“Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful – Joshua J. Marine”
Dreams, aspirations and increased pace of globalization makes it easier for students to bag an opportunity to study abroad. Studying abroad is often associated with better career opportunities and higher pay scale. Many students at their early stages tend to forget the challenges associated with studying abroad and underestimate the chances of failure. Being prepared to know what to except in the host country can increase the chances of being successful. In this blog, I would like to discuss the challenges of international students, and later also provide some fruitful recommendations to increase their chances of success.
The main challenges of studying abroad can be easily categorized as follows:
- Communication – Frequently, students traveling abroad have a misconception that English can get them going in a lot of countries. Unfortunately, this is not true for listless number of countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain, etc.! Language becomes the first barrier to communication.Not making enough effort to learn the language of the host country, hinders communication with the localities and makes it difficult to find a support network within the country. This isolates you making the day to day activities seem harder with less or no access to necessary information.Language is one sort of a problem and dialects associated with various languages make the story even more complicated. Have you ever heard of Germans from the North not understanding Germans in the South?!
- Culture – How many would have heard the term ‘cultural iceberg’? What one can see or feel in regard to the culture of the host country can be only 20%. What you cannot is the rest 80%. Shocking right? The non-verbal communication details, values of the society, perspectives with respect to time, masculinity and power distance in the society. Many more details should be taken into sheer consideration. Lacking to prepare for these details can pose several challenges in the host country.My personal experience acknowledges the fact that every students travels through different stages of cultural adjustment. The initial honeymoon phase when entering the host country is all sweet, but a little later comes the cultural shock that causes irritation, denial and hostility. Unfortunately, it can a longer time to come out this culture shock to adapt to the surroundings and exhibit biculturalism.
- Education system – The education system from the host country might be completely different to your country. The curriculum, the teaching system and the learning system, it needs few weeks before getting a hang of why certain things are in a certain way.To provide a simple example, in Europe, the education system requires active involvement of the students. The students are given the sheer independence and often expected to approach or question the professor in case of ambiguity. This is different to many countries in Asia, where students are expected to only follow the instructions of the professor without questioning them, which makes the educational system more passive.In Germany, I was initially surprised when (almost) everyone was drinking/eating/using phone/laptop/randomly walking in or out , so casually during a class. I wasn’t used to it since we even had to ask if we could drink water during a class.
- Conflict between local and foreign students – One cannot deny that there are some preconceived notions (prejudices) about each country in any host country. Prejudices and intolerance from the local students while interacting with international students can cause inconveniences while working in a team(until you are lucky enough to get a class of open-minded, having no pre-notions about your country). More often unfortunately, there can be a higher gap between international and local students due to missing commonalities (in terms of culture, values, activities, friends) between them.
- Financial issues – Usually, students immigrate to countries with better educational system and higher standard of living. This also indicates that the costs to perceive education in the host country are usually much higher compared to the home country. Majority of the international students are under stress to cater their financial needs forcing them to take up hard and study-irrelevant jobs. This divides the energy and the focus of the student often leading to poor grades and/or even completely failing to achieve the primary goals of studying abroad.
Probably showing these challenges upfront can demotivate the students to pursue their dreams. The whole purpose is to make the students ‘expect the unexpected’ and prepare for the shocks in advance. I would like to put forward some set of recommendations which can help you to make your life easy studying elsewhere.
But, the reason why all the above points are called best case scenarios is because – it is not common. And from what I have seen, around 90% of the students I have spoken to and known their situations, it is time to bring out some points that can help in overcoming them to its maximum. Let’s begin:
- Financial – Always have a back-up plan and a realistic understanding of what the situation might be.
- Preparation – Even before you leave your country, study the host culture and curriculum of the course. Understand the prerequisite knowledge and expectations demanded by the course. You would be much more open to the change.
- Communication – Getting in touch with present students of the university and alumni. Try to develop social network in advance and practice social learning. If you are going to be the first international student in the region/University, may God be with you!
- Time – Try arriving in the host country, little ahead before the start of your study program. This time cushion helps you harmonize understanding the system of the host country (finding groceries, library, railway station, bus connections, etc.).
- Integration – Attending various social activities and getting to know people from different cultures can help you accept the new place faster and in a more healthier way.
- Interaction – Don’t hesitate to give your feedback to the university or in the surveys. Register for the buddy program at the university (The buddy that I was assigned to, is my first German best friend and we continue to contact each other till date). It can help you in all possible situations and also helps you understand them from their perspective.
Hope this helps as many as possible and share it with everyone you know who is planning to study outside their home country.
All the very best! 🙂
This blog is based on the personal experiences of Vidya Sagar Kantamneni and Charu Pathni.
Vidya Sagar Kantamneni: Originally from India, Vidya studied his Bachelors and double Masters in Austria. He is located in Austria and working for Infineon Technologies.
Charu Pathni: Charu studied her Masters in Germany in Chemnitz, graduated in 2015 and successfully pursuing her career at Vector Informatik GmbH.
P.S Do share your experiences in the comments below and you can also ask me any question on “Quora – Charu Pathni” or send me an email directly.