Studying abroad? 7 biggest fears and how to overcome them

Expat life
09 Oct 2023
10 mins read
Written by Aditi

Oh, so you’ve passed your English proficiency test? Bravo. Did that entrance exam too? Superb. Bagged a spot at your dream university? Spectacular. Got your visa sorted and are all set to fly? Marvellous.


But wait, do we hear a tiny voice in the back of your head suggesting second thoughts? Totally expected. It’s absolutely normal to have butterflies in your stomach when you’re about to try something new.


Embarking on an overseas educational adventure is like riding a rollercoaster. It’s thrilling, exhilarating, and there’s a good chance you’ll feel overwhelmed at some point. 


The Organization For Economic Co-operation And Development (OECD) predicts a 10% increase in international students each year. They also estimate that by 2025, the global student population will hit 8 million. That’s like filling Wembley Stadium 88 times over!


However, amidst this swarm of globe-trotting scholars, almost all grapple with anxiety and fear when they bid adieu to their home countries. So, let’s dive into these fears and figure out how to transform studying abroad from a nerve-racking thriller into a box office hit.


So, you’ve landed in a foreign country all by yourself, and it’s about as comfortable as wearing a porcupine as a hat. Even the seasoned globe-trotters might need a moment to adjust to the new cultural smorgasbord of languages, customs, religions, and beliefs that are as different from home as chalk is from cheese.


Culture shock & language barriers

You think your English proficiency is going to be your knight in shining armour, right? Well, think again, my friend. If you’ve decided to study in Europe, say in Germany, you might need to add “sprechen sie Deutsch?” to your vocabulary, regardless of whether you’re enrolled in an English language course or not. Because let’s face it, ordering bratwurst in English just doesn’t have the same ring to it.


Engaging in conversation in a non-English speaking country can sometimes feel like a complex game of guesswork, while adapting to a new culture can test your patience, much like a snail crossing the road.


The best way to get over the culture shock is to adopt the mindset of an explorer discovering new lands for the first time – curious, open, and ready for anything. Above all, be patient with yourself during this adjustment period. There are several strategies to help mitigate its effects.


If language barriers are turning your social life into a silent movie, consider taking up classes if your schedule permits, or use language learning apps like Duolingo. It’s like having a pocket-sized linguistics professor!


Chat with locals and don’t worry about sounding like a toddler learning to talk; remember, practice makes perfect! Join local events and cultural festivals; they’re the perfect place to blend in or stick out – whichever is more fun for you. Be as curious as a cat but without the judgment of a grumpy old man.


It’s difficult to make friends

Making friends abroad as an international student is about as easy as teaching a cat to do salsa. First up, there’s the language barrier – it’s like everyone’s speaking in secret code and you’re left wondering if “flugelhorn” is a greeting or an insult. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You also must decode their inside jokes, figure out the local hangout spots without looking like a lost tourist, and navigate through a maze of cultural nuances that make quantum physics look like child’s play.


But fear not, oh brave adventurer! Here are some tips to crack the friend-making code:


First, shake off that feeling of being as unwelcome as an unexpected guest at a party. Stay true to yourself and keep that sense of humour intact – remember, a good laugh is the universal language. Being polite, kind, and able to make people chuckle is like having a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s ‘Friendship’ Factory.


Joining group activities and student societies can help you break the ice faster. You might even stumble upon a group from your homeland, where you can bond over shared fears, concerns, and your mutual craving for mom’s home-cooked meals.


Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of small talk. Asking for help can open doors – literally and figuratively. It’s like your personal ‘friendship starter pack’. Just remember: Every epic friendship starts with a simple “Hello’.


Health & safety

You know the best part about being at home or even in your own country? You can basically function on autopilot and still manage to get by. However, once you venture overseas, life suddenly requires you to switch from autopilot to a fully engaged mode. And it’s not just about being more alert – it’s about becoming a resourceful, self-reliant individual who’s navigating the high seas of adulting solo. It’s like starring in your very own survival reality show, minus the camera crew.


The first rule of Survival 101: Get yourself insured. Think of it as your invisible superhero cape. If you have some pre-existing condition, make sure you carry your prescriptions like sacred scrolls.


Next, turn your phone into a mini emergency response centre. Save all the important numbers – ambulance, fire brigade, police, and maybe even your favourite pizza delivery place (hey, hunger is an emergency too!).


Stay informed about local guidelines. Like in the U.S., they release weather alerts that are as helpful as a GPS for avoiding Mother Nature’s mood swings.


Try to find at least one person who knows your whereabouts, in case you need help or someone to confirm that you are safe and sound.


