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The Challenges Of Studying Abroad

When you study abroad, countless people beforehand tell you how amazing it will be. They say that you’ll absolutely love it, and it’ll be the best thing you’ll ever decide to do. I agree that this is partly true, but after the initial excitement of being in a new new country wears off, it can leave you asking yourself such questions as “what the devil am I doing in the middle of this foreign country, when my whole life is back home?”

Asking youself these questions makes sense though. By moving abroad, you’re literally dropping everything you’re familiar with, switching your whole life for a new one. Pretty stressful to say the least. As for myself, I’ve been studying in Canada for about a month now. When people ask me, “how’s Canada?”, I can’t help but wish they’d be more specific. I don’t even know where to begin answering that question. I can guarantee that behind every great moment posted on Instagram, there’s a not so great moment that isn’t mentioned. So here I am, mentioning them.  

You might relate, or you might not. But the point is that it’s absolutely fine to not feel fine. So here are some of the unexpected challenges I’ve faced whilst studying abroad so far…

1. Culture Shock

So, culture shock is actually a real thing, and there is no escaping it. This will probably be the first thing you experience as soon as you step off the plane. The landscape is different, the food is different, the shops are different, the people sound and speak differently, money is different, the time is different- literally everything is new and confusing! When you’re on your own, you really get thrown into the deep end, and you have no choice but to swim it out. 

The first thing that threw me was simply how to cross the road. It sounds silly, but in all honesty not knowing how to get from one side of the road to the other is stressful! Not to mention getting from one side of a city to another. That brings me to public transport, because I did a lot of googling before I even dared myself to get on a bus. Back home, I definitely took for granted how easy public transport is to use, and how much of it there is in the UK.  Culture shock is, as the name suggests, just a little shocking when it happens, but it’s easy to deal with and only lasts while everything is new. The internet is definitely a big help. 

2. Homesickness

The big one. In my opinion, this is the hardest challenge to deal with. You’re feeling lonely and unsettled, you’re new home is not yet your ‘home’, and you’re just longing to see your close friends and family again. Even though this is a hard emotion to deal with, try and remember that it will pass. Everyone feels it, even if you’re at a uni in the same country as you’re home town, and there are definitely ways to make it slightly more bearable.

My tips for dealing with homesickness include:

  • Keeping busy. Create something, have a netflix marathon, go out and explore, visit to the gym, etc etc. Homesickness doesn’t have time to enter your mind when you’re thinking about other things.
  • Socialise. You don’t even have to have an established friendship group to do this. Just go along to a club/society, or a university event. I’ve found that socialising is by far the best remedy for homesickness. 
  • Skype. Scheduling regular Skype chats with friends/family will brighten your day, and theirs.
  • Reflection. By that I mean take a few minutes to remember what you’ve achieved so far. Think about where you are, the challenges you’ve overcome, and the opportunities you’ll get from being in this place. Maybe keep a diary or video record your experience. After a bit of self-reflection, you will feel proud of yourself, and happy to be there. After all, homesickness becomes a side effect that you don’t mind putting up with once in a while. 

3. New Academic Standards

Switching universities is not as universally structured as you’d think. Once your classes start, you’ll notice how different things are. For example, I have noticed that there are more contact hours here than back home, and assignments are more frequent. The teaching feels more like school, whereas at home it was a lot more independent study. However, this is just my experience, and it’s bound to be different depending on which university you attend. Either way, once you adjust to the new teaching style you should be fine!

4. Logistical stuff

A more practical challenge for me was sorting out things like getting a new sim card for my phone, and opening a bank account. It’s a challenge that with a bit of research, is relatively easy to overcome. I think having to take the initiative, and the responsibility of establishing your new life, gives you a lot of independence. Prior to this month, I would have dreaded having appointments at the bank. However, when going it alone is your only option, you learn that life isn’t as scary as you thought. 

5. Loss of identity

I’m not saying that by moving abroad you have to become a new person. However, your circle of friends, the environment you live in, and the things you were comfortable with back at home all played a big part in defining who you are. Now that everything familiar to you has gone, you’re left feeling slightly lost. Yes, you still have that circle of friends waiting for you at home, but who do you associate with on a daily basis? 

I definitely felt a slight drop in my self confidence during the first few weeks here, because I was different to everybody else. But eventually, you start to embrace your differences. I mean, accents are quite cool! By forcing yourself out of your comfort zone, you’re sacrificing that tiny piece of your confidence for a huge gain in self identity in return. It’s a brief, but significant challenge, and it’s one of the reasons why everyone says that studying abroad changed them for the better.

6. Wait, does this mean I shouldn’t study abroad? 

No, not at all. Studying abroad will bring you many happy, funny and wonderful memories. The challenges you face will be part of what makes the experience so life changing, and so utterly rewarding. It will definitely be one of the best times of your life, and – as cliche as it sounds – studying abroad will really change you for the better. So if you’re on study abroad right now, don’t stress! If you’re just thinking about studying abroad in the future, then definitely 100% do it! 

Lastly, I just wanted to finish on this thought: sometimes, it feels like a taboo to mention our down days when we are asked about our lives, as if it would be selfish to do so. I disagree with that. I fully admit to you now that, actually, I don’t love every single day out here. And I’m okay with that. 


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Alex Marshall

Exeter Cornwall

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