The idea of living far away from your home to complete your undergraduate or postgraduate studies may sound like the opportunity of a lifetime, and in many ways, it is. However, certain parts of the experience can cause students to feel anxious, lonely or depressed.
It is crucial that you fully understand both the benefits and difficulties with studying abroad before you decide to embark on this exciting opportunity.
Find out about some of the challenges faced by international students, and how to overcome them in this article.
You’re feeling miserable, things are starting to get on top of you, and all you want to do is pop home and see your family and childhood friends for the weekend. Believe me; this is a common feeling amongst university students.
The difficulty for international students is that you can’t just hop on a train or bus and be home in a few hours. You are thousands of miles from home and, when you’re feeling a bit down, that can be quite a scary and lonely thought.
Take note: you are not alone in feeling that way. Remember that all of the other international students at your university will experience the same fear and sadness at some point during their time away.
That’s why it is so important that you engage with the community of international students at your university and build yourself a support network. Often, simply talking to someone else who has felt the same way can lift the weight from your shoulders.
Additionally, the age of technology that we live in today means that, although you might not be able to see your family and friends in person through video conferencing apps you can speak with them face to face. So grab a cup of tea, get yourself comfy on the sofa, and let the skyping begin!
The Culture Shock
The idea of living, studying and exploring in a faraway land can feel magical when you are sitting with your family in the comfort of your home surroundings. The reality of landing in an unknown place, not understanding the behaviours and language of the local people, and having to fend for yourself can be quite tough.
Something as simple as finding unknown foods and produce in the supermarket can cause students heightened levels of anxiety. The trick here is three-fold.
Firstly, don’t expect to adapt straight away. Understand before you leave that it will take you some time to adjust to your new home.
Secondly, be prepared. Pack some of your favourite foods and products from home to enjoy in the unfamiliar situation you now find yourself in. And if you start feeling the anxiety creeping in, grab your favourite chocolate bar, indulge and relax.
Finally – be adventurous! Rather than mourning the foods and products that you have left behind in your home country, embrace the variety of new products for you to explore in your new country of residence.
Unless you choose to study in a country that speaks the same language as your home country, you are likely to face language barriers during your time studying abroad. If you’ve been extra brave, you may even be studying in a different language.
Not being able to communicate your needs, ask for help or understand what people are saying/shouting at you is an incredibly stressful situation and is likely to cause you some level of anxiety.
Students studying abroad have also reported to experience communication difficulties even when they are speaking in the same language as the native people in their new country. It’s important not to panic and understand that there are many things that you can do to help with this language barrier.
You could consider taking language classes, either in advance of moving to the new country and/or once you arrive, to improve your chances of communicating with the local people.
Another option is to embrace the unknown and surround yourself with native speakers – it is the best way to pick up a new language and, although it may be scary at first, you will be surprised how quickly you will pick it up.
Finally, consider buying one of the new translation devices. You speak into the device, and it will translate what you want to say in the native language for you. Perhaps you might want to ask for one of these as a leaving present!
Going to university puts pressure on all students to perform well, but studying internationally really does increase this pressure. Firstly, your parents are likely to be paying a small fortune to fund both your tuition fees and living costs, plus your return flights home, of course.
Knowing that your parents are forking out so much money can cause some international students increased anxiety. If they are not funding your studies, then you must be one of the lucky students to be awarded a scholarship.
These are few and far between and mean that the people have granted you the program, they believe that you will succeed in your studies and are worth investing in, and they will want to know how well you do. In itself, this puts increased pressure on you to succeed in your studies.
In addition to needing to do well in your university studies, such high investment in your education also increases expectations of what you will do after your degree – you may already feel the pressure to enter a top profession, receive a hefty paycheck and take care of your family.
Perhaps your grades are not what you hoped they would be, or you feel as though you are struggling with the course content. If you are experiencing this anxiety, you need to stop putting so much pressure on yourself.
Neither your parents nor the program organisation would want you to be putting this on yourself. Give your best, and no one will ask you for more than that. If you are starting to feel overwhelmed, seek guidance from a tutor or university counsellor. University staff are there to help and protect you, so do seek guidance for your studies or wellbeing if you need it.