessment-frequently-asked-questions.pdf (louisianabelieves.com)

I was super happy because at that time, I was speaking English with a heavy Middle-Eastern accent and it was hard to communicate. I had to think about what I wanted to say and formulate the sentence in my head before saying it out loud. I hadn't talked in English for a long time because in Lebanon we all speak in Arabic with each other and only ever say something in English in our English class.

After my first semester, my counselor called me in and told me my GPA had been adjusted, so now it was in the 3.5 range and it was previously less than 2.5, which is a major change. It seemed like my diligence and hard work paid off when my GPA was eventually modified to reflect my true abilities. I was able to graduate with honors due to that.

Unfortunately, before my GPA and ACT scores changed, I had already applied to universities. I applied to universities mainly in the state I resided in because I did not know much and I could be near home, especially during a pandemic. I have only applied to one university out of state at the time. I was surprised that it got corrected but upset that it wasn't corrected until around late January or early February. I sent my corrected GPA and higher ACT score to the universities I thought about attending, hoping for the best. The out-of-state university I had been rejected from accepted me afterward and gave me a good scholarship, but it didn't cover all my expenses. However, I was happy and felt proud of myself even though I had to take out some loans and budget.

I would recommend you fight for yourself when you are being wronged by the system and do the best you can. Advocating for yourself when you feel wronged by the system is essential. It's important to stand up for yourself, seek fairness, and work toward a resolution that addresses the issue at hand. It can be a frustrating process to go through, but when the results show, you feel a sense of accomplishment.

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2. Active Engagement: Volunteering and Participating in Club Activities .

I started volunteering before I applied to universities to bolster my college applications. I engaged in volunteering activities both locally and internationally, amassing 80 documented volunteer hours. My experiences ranged from assisting at a library to working at an animal shelter and also to when I participated in first aid training during my time in Lebanon.

I was luckily able to translate my volunteer certificate and transfer it to my high school volunteer hours. This led to me earning a community service diploma endorsement. Additionally, I joined a couple of clubs. Even though my involvement was limited, I cherished the camaraderie with like-minded peers and embraced the opportunity to explore my interests.

Try to actively engage in your community. It gives a positive outlook on your application and helps you adjust to your unfamiliar environment.

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3. Seizing Opportunities: Getting your name out there

As a creative outlet, I submitted a short story to the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards and was honored to receive an honorable mention. This recognition not only boosted my confidence but also served as a testament to my potential growth as a writer and my commitment to excellence.

Applying to contests and competitions in your area of expertise and interest provides the opportunity for you to build a name for yourself if rewarded and if not, gives you the satisfaction of at least trying.

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4. Do Not Rush and Try Your Best!

I made the mistake of rushing, but I also did not have the years of preparation for college applications that other students had. It is good to be patient, especially in stressful times and when the odds are against you.

Taking your time and doing your best is essential, especially in challenging situations like college applications. Patience is a virtue, and it's crucial to remember that everyone's journey is unique. Comparing yourself to others who might have had more preparation or advantages can be discouraging, but it's essential to focus on your own growth and progress.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind while going through the college application process:

Self-Reflection: Take the time to understand your interests, strengths, and passions. This will help you find the right fit when applying to colleges.

[I already knew I wanted to pursue psychology. Even so, I did free online courses and watched introductory videos about my area of interest. This helps you with deciding whether that is something you would like to do or not]

Research: Investigate various colleges and universities to find the ones that align with your goals and aspirations. Look into their programs, campus culture, and opportunities for personal and academic growth.

[The main reason I chose my current university is because of how they were responsive and answered all of my continuous questions. It isn't a big campus and it is not co-ed, which at that time made me feel like it was a safer option and, also, because of my positive experience of being in an all-girls high school in Lebanon. There are other reasons too.]

Start Early: If possible, begin your college preparation early on to allow yourself more time to explore options, prepare for standardized tests, and gather necessary documents. [I did not have that option but you might]

Stay Organized: Keep track of deadlines, requirements, and any additional information you need for each application. [I would use sticky notes and put them on my wall and mirror]

Practice Patience: Remember that the process can be time-consuming, but it's vital to stay patient and positive throughout.

Stay Calm During Stressful Times: Managing stress is important. Make sure to take breaks, engage in activities you enjoy, and take care of your physical and mental well-being.

Believe in Yourself: Have confidence in your abilities and know that your hard work will pay off in the end. :)

Image credit: Prateek Katyal from Unsplash

Remember that college applications are just one step in your journey, and there are numerous paths to success. Even if things don't go exactly as planned, stay resilient and open to alternative opportunities. Trust in yourself and your abilities, and you'll find the right path for your future. Good luck!


My journey from Lebanon back to the United States presented numerous obstacles. Still, through determination, hard work, and seizing opportunities, I was able to navigate the complexities of my unique situation. Despite the unexpected challenges of a pandemic and a hurried transition, I successfully secured a college acceptance with a scholarship, making me proud of my accomplishments.

For others going through a similar experience, I hope my story can provide inspiration and guidance. Embrace challenges, engage actively in extracurriculars, and seize every opportunity to showcase your talents; remember, it's never too late to positively impact your education and future.

Now that I have shared a partial part of my story, I wonder, what is yours?

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Zeina Ghanem

Writer since Jun, 2023 · 3 published articles

Zeina is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in English. She enjoys independent research, watching anime, and listening to K-pop. She is excited about sharing her thoughts and experiences openly on this platform.