Tips and Advice from an AMDA International Student on Life Abroad
Leaving home to attend school is a big step, especially when leaving your home country to do so. We’ve sat down with AMDA’s own Dominique Franceschi Suescun, an international student from Colombia currently studying at AMDA Los Angeles, and discussed her personal experiences and advice on how to prepare for studying abroad.
What advice would you give to students preparing to study
abroad in the United States?
Remind yourself why:
Whenever things get hard, or you feel
homesick, just remind yourself why you are doing this in the first place.
You are in one of the top performing arts institutions training to be a
professional performer and to eventually make a living out of the craft you love.
Even though its hard to be away from home, making your dreams come true makes it worthwhile.
Long distance communication:
Figure out how you are going to keep in touch with your family. Living on your own is going to be
amazing, but trust me; the time will come when you will be the one calling your mom every day to check up on her. Plan to download Skype, WhatsApp, or another messaging/calling app that uses the internet. There are numerous free alternatives to collect calls or international
Bring home with you:
Whether it’s pictures of your family, your great grandmothers recipe for rice, or the blanket you have been using since you were 2, make sure you have something that can make any place feel like home. I know it sounds silly, but even the smallest token can make a big difference when you are homesick.
Don’t bring your bathroom with you:
The reality is that the hassle of packing that cocoa butter shampoo in a myriad of plastic bags and wrapping it in socks so it doesn’t explode while simultaneously trying to fit your entire life into a suitcase can easily be avoided by just buying things when you get here. Ask yourself if you ABSOLUTELY need that heavy bottle, or if you can just buy a new one once you get to the US. Instead, pack something you’ll definitely need like clothing essentials and your
How did you plan for living abroad (proper documentation,
devices, currency, etc)?
BEFORE LEAVING HOME
The first thing I worried about was banking. I knew my parents would be sending rent money every month, and money orders tend to be expensive. Before I left home I went to my bank to go over options and to let them know I was going to be using my cards abroad. It turns out that some banks charge you fixed international transaction fee. I get charged about 2 dollars per transaction regardless of whether I withdraw 10 dollars or 1000. Find out if your bank is an international bank, or if it has a “sister” branch in the US. Bring cash with you for at least the first
month while you figure things out.
Some things to write down:
Have a notebook where you keep important information, like your new address, AMDA’s address, emergency contacts and any other information you might need easily accessible in your travels. Make sure to include the information from your admissions advisor. Keeping everything in your phone is handy but if your battery dies, you don’t want to be stranded in an unfamiliar city with no contact information.
Aside from your immigration documents (I-20, passport, visa I-94, ID), make sure you also bring anything else you
have that proves you are going there for college. This can include a letter of acceptance, your tuition deposit/payment plan agreement, a copy of your class schedule from the school’s website, etc.
How do you get around the city transportation-wise?
These things will change your life. Most forms of public transportation are included there, which will be key until you get a car. Be sure to take a day and walk around your neighborhood (or explore it on Google Maps) and find out what things are within walking distance. If you know where you are going to live, you can bookmark places you’re interested in before you even arrive to the country.
I wish I could say public transportation in LA is fully functional and amazing. I also wish my laundry would wash and fold itself. Sadly, neither of my wishes have come true (so far). The downside to living in a city that hosts constant premieres, award shows, concerts, and other fancy events of the like, is that they have no problem closing up a main road without telling you about it. This can turn your 45 minute commute into a 2 hour commute. Always be prepared to allow for extra time!
Uber, Lyft, ride sharing:
Ride sharing is super convenient. They tell you how much your fare will be before you even get inside the car and an estimated trip time. It is much faster than public transportation, however also more expensive.
Yes, eventually you will want to have your own car, especially if you are living in a place like LA where everything is so spread out. However, before you jump onto craigslist and buy that SUV for $1,000 keep in mind that a) if it sounds too good to be true it probably is and b) the cost of the car goes way beyond just the price of the the car. (Where are you going to park at night? How much will that cost? How much will you spend on gas? How about car
insurance and roadside assistance? How much will AMDA charge you for parking? Etc)
If you are set on getting a car, make sure your budget can cover expenses and get your vehicle from a trusted source. Bottom line, having a car is more comfortable than relying on public transportation in LA but the best solution is living as close to where you work/study as possible.
What tips can you share with international students on
budgeting while studying in the U.S.?
Find a job:
As an International Student you are only allowed to work on campus, so don’t count on generating any income for the first few months, maybe even your first semester. I do encourage you to apply for jobs as soon as you can. Work experience will definitely make you more hirable once you graduate, and the extra money surely won't hurt
Make sure you understand the exchange rate between your currency and the US Dollar. Take a look at how the rate
has varied in the past years. Usually rates tend to go up during winter and summer, so plan accordingly.
You’ve probably heard it 1000 times, well, let’s make it 1001: Cooking at home will considerably lower your living expenses. That does however mean you need to set time aside to plan, grocery shop, cook and clean. The upside is it will be cheaper and in most cases, healthier than constantly eating out.
Do you have any advice for current students that may be
struggling with being so far from home?
My best advice would be realizing that you are not alone. Very few AMDA students are LA locals, so in a way, everyone is far from home. AMDA is great at hosting weekly events where you can socialize with your fellow classmates. They are a fun way to meet new people, plus they always have
great freebies (and sometimes, food).
Going home over the breaks: AMDA’s attendance policy is very strict, so I would not recommend missing class to get a few extra days out of your break. If you are flying home, make sure to book your flights in
advance, especially for the winter break, as they can get expensive.
Some additional tips from Dom:
DURING THE FIRST WEEK:
Make sure you have a working phone:
The day after I arrived to the US I went to T-Mobile and bought a sim card for my phone. While you are still new in town and have no idea how to move around, having a way to contact people, take pictures, stay connected and above all else use GPS will definitely help you get settled in. (Note: If you are just buying a sim card and not a
phone, check to make sure your phone is unlocked before leaving home so that you don’t end up having to buy a new one).
DURING THE FIRST MONTH:
Get an ID/DL:
Once you start learning your way around you will realize there are a few things that are as annoying and stressful as
carrying your passport, (with your hard earned cherished F1 visa), around with you. Some places will accept the ID from your home country as a valid ID, but most places will give you a hard time if you don’t have your passport. Go to the DMV with all your documentation and get an ID (if you already drive, get a license). Your life will be so
much easier once you do.
My two recommendations for this adventure:
Make an appointment and bring as much proof as you have that you are you (birth certificate, a letter from your advisor saying you are enrolled, you I-20, your visa, your I-94, and if you have a license from back home, bring that too).
Visit a Bank:
Open a checking/savings account so you have somewhere to put your money ands start building your credit history in the U.S.
Go out and explore:
You are in the heart of the entertainment industry! There is always something happening and always something
fun to do. Whether it’s going to a museum, a concert, or just traveling around the U.S, go out and take advantage of the fact that you are here.
Finally, make the most of each individual moment in your day. Being an international student is an added level to the whole college experience, but that just makes your journey that much more enriching. Learn from your failures and acknowledge your progress. Do your best but don’t be too hard on yourself. Simply put; take it one day at a time.