Although moving abroad for your studies comes with a few challenges, it’s an adventure that will transform you and bring many excellent opportunities to your life. But you should start on this journey prepared, so let’s explore how you can tackle the top challenges of studying abroad, such as handling your finances, language barriers and adapting to your new country.
Acknowledging the responsibilities and commitments of studying abroad is the first step in preparing yourself for this new experience. There will be a lot of fun but also some potential difficulties. Knowing them in advance can help you overcome the challenges of studying in a new country more quicker.
In this article, we look at these five common obstacles that international students go through when they move away from home to a new country: financial stress, language barrier, feeling homesick, adapting to a new country, and building a support network. So let’s look at these challenges of studying abroad and how to overcome them. After all, it doesn't look so scary anymore when you know what to expect from something.
1. Money and finances. How to get a grip on them
Financial insecurities can be one of the most significant stressors of studying abroad. Financial stress may appear due to a high tuition fee and other day-to-day living expenses. Especially at the beginning of your international education journey, the number of expenses might seem overwhelming. Thinking about the tuition fee, costs of academic supplies, accommodation, insurance, and many other financial aspects waiting to be paid can be nerve-wracking. Nevertheless, there are ways to minimise these expenses and make your financial planning less scary.
Set a budget for your time abroad as a student
This is an important step in planning because it helps you to choose an international education option that you can afford. For a more detailed explanation of how to set your budget, study our step-by-step guide.
Find a part-time job to earn some extra money
Consider finding a part-time job to combine with your studies. A side job will assure you're getting an extra income every month that you can spend on your monthly living expenses. On top of that, managing work and studies can be a great experience, teaching you valuable time management skills and giving you more responsibilities.
If you are interested in finding a part-time student job, read our article for tips on getting a side job.
Do your best to find a scholarship
Finally, scholarships can be a great way to ease the financial burden of studying abroad. It’s a false belief that scholarships are only for top-notch students with extraordinary abilities. In reality, everyone can apply for a scholarship. All you need to do is find a scholarship with criteria that you meet and then apply. To answer all the common questions about scholarships, we have prepared a guide that will help you throughout the process of finding and applying for a scholarship.
2. The other language. What you can do to break the barrier
Studying and living abroad often means that you have to speak a different language than your mother tongue. While this can be exciting sometimes, the language barrier can also affect the mental wellbeing of international students. For international students, the language barrier is particularly challenging in this two contexts:
Be patient, things will start making more sense
The majority of international students choose to study an English-taught programme. Of course, for native English speakers, language is not an issue. However, for many foreign students, English is their second language. If you’re one of them, getting used to academic English may take time and extra effort. You may feel like some topics only make sense if you translate them into your native language. And that’s alright! On a lighter note, regardless of the language, some of the subjects or classes you take will make no sense at first. Just trust the process, and with practice and time, language barriers in your academic life will slowly disappear.
The special offer of learning two languages for the price of one
You may not have thought about it, but if you are not English or if you study somewhere else than UK, you will have the chance to also practice the local language. Your study programme as an international student may be taught in English, but the local language in your country of study may be completely different. For instance, in Europe, there are many English-taught programmes whilst countries have distinctive native languages. You may feel insecure at first, and discouraged from interacting with local communities, it’s understandable, but that should not stop you from trying. Being surrounded by people speaking a different language will allow you to practise your new language skills and learn them even faster. After all, outside the comfort zone is where the greatest growth happens.
If you want to learn more about this study abroad challenge, we recommend you read our article on how to overcome language barriers.
3. How to cope with feeling homesick
Living in a foreign country will most likely leave you feeling homesick. The truth is there will be days when things aren’t going right, and you’re far away from people and surroundings that could comfort you. Feeling homesick can make you crave familiarity and support from close people. Sometimes, the feeling may become overwhelming. However, it’s important to realise that this is a normal experience and a common part of living abroad. Especially during the first year of university, feelings of homesickness may be a frequent visitor in your weekly life. But eventually, the feeling becomes less and less strong as you settle down in the new country and start building familiarity with your new home.
It helps to remember that almost everyone in your situation feels homesick, but here are some practical tips on how to cope with this emotion:
Make a schedule and stick to it
What helps to feel at home in a new environment is creating a routine that you can follow daily. It can be a new morning coffee ritual, a plan to exercise, weekly social activities or a daily walk outside. Making a pleasant routine and sticking to your schedule will give you something to look forward to. And most importantly, it will make your new home feel more like home.
Call your family and friends as often as you want
Even though your family and friends are not nearby, in today’s modern reality, they’re only one call away. Calling or texting with your loved ones can ease the feeling of homesickness. On top of that, a video call can feel even more intimate and make you feel their support from a distance.
Exchanging hand-written letters can be another way to keep in touch with your family and friends. How exciting is it to wait for a letter to arrive? Make it a tradition to exchange letters with your loved ones, and after each mail, you’ll get a sense of closeness you may be craving.
Whilst some boredom now and then is okay, feeling it often will only accelerate the feeling of homesickness. Try to keep yourself busy. Pick up a new hobby, take on a part-time job or get involved in more social gatherings, and there will be less time to sink into difficult emotions.
