For International Students

International Student Services

An essential resource on campus for international students on F-1 or J-1 visas is International Student Services (ISS). Throughout your stay here, ISS staff are available to help you with issues that are unique for an international student. If you have a question, the best place to start is the ISS website, which addresses the most common questions that international students have. ISS also provides programs and workshops for all international students and their family members to help ease the transition to this new cultural, educational, and social environment.

A major function of the ISS office is to assist international students and their families in maintaining their non-immigrant visa status and to inform them of all the programs and services available. All new international students must attend the ISS Mandatory Orientation Program. This is required by both the university and federal visa regulations. At the mandatory orientation, new international students will register their arrival on the F-1 or J-1 non-immigrant student visa and get information on maintaining legal visa status while attending UW–Madison.

ISS also refers students to appropriate resources based on individual needs, and provides support to international student organizations.

COVID-19 FAQs

If you have questions related to your immigration record as impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, please review these FAQs for international students before contacting ISS. The most common questions are answered there.

Other services for international students

People sit together around a table draped with a red tablecloth while one person carves a turkey on the table.
During a Madison Friends of International Students (MFIS) Thanksgiving event, hosts serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to their guests, who are students from Japan, Malaysia, and South Korea.

Madison Friends of International Students

Closely affiliated with ISS is Madison Friends of International Students (MFIS). For over 50 years, MFIS has connected UW–Madison international students, scholars, and their families with Madisonians to create global goodwill, understanding, and friendship. MFIS programs include:

  • Fall Welcome Picnic and Spring Capitol Reception
  • Temporary hosting program
  • English Classes and English Conversation Partners
  • Thanksgiving Hospitality, which invites international students to join a local family for a Thanksgiving meal
  • Furniture Loan
  • Other social activities with local community members

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is an Internet-based system that allows schools, U.S. consulates, U.S. ports of entry, and other U.S. government agencies to exchange data on the visa status of international students and scholars. It is extremely important for international students to report changes in their student and visa statuses in a timely manner, including any address or name changes. Visit the ISS website for information on how to maintain your visa status (see information on maintaining F-1 visa status, or information on maintaining J-1 visa status).

ISS is also available year-round to give advice and clarification on visa regulations. The trained ISS advisors are your best resource for current, accurate immigration advice. International students must take responsibility for their visa status and be proactive. Maintaining legal visa status is the responsibility of international students, and ISS is available to help.

Life in Madison as an international student

Although as a graduate student you will be primarily engaged in study, research, teaching, or other academic activities, a successful and fulfilling stay also requires involvement in campus and community life.

Academic Differences

Students playing cricket.
A group of friends – all native to southern India – make due with a limited number of athletes and play a pickup game of cricket on the marching band practice field on the west side of campus.

You might be coming from a different education system that requires different study skills and has different types of tests and classroom experiences. The most common differences between the U.S. academic culture and others are informal attitudes toward instructors and casual interaction with faculty and staff in the U.S.

Another dimension particular to the American system of higher education is a requirement to take courses from different disciplines that would not necessarily be part of your curriculum back home. Talk to your advisor or professors in your program for assistance on choosing these classes, if you are interested in or required to take them. Here, your professors expect that you actively participate in classroom discussions. Please know that this will be a part of your grade.

Additionally, American university culture places a high value on academic integrity and honesty in your work. Familiarize yourself with UW–Madison’s academic integrity guidelines.

University culture relies on student independence and is expected by many faculty and programs. Be prepared to talk openly with program administrators and your instructors about any problems you are facing. Faculty and staff generally appreciate proactive students. Academic pressures can be very high, so don’t wait until the last minute to talk with someone about any issues you may have. If your professor is unable or unwilling to help you, you can also consult the program chair. You can always seek assistance from the Division of Student Life or from the Office of Academic Services (gsacserv@grad.wisc.edu) in the Graduate School. Do not hesitate to ask for help.

Adjusting

There are typical stages of acclimating to a new culture that may occur. Initially, you might feel excitement and elation as you plan for your trip. Going on an adventure, seeing new sights, and meeting new people often lead to a sense of contentment; maybe you experienced (or will experience) that “high” upon arrival.

