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International Student Insights: Overcoming the Little Challenges of Learning in Another Country

Being an international student can teach you a lot about another culture and about yourself. Studying abroad has the potential to be the adventure of a lifetime, but it can also be scary and challenging.

Lots of international students experience similar struggles when studying in another country. Here a few of them and tips on how to navigate them.


After the initial excitement of being in a new place wears off, you may find that you start to miss your home. Talking to family and friends from home may help ease these feelings, but international phone calls can be expensive. To make it more affordable, use internet-based services like Skype, Facebook, and WhatsApp.

Doing things you’d normally do at home can help too. For example, you could cook one of your mom’s recipes. If you have a group of foreign friends, share your culture with them. It’ll be a fun learning experience for everyone.

While you may have to get a taste of life at home to overcome homesickness, be careful not to get too caught up in it. You don’t want to spend all your time chatting with friends from home. Don’t forget to experience the place you’re in too as it may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


Culture Shock

Culture shock is another common issue international students run into. Spending all your time in an unfamiliar environment can be disorienting and even distressing.

The best way to deal with this is to immerse yourself in the new culture. Learn as much as you can about, do your best to make local friends it and ride out the difficult parts. If you get overwhelmed at any point, though, don’t hesitate to give yourself a break.

Learning about the customs of your host culture can be helpful as well as it helps you avoid uncomfortable situations. If you’re not familiar with common cultural practices, you may inadvertently offend someone or send the wrong message. Ask a study abroad coordinator or a local friend if you have questions or, if you’re at a loss, try a quick Internet search.

If you’re an American at a London summer school the differences won’t be as obvious as if you’d chosen to study in, say, China. But even relatively similar cultures can have some important differences, so make sure you learn as much about them as you can.

Language Barriers

Another, perhaps obvious, difficulty students encounter when studying in a foreign country is the language barrier. Even if you’ve been studying the language, the speed with which people talk, the dialects they speak with and the slang terms they use can make it challenging to understand them.

If you’re not comfortable with the language in your host country, consider carrying a pocket dictionary or get a translation app for your phone that you can use online, such as Google Translate. It may also be helpful to find out how common speaking English is in your study abroad location and people’s opinions about it in case you find yourself in a pinch.

The best thing you can do to overcome a language barrier, though, is to learn the language as well as you can. This can, of course, be challenging, but immersing yourself in the culture, attempting to communicate in the local language whenever possible and studying on your own can help.

Studying abroad is difficult, but it’s also the opportunity of a lifetime. Embrace the fun parts and the challenging parts too, and you’ll come out on the other side a more well-rounded, accomplished individual.

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