Tackling Common Challenges of Studying Abroad

Ask the Expert Wednesday

Today’s question comes to us from Jacquelyn in California, she asks, “I’m about to start a marketing program in a different country and am nervous about what to expect.  What are some tips for students studying abroad?”

Tackling Common Challenges of Studying Abroad

Studying abroad is an amazing experience afforded to college students, and the benefits are immense.

Students have a great opportunity to become immersed in another language and culture, and explore the world.

A study abroad experience can not only enhance a student’s life academically, but can also provide a transformation in how they view the world, other people and themselves.
With that being said, as with nearly any experience worth having, there are certainly challenges that go along with studying in a foreign country, and many of these challenges are rooted in social and cultural differences.

The Feeling of Being an Outsider

America is a unique place, in that although there are so many ethnicities and cultures, many people work and interact with one another on a daily basis.

In some foreign countries this may not be the case, and as an American, it’s easy to have the immediate feeling of being an outsider. There may also be legitimate stereotypes and prejudices against you, because of where you’re from, what you look like or any of the differences between you and the residents of the country in which you’re studying.
Rather than becoming discouraged, simply understand this is a natural feeling, and allow yourself time to become accustomed to your new surroundings. It takes time to integrate into any new environment, so having patience is the best way to combat these feelings.
Language Barriers

This is one of the biggest problems for students studying abroad, but it’s important to remember that learning the language is a big reason you’re there in the first place.
Even if you don’t know any of the language when you begin your experience, being immersed in it will help you learn much more quickly.

Don’t just surround yourself with other English speakers, or be afraid to speak the language. Get out and about and speak the language as much as possible, even if you’re unsure of yourself.

Money Woes

It may not seem like a big problem, but for many students who are already not extremely well-versed in financial issues, understanding currency differences, and appropriately budgeting can be a source of frustration.

It’s a good idea to have a quick reference for converting currency, and to create a budget for yourself in the currency of the country you’re in. For example, if you’re spending Euros in the same way you would dollars, you might wind up running out of money far faster than you anticipated.

Cultural Concerns

Every country is going to have different cultural and social norms. For example, in some European countries it’s considered rude to tip, whereas it’s quite the opposite here in America.

Do some research before you visit a new country, and at least give yourself a quick course on the culture.

There are also different norms for social interactions, so it can be good to err on the side of self-restraint when meeting and interacting with people. America can be a very up-close and personal society, and other countries may not have those same norms, so until you learn what’s considered acceptable, be a bit more restrained than you would at home.

Grappling with Homesickness

Homesickness strikes nearly every student who studies abroad at some point, but don’t let it derail your experience.

Find ways to create a support network in your new location, by being involved with other students, taking advantage of extracurricular activities and being open to forming new relationships. You’ll often find you bond with your study abroad classmates more quickly than you do with people at home, and frequently those bonds last for a lifetime because of the shared experience.

Ultimately, while you may be faced with challenges, most students agree there’s no greater experience than studying abroad. It’s an exciting time of a student’s life, filled with amazing memories that last a lifetime.

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