Familiarise yourself with all the routes to your destination. It’s like real-life Pac-Man, but instead of ghosts, you’re dodging traffic and confusing street names.


Carry only a limited amount of cash while travelling. Too much and you might as well wear a sign saying “Pickpockets Welcome”. Keep an extra debit card handy for emergencies, or when you succumb to that irresistible souvenir shop.


Money matters

Let’s face it, studying abroad is like being in a blockbuster movie where you’re the lead actor and your bank account plays the villain. You’ve barely stepped off the plane and your funds are already waving the white flag. And if you’re going to a country with a currency so high it could give Mount Everest a run for its money, well, it’s natural to sweat more than a marathon runner at the thought of your finances.


But fear not! With a little planning, you can turn this financial horror story into a breezy rom-com. Here’s how:


First off, hunt down scholarships like they’re secret keys to a treasure chest. Universities like Stanford, Columbia, Yale and others toss out merit, need-based and sports scholarships generously. So put some elbow grease into those applications. GoAbroad’s scholarship directory is another treasure trove worth exploring.


Next, consider on-campus jobs. They might not make you rich, but hey, they’ll keep you from eating ramen noodles seven days a week. And don’t forget about off-campus internships during semester breaks. It’s like finding spare change in your couch cushions, but way more rewarding.


Set up an emergency fund with at least $200. Think of it as your financial safety net, and let your parents hold the trapeze so you don’t dip into it for impromptu pizza parties.


And if all else fails, swallow your pride and ask your parents for help. It’s better than ending up in a shady situation that even Liam Neeson from “Taken” couldn’t get you out of.


Fear of missing out (FOMO)

Social media is like a double-edged sword dipped in hot sauce. One moment you’re scrolling through your feed, enjoying updates about Aunt Mabel’s new cat, and the next, you’re drowning in a sea of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).


Battling the FOMO beast can feel like trying to climb Mount Everest in flip-flops when you’re living a gazillion miles away from your nearest and dearest. Just because you’re missing out on Dave’s infamous backyard barbecues or Tina’s karaoke nights doesn’t mean your life is boring.


Remember, studying abroad is an opportunity rarer than a steak at a vegan restaurant. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime ride that’s not everyone’s cup of espresso martini. So, seize the day, make new friends, and live it up!


Strike a balance between hitting the books and hitting the town. Take time to explore the wonders of your new home away from home. And hey, don’t forget to snap some killer photos and plaster them all over your socials. After all, why should you be the only one suffering from FOMO? Give your friends back home a taste of their own medicine!



Ah, the sweet smell of freedom. It’s all fun and exciting when you first start your study abroad journey. But then, reality gently nudges you out of your comfort zone. Suddenly, you find yourself navigating the world of ‘adulting’ while some of your peers are still figuring out their laundry routine. And before you know it, you might find yourself seeking comfort in a bowl of instant noodles.


But don’t despair! You’re not losing your marbles. It’s just a classic case of homesickness.


Luckily, there’s no immediate need to consult a professional.  There are remedies aplenty right at your fingertips.


Thanks to the wonders of technology, you can now keep in touch with your loved ones through constant calls and messages, no matter the hour, using free calling and chat apps like Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, etc. Just double-check those time zones to avoid startling your folks with midnight video calls.


If you are craving some home-cooked comfort food, hit up a local restaurant serving dishes from your homeland. If your budget is tighter than a stand-up comedian’s schedule, try whipping up mom’s signature dish.


Emphasis on ‘try’, because let’s face it, mom’s cooking instructions are more cryptic than the Da Vinci code, and your first attempt might bear a closer resemblance to a natural disaster than actual food.


To keep the homesickness at bay, immerse yourself in interesting activities. Plan weekend escapades,  sample the local fare (who knows, you might find that unusual dishes have their charm), and explore the city’s landmarks. It might feel like you’ve stepped into a whole new world at first, but trust us, it’s an adventure worth embarking on.


Before you go…

Whether you’re a parent looking to send some extra cash to your child studying abroad, or a student trying to save a few dollars to send back home, there’s no need to let your hair turn grey from worry.


Thankfully, we live in an age where services exist that make finding the best bang for your buck as easy as finding a cat video on the internet. It’s like having a secret weapon that leaves enough room in your budget for impromptu pizza nights!


Enter Instarem, your personal fairy godmother of overseas money transfers. With them, not only can you send money securely, but you can also save enough dough for a celebratory dance (or a doughnut, whichever you prefer).


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Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. All details are accurate at the time of publishing. Instarem has no affiliation or relationship with products or vendors mentioned.

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