Allow yourself to feel homesick
Just like wallowing after a breakup, when homesickness hits, sometimes you just have to allow yourself to feel it. Accept that feeling homesick is normal, and the feeling will eventually pass. When you’re feeling down, listen to music from your home country, call your family and friends, eat familiar food or cook your favourite traditional meal if you can. Let the feeling of homesickness out of your system but don’t dwell on it for too long. Remind yourself that living abroad is a unique experience, and your home will always be there when you come back.
4. Adapting to your new country
Feeling that you fit in when you move to a new country can be challenging. It involves very practical things like using a different currency and getting used to the local diet, but also more subtle aspects like cultural differences and traditions. These factors can prove a real challenge in your efforts to adapt to your new country.
The practical side of fitting in
When it comes to currency differences, knowing the exchange rate is a must. Before you become familiar with the new currency, find the most convenient way to convert the prices into the currency you're used to. Another helpful tip is asking locals for advice. For instance, to avoid overpaying, consult other people about how much they would pay for a specific thing.
Adjusting to the local diet can be a tough part of living abroad, especially for those who are used to a completely different cuisine. For example, students from Europe moving to a country in Asia can experience a culinary shock. Moreover, familiar food can be a profound emotional need for some students and even provoke homesickness. Thus, getting used to the local diet takes time and patience and shouldn’t be overlooked.
The social side of fitting in
Depending on how different the local culture is from your own, getting used to the local way of living can feel very new. As a foreigner, in the beginning, you may not be aware of all the unwritten rules in your host country and experience cultural misunderstandings. These may occur even when you’re moving within the same continent! For instance, while in the Netherlands walking into your host’s house with your shoes on is completely acceptable, in more Eastern parts of Europe, you will be expected to take your shoes off upon your arrival. Although such situations may lead to inevitable misunderstandings, don’t be embarrassed. Learn from these mistakes and try to adapt.
Trying to maintain your own traditions while being part of new ones can sometimes make you feel like an outsider in the new country. While you may be used to some ways of celebrating and performing rituals, locals in your host country may invite you to participate in their traditions and ways of celebrating. Being open to these kinds of new experiences will allow you to take part in society and learn more about the local culture. Moreover, it will allow you to adapt to the host country faster.
5. Finding a supportive network
In most cases, students go abroad alone to pursue higher education. Family members, friends, former colleagues and classmates are left behind while students go away on a new adventure. On the one hand, having a clean slate to build a new life in a foreign country is very exciting. On the other hand, the thought of being alone in an unfamiliar environment can be daunting.
Essentially, being away from your supportive network creates a need to find new ways to feel the support. In most cases, newly made friends become your local supportive network. Nothing bonds people better than being in the same situation. So when you’re alone in a new country, you can count on finding other students just like you: away from their family and friends.
When you begin your study abroad journey, try to be open to new connections. Depending on what you like, you can meet new people at:
book clubs or other similar activities where like-minded people meet
Get in touch with your university’s social network and ask about any gatherings, after-school activities, and events you could attend.
Overall, building your new social circle will take time and effort. Be patient and don’t worry too much if you don’t make new friends right upon your arrival. In the end, finding at least one person you can call your friend will make your living abroad experience feel more like home.
>> Learn more about How to Study Abroad in 2023 with this detailed Step-by-Step Guide.
Advantages of studying abroad
Although studying abroad looks scary sometimes, there are many benefits to this international experience. Every year, Studyportals helps over 36 million students to find the perfect study-abroad destination. We help them choose from over 200.000 Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD programmes from 3750 universities all over the world. With this many students worldwide choosing an education outside their home countries, it proves that the advantages of studying abroad beat the scary feeling of moving to a new country.
For the most part of this article, we have talked about the potential challenges of studying abroad and how to overcome them. But to encourage you to take on these challenges with more confidence, here is a list of some advantages of being a foreign student:
1. More independence and self-efficacy
Being away from familiar surroundings pushes you to become more self-reliant. Taking care of yourself, your home, your finances, and your meals will give you a sense of independence and a feeling of self-efficacy.
2. Broader perspective
Studying abroad takes you out of your comfort zone. Living in a new country exposes you to new experiences, cultures, different people and traditions and allows you to adapt to them in new creative ways.
3. Allows you to practice a different language
Studying in another country will most likely mean you have to speak a different language daily. In the beginning, this may be challenging, but it will give you a chance to practise the language daily and will definitely boost your language game.
4. Future employment perspectives
Having an international education is a great asset in the labour market. These days, employers seek to bring more internationally-minded people into their work environments. As a foreign student, you can impress your future employers with a unique and open understanding of different cultures and be ready to immerse yourself in a global marketplace. Moreover, flexibility, adaptation skills, multicultural experience, and language knowledge are other great work qualities that you will have as an international student.
5. It’s a lot of fun
Let’s face it, the best thing about studying abroad is that it’s a lot of fun! During this time you meet many diverse people, including other international students. Additionally, being surrounded by a multicultural environment is a unique experience that enriches your inner world and allows you to explore new cultures and traditions through the eyes of the locals. Studying abroad also opens up opportunities for more travel. Chances to travel to new places tend to increase when you choose to study in a foreign country. In short, the new people you’ll meet and the experiences you’ll have during your international education will make up for the greatest adventure of your life.
Just like with any other change in life, moving abroad to study can come with some challenges. Despite that, studying in a foreign country is a thrilling and exciting experience. Alongside the challenging moments of being an international student, there is great joy in being on this journey.