Despite what the media may say, Los Angeles and New York are not the only two places to live in America. Even though the United States is one country, it is not a culturally homogenous entity. The states in its country are comparable to the countries in Europe. Los Angeles could not be more different than New York, and Texas may seem to be its own sovereign republic when compared to, say, the upper Midwest. So how is a foreign student supposed to know in which city he or she should go to college? How is one to choose from among all the many options presented by the United States?
Fortunately, it doesn't have to be as confusing as you may fear. For though America is a sprawling country, composed of a wide variety of people and a vast cross-section of humanity, it is, nonetheless, manageable when it comes to figuring out what will work best for you. Here, then, we offer some help and guidance.
It may be big...
...But it's not all that different from many other countries. France, for example, is composed of many distinctly unique regions. The culture of Normandy would be virtually unrecognizable to a resident of Cannes or Nice, and the hustle-and-bustle of Paris is nothing at all like the laid-back, deliberately slower ways of the people of Provence. America, to, is like this only more so because of its size.
So before you decide what schools to apply to, you should consider all the cultural options the United States has to offer. Do you want to live in a big city or a small town? A big city, while potentially more dangerous and certainly faster-paced than a small town, will nonetheless offer you the opportunity to meet and interact with people from all over the world, thereby, perhaps, making you feel a bit less "foreign" in the process. Big cities can also provide you with cultural opportunities that you may not get anywhere else: From world-class symphonies to top-notch rock concerts and from great restaurants to corner cafes teeming with people from all over the world, big cities often act like crucibles of human interaction, which can be perfect for inspiring and stimulating graduate students.
On the other hand, choosing a smaller town means that you'll be able to take your time when it comes to adjusting to your new country. The pace of life will be a bit slower, and the pressure to always be on the run will be far less pronounced, and you'll have the chance to adjust at your own pace. However, the down side is that there may be fewer people in your situation, thereby highlighting your foreignness. And there will be fewer cultural opportunities for you to take advantage of. But all that free time can be put to good use by affording you the opportunity to focus more on your studies, which is ostensibly why you traveled to the United States for grad school in the first place.
Whether or not you like the weather
Even excluding Alaska and Hawaii, the United States stretches from the chilly reaches of the northern border with Canada to the hot, humid world of southern Florida. In between, this country is comprised of landscapes and environments that are as rich and varied as those of any country in the world. While it may seem like an obvious issue to consider, the ramifications of choosing one location over another are likely to be more far-reaching than you initially imagine.
If you grew up in, say, southern Spain, and are used to warm, sunny weather, then you may find your transition even more difficult to life in America if you choose to attend graduate school where the weather is completely different from what you're accustomed to. So while a school in Ithaca, New York may seem like it offers the perfect program for you, you should still consider the weather: It tends to be fairly chilly there, and it's so cloudy that some students at one of the schools there actually named the cloud that, they claim, hovers over the town throughout much of the fall and winter. While this alone should not dissuade you from attending school there or anywhere it should nonetheless be one of the factors you consider.
The same goes for the opposite weather situation: If you grew up in a cooler part of the world, then it might seem like a shock to deal with life in a warmer part of the country, especially the desserts of Arizona or Las Vegas. In fact, there are other considerations that are affected by the weather, too. Let's say that you grew up in a staunchly Muslim country, one in which women wear traditional Islamic dress and observe all the typical strictures of "Muslim female humility." You may be shocked to see what women wear when they live in one of the warmer parts of the United States. And while this may or may not offend you, it will likely add to your feeling of being quite far from home. So it's important to remember that even the weather in the part of the country in which you consider attending graduate school will affect the way in which you make your transition to life in America.
A plane ride is not just a plane ride
When an American grad-school applicant considers studying in either northern England or the southern part, he does not really have to consider how much further one is from his home back in the United States than the other. In other words, a flight from Philadelphia to London is just about six hours, as is a flight to a city in the north of the country. This is because England is a fairly small country, at least in terms of size (though certainly not in influence). But America is a different story entirely.
It takes almost as long to fly from Philadelphia to Los Angeles as it does to fly from Philadelphia to London. Therefore, where you decide to attend school in America will have a very real impact on the convenience (or inconvenience) of going back home for holidays or emergencies. And while this should not necessarily be a deal-breaker for any school, it should nonetheless be considered as a major factor in your decision.
And even if you don't really plan on going back home all that often, the psychology of being such a long flight away may prove to be an issue. Very few people, after all, like to feel totally isolated from home.
In the end, one of the most appealing parts of attending graduate school in the United States is the astoundingly wide variety of cultures, climates, and overall experiences it offers. And since a graduate school education does not just occur in the classroom, but in the environment in which you live while working your way through the program, you stand to gain a great deal by enrolling in an American grad program. Just make sure you choose wisely, having considered as many of the relevant variables as you can. And as long as you make your decision carefully, you are sure to reap all the rewards of having attended grad school in the United States.