However, these feelings of satisfaction might diminish when you switch from tourist to resident. You might lose feelings of control and satisfaction while you are adjusting. You might have trouble finding food you like, and you might feel homesick, isolated, or overwhelmed by your course work. Prolonged feelings of helplessness and a lack of attachment or belonging can interfere with academics and may lead to depression. You might even reject the new culture and consider your home culture to be superior.

However, usually after several weeks (or more), you will begin to settle into your new environment and feel more comfortable solving new problems and addressing challenges. In time, you will adjust to your new life, become productive, and feel happier in your new environment. Take the time to recognize how far you have come, and what you have accomplished.

The cultural gap, or the similarity or dissimilarity between your host and home country, can predict the length and intensity of adjustment. If your new surroundings are very different from the culture you are used to, it may make for a longer adjustment. Differences in social relationship norms, political climate, language, economy, and technology all influence the cultural gap. By educating yourself, you can understand problems or difficulties you might be facing and make progress.

First Steps of Adjusting to Campus

When you first arrive, take the time to familiarize yourself with everyday issues such as immigration, currency, housing, banking, mail services, cell phone services, transportation, climate, clothing, and food. Explore the other sections of this website for information on some of these topics.

Making Friends and Finding Social Support

Smiling students sit together in a wagon, some holding umbrellas.
Grey and eventually rainy skies didn’t dampen participants’ enthusiasm for going on one of several horse-drawn wagon rides during an International Student Farm Outing at the Schultz Family Farm in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin.

You are more likely to be satisfied with your experience here if you build a social network. Connecting and making friends with students from your home country or region, other international students, and Americans is important in fulfilling and even accelerating the adjustment process.

Getting Involved

Getting involved in campus organizations and activities or trying new things are easy ways to meet people who share your same interests. It also helps you learn to balance your time and can actually boost your productivity as you are more likely to feel satisfied, connected, and happy. There are many opportunities to get involved and meet people on campus. If you live in University Apartments or Eagle Heights, staff members there organize events and activities you can participate in.

Homesickness, Isolation, and Maintaining Well-Being

Because of the unique situations that international students face, they may be more likely to have symptoms of mental stresses like depression or isolation. This can have a strong impact on your quality of life, so if you think you are experiencing feelings of depression, isolation, or other mental stress, it is important to address this.

In the United States, it is quite common and normal to seek counseling. If you are hesitant to see a counselor, consider asking a friend, faculty member, or advisor to go with you. At some point, someone close to you may mention counseling to you in an attempt to offer you a resource. Some people are offended by the idea of seeing a counselor, but in fact, counselors may be the most qualified to understand your issues and help you find solutions for problems. Counseling and consultation services are confidential, and you will be provided information about confidentiality during your session. Bilingual mental health providers on campus are available for students who are more comfortable speaking in Mandarin Chinese or Spanish. University Health Services (UHS) Mental Health services always has someone to respond to crisis situations at 608-265-5600.

If you are certain that you are not interested or would not benefit from seeing a counselor, it is still very important to find avenues to address your unique transitional issues. You might share your concerns with trusted friends and family.

Racial Discrimination and Ethnocentrism

The university has a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination. If you ever feel that you are being discriminated against, you are encouraged to contact the Dean of Students Office. You can also report incidents of bias or hate through this online reporting tool.

As an international student, you might also have stereotypes and prejudices about Americans or students from other countries that can interfere with adjustment. You should reflect on those beliefs and ask yourself what those assumptions are and where they came from, and then test whether those views are compatible with what you are experiencing.

Gender Roles

Social relationships with others and adaptation to gender roles in a new culture are often difficult for international students because the topic is not always discussed openly in their home countries or cultures. Relationships can often be challenging for international students because of different roles, norms, and ways of communicating verbally and nonverbally about romance and even friendship.

Co-nationals and people that you trust could be helpful in discussing this issue with you. It is an important area to consider in your cultural adjustment. Another alternative is to consider a group counseling session at UHS. You might also want to contact the Campus Women’s Center, or the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center.

Finances

ISS works very closely with international students and their respective academic programs on funding issues. Some international students seek part-time employment. International students on F-1 visas and authorized international students on J-1 visas are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week on campus during the academic year. Students can work full-time during summers and break periods. Students must get prior authorization to work off-campus.

International students sometimes experience anxiety about monetary problems, so please be aware that there are resources to help you. For further assistance, contact International Student Services.