In America, "getting a life" means finding something interesting to do and keeping busy with things that entertain you. When you're pursuing a graduate or doctoral degree, it may be easy to forget that there's life beyond research papers and a bottomless coffee cup. American graduate schools offer plenty of activities to distract you when you need a break, as well as services to support you when you need a helping hand.
The diverse graduate school campus
The campus of a large American graduate school resembles a small city. With stores, restaurants, and banks, most universities can meet your most immediate needs. Many grad schools also offer numerous forms of entertainment, including sporting events, live theater, movies, and concerts. Typically, the larger the institution, the more activities it supports.
Support services offered by grad schools
Universities also have a wide variety of support services available to their students, and to international students in particular. Some graduate schools provide assistance in finding housing and childcare facilities or in improving your spoken or written English. They may have on-campus healthcare facilities and provide information on current health issues and health insurance. You may also be able to get advice on tax issues and personal or career counseling.
The list of services that may be available can be quite extensive and it's a safe assumption that if you have a problem or a concern, there is probably an office or person who can help you.
Get to know the right people while in a graduate program
Figuring out where to go for specific needs can be confusing, especially at a larger graduate school — but it's worth it to pursue the information you need. Knowing who to go to for information is a great place to start if you're a bit lost. Departmental secretaries are often a fount of information, as are international student advisers, graduate student government officers, and graduate school staff. If you are enrolled in a graduate program, you'll have easy access to all of these resources.
Establishing rapport with a variety of people who have worked at the university for some time and are knowledgeable about the graduate school and local area can be invaluable.
Ask the real experts at the graduate school
Most universities have an office for international students to provide orientation and information about vital services, such as healthcare and health insurance. However, sometimes the best source of information in graduate school is other students. Talking with the other students in your graduate program may help you realize that your struggles are also faced by other students in a number of graduate programs. Your peers may have already dealt with and found solutions to the adjustment concerns typical of graduate student life.
As far as your downtime goes, seek out activities in which you have experience or competence. If you're not sure where to find them, ask other students because they'll provide the best advice about social activities — especially which ones are worthwhile and which ones you might want to avoid. And don't forget about your fellow globe trekkers — international students often organize clubs or associations to sponsor social and cultural activities.
Obviously, graduate school isn't about having a stellar social life (it about graduate programs and their studies), but you do have to have a life outside of your studies. While academics should always be your primary focus, utilizing available resources and participating in enjoyable activities may help you keep a healthy perspective on the graduate experience and relieve your stress.