First thing: Welcome. We want you here. You've arrived when fewer students are choosing to enroll at American universities, citing anti-immigration policies and a wave of violence against Muslims. If you flew over from the Middle East, South Asia, or Latin America, the decision might have been particularly difficult. Please know there are people and organizations in Seattle who stand behind you.
Now, if this is your first time in the country, you probably have a lot of questions.
What should I do first?
Find your international office on campus. The people who work there spend all day helping international students like you get acclimated. Someone should be able to tell you everything you need to know about opening a bank account, choosing a cell phone provider, and adjusting to the culture of American higher education. If you're not sure about something, ask. If they don't help you, hell, shoot me an e-mail: steven@ thestranger.com. We have a saying here: There's no such thing as a stupid question.
How do I find work?
The easiest way to find a job is to look for opportunities on campus. Your student visa guarantees your eligibility for employment at your college or university. Federal law is much more restrictive when it comes to off-campus work. To work outside your university, you must show evidence of "extreme economic hardship" due to unforeseen circumstances out of your control. Both types of work are limited to 20 hours per week.
Either way, speak with an international adviser about your options. And do your research. Chances are, what's expected from prospective employees in your country differs from what's expected in the United States. For instance, in your country, it might be customary to attach a photograph of yourself to your résumé. That's not necessary here. Your adviser should be able to help you write your résumé and prepare for an interview.
How do I make friends?
Meeting people here probably isn't too different than meeting people in your home country. Many American students find social circles through clubs and organizations. If you have an interest or hobby, chances are there's someone else on campus looking for people who like the same stuff. Enjoy cricket? You should be able to find people to play with. More of a chess whiz? I guarantee there's a club on campus for you.
You may also want to find people from home. That's okay! America is full of diasporas and cultural groups, and college is no different. "We encourage students to find other people from their home culture, places where they feel they can be themselves and have their safe space," says Amy Bergstrom, manager of student programs at the University of Washington's Foundation for International Understanding Through Students. Bergstrom encourages all international students to join at least two clubs: one cultural group and one that's something else you're interested in.
You might want to consider finding a host family. Your international office should be able to connect you with a family willing to open up their home to foreign students for weekends and holidays, or even longer. Toward the end of November, you'll have a couple days off for Thanksgiving. Consider finding an American household to celebrate that holiday. It's basically a big family meal that typically involves eating turkey.
Where can I buy food from home?
For African groceries, try East African Imports (2301 S Jackson St, Suite #204, 206-322-7717, eastafricanimports.com) or West African Market (5997 Rainier Ave S, 206-723-6218). For Asian groceries, try Uwajimaya (600 Fifth Ave S, 206-624-6248, uwajimaya.com) or Asian Food Center (13200 Aurora Ave N, 206-367-1229, afcwa.com). For Mediterranean and Middle Eastern groceries, try Goodies Mediterranean Market (13721 Lake City NE, 206-362-2694, goodiesmedmarket.com). For Latin American groceries, try El Mercado Latino (1514 Pike Place, #6, 206-223-9374).
How do I apply for asylum?
If you have suffered persecution in your home country or you have a reasonable fear of persecution in the future, you may qualify for asylum. In order to qualify, the persecution must be committed by your government or by people your government cannot control, targeting you for your race, nationality, religion, sexuality, political opinion, or membership in a social group. If you're here on a student visa, and your immigration status is in good standing, you can apply at any time. If you're undocumented, you must apply within a year of arriving in the United States.
Apply sooner rather than later. Waiting lists for asylum interviews are super long right now. It's typical to wait two to three years just to speak with someone from the government, according to Andre Olivie, an immigration attorney who specializes in helping LGBT clients facing persecution because of their sexuality.
Speak with an immigration attorney or immigrant rights organization to see if you qualify. Here are some places to start: Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (615 Second Ave S, #400, 206-957-8600, nwirp.org), Crutcher-Herrejon Law Group Inc. (1424 Fourth Ave, #700, 206-535-8773, crutcher-herrejon.com), Law Office of Andre Olivie (1411 E Olive Way, 206-724-1940, olivielaw.com).