Going abroad for studies is an exciting time in a student’s life, but it comes with a set of challenges. According to a study conducted by the Institute For International Education Of Students (IES), about 95% of students said that an education abroad worked as a catalyst for maturity. About 96% said they saw a remarkable improvement in self-confidence, while 95% of the students agreed that a foreign education shaped up their worldview in the long term.
The Organization For Economic Co-operation And Development (OECD) estimates a 10% increase in international students every year. Additionally, the population of foreign students is expected to touch 8 million by the year 2025. While thousands of students step out of the comfort of their homes to chase their dreams, almost all of them are known to struggle with anxiety and fear when they leave their home countries. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest fears that students face and how they can overcome them to make studying abroad a memorable experience.
1. Culture Shock & Language Barriers
Living in a foreign country all by yourself can be quite daunting. Even the ones who have travelled far and wide might take some time to adjust to the new culture, languages, customs, religions and beliefs. While making a conversation in a non-English speaking country can leave you frustrated, adjusting to a completely new culture can take a toll on your patience.
The best way to deal with these issues is to keep an open mind when meeting new people. If language barriers are holding you back, take up classes if your schedule permits, or try out apps like Duolingo. But the best way to overcome language issues is to cast your fear aside and interact with locals. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes while you speak with the locals — practice makes perfect, remember! Attending local events and cultural fests is a great way to blend in. Stay curious, but don’t be judgmental of anybody’s beliefs or orientations.
2. It’s Difficult To Make Friends
Making friends abroad as an international student is much more difficult than in your own country or city. Firstly, they probably speak a different language. That is just the beginning of the problem. Understanding native jokes, knowing what are the right places to catch up with new friends, and learning their cultural nuances can be quite a task. But there is always a way to get around, and here are the first few steps to making friends:
- Give yourself some time to get over the feeling of ‘unwantedness’. Instead, be yourself and don’t lose your basic nature or your sense of humour. Politeness, kindness and an ability to make people laugh are traits that work like a charm, no matter which part of the world you might be in.
- Participating in group activities and joining student societies are good icebreakers. You might even find groups of your own community in a foreign country where you will get the opportunity to meet and hang around with fellow countrymen and share your fears and concerns with people who can identify with you.
- Another great way to make friends is to initially engage in small talk by way of asking for help.
3. Health & Safety
Accept the fact that no one’s got your back and you are on a solo journey of self-care and awareness. Staying alone in a foreign country can be a daunting task, and with no one to take care of you, these smart tips will come in handy.
- Get yourself insured by purchasing an international cover. If you are already suffering from some ailment, carry prescriptions of the assigned medicines.
- Keep a list of important contacts such as ambulances, fire brigades, police, etc. saved in your phone for emergencies. It’s also a good idea to save the contact details of the nearest medical practitioners.
- Follow guidelines from local authorities. For example, in the U.S., alerts regarding upcoming weather conditions are released and these are helpful in taking precautionary measures.
- Identify at least one person who knows your whereabouts or can provide support to you in case you need help.
- Recognize all possible nearby routes that take you to your destination and use good judgement.
- Always carry a limited amount of cash while travelling and beware of pickpocketing. Keep an extra debit card for emergency purposes.
4. Coping Up With Studies
Frequent travellers also tend to face issues when they go to study abroad. While you will be tempted to check out exciting places or do a side job to earn a few extra bucks, these urges should not affect your actual objective of going overseas. Working overnight and then sleeping through lectures during the day is the last thing you want to do.
In case you are really having a tough time managing your schedule, seek guidance from academic advisors. In fact, before taking admission to a course, always consult a study abroad advisor who can provide you with essential information regarding academics and how different universities function. As far as exams and assignments are concerned, you can always seek help from your tutors and peers.
5. Money Matters
Funds for staying and studying abroad can be a major cause for concern among students, especially when going to a country with high currency value. It is common to be nervous about finances but with a bit of planning, you can sail through your semesters easily.
- Apply for college and community-based scholarships that might reduce your tuition fee drastically. Contact the Financial Aid Team of your college/university and ask for assistance. Stanford, Columbia, Yale and other universities offer merit, need-based and sports scholarships to students. You can also check out GoAbroad’s scholarship directory and put some effort while writing your applications.
- On-campus jobs such as working in the university’s cafeteria or bookstore are the most common ways to fund your house rent and daily expenses. Off-campus internships during breaks between semesters are also helpful in earning extra cash.
- Set up a separate account containing at least $200 for any exigencies that might arise. Let your parents access this account so that you don’t end up withdrawing money from it unnecessarily.
- Go for a student loan program such as the Erasmus for Masters Courses of one to two years in Europe. These loans can be paid easily over a period of 10 years (depending on the type of loan taken), commencing once the repayment threshold has been achieved.
- In case you are in a tough spot financially, it’s best to ask your parents for help instead of going to unknown people and ending up in an unpleasant situation.
6. Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)
Fighting FOMO can seem arduous when you are living miles away from those who matter the most to you. Just because you cannot be a part of parties back home, it does not mean that you are living a life less exciting. Know that the opportunity you’ve received is not everyone’s cup of tea and this once-in-a-lifetime experience will never come back. Therefore, make the most of it by fostering new friendships and living the experience to the fullest. Create a balance between school and social life by giving yourself some time to explore the beauty of a new country. And don’t forget to click and post pictures on social media to create a sense of FOMO in your friends back home!
No matter how much you argue with siblings at home, deep inside you know how much you miss them when you are really far away. And all those restrictions and concerns your parents had put in place start making sense when you start living on your own. Whenever you feel weighed down by strong urges to get back home, do the following:
- All thanks to technology, you can now stay in touch with your loved ones through Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, etc. that allow you to see them at any time of the day (or night).
- Make use of international calling cards where you need to pay a monthly charge for free unlimited calling to a large number of countries.
- Hit the local restaurant that serves dishes from your home country.
- Stay away from social media and stop surfing through year-old pictures.
- Involve yourself in interesting activities to keep your mind productive.
Never forget that fears are just challenges that need to be overcome with the right attitude. Don’t let them affect your goals in life. Once you overcome these fears, you will realize that the entire experience has transformed you for the better and made you more responsive towards the adversities of life. So, go for it, guys!