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9 Tips for Surviving in a New Country as a Foreign Student


So you have just received your Letter of Admission into your desired school abroad.

You are quite excited but something keeps getting in the way of that excitement. You have a thought tugging at your happiness and No, it’s neither amusement nor enthusiasm. It’s uncertainty and that’s because you aren’t sure of how to cope away from home and familiar people.

If you’re heading off to a new school overseas, you not only have the usual things to worry about – making friends, adjusting to a new timetable, workload, teachers, and so on – but you also have extra concerns to contend with, such as adjusting to a new culture and dealing with feelings of homesickness.

Studying abroad means making big changes in your daily life. Generations of students have found that they go through a series of stages as they adjust to living abroad.

There are four stages of adaptation that an international student typically goes through:

  • The initial euphoria and excitement: In this stage, you are simply excited about new sights and surroundings. You may even notice similarities and differences between the new culture and your home culture and be intrigued about them.
  • The irritation and hostility: The novelty of the new culture has worn off and there is what is called ‘culture shock’. The differences you might have noticed in the new culture begins to wear you down and you become overly stressed out by small problems thus feeling frustrated and homesick. At this stage, international students find that this culture shock also affects their academic performance if care is not taken.
  • Finding perspective: In this stage, you decide to make the most of your experience. You begin to have deeper learning about life abroad and a questioning of your earlier assumptions about the world. Without knowledge of articles like these, many international students only adapt at this stage. Often this may be too late into the session.
  • Proper Adaptation: If you are open to getting part-time or full-time employment in your new country, you have finally adapted properly. Not many international students are capable of doing this.

The more information you have about studying abroad and adapting in a new country, the easier it will be to plan for future events and develop strategies to successfully adjust to life abroad. So here are 9 good tips for you that should hopefully help you cope in a foreign land as an international student.

1. Learn about the culture and language beforehand

Prepare for your trip by reading books about the culture, travel guidebooks, and popular web sites or newspapers relevant to the region you are traveling to. If there will be a language barrier, take language classes or seek out a tutor to make your transition period easier.

2. Keep in touch with people at home

Try to maintain relationships with people at home while you are away by keeping in touch regularly. This assures people that you continue to care about them. Also, much as they miss you, you are the one away and prone to homesickness. Yes, you will be extremely busy getting settled and learning about your new environment. But make sure to keep those lines of communication open so that long periods between communications do not alarm your family and friends at home and depression doesn’t take over what could have been a wonderful stay.

3. Be open to new experiences

You’re in a city filled with inspiring people, with all kinds of interests, talents and hobbies. Now’s your chance to sign up to do something you’ve never done before. Only through experience will you understand another culture and if you plan on studying for at least a year in a foreign country, then it is important to learn the culture of its people. You must keep an open mind, leaving prejudices behind, in order to observe the cultural knowledge people are using to organize their behavior. With a positive attitude, pay attention to the worldviews of the new culture and be aware of what is taking place around you.

4. Locate the international student body

The international student associations/offices are great resources for international students. They can provide prospective and newly arrived students with help finding a place to live, opening a bank account, getting your documents and finding a roommate, for example. You may feel like you are disturbing but what do you know? Do not hesitate to use their resources before and after you arrive into the country.

5. Join your cultural community

Due to the varying student population, many schools have student communities much like where students came from. Every international student is urged to join one so they can feel less lonely. Depending on the program you are in, you might also have the chance to connect with your own community as part of a project. If you are a Masters or Ph.D. student, you can find ways to connect your research interests with your own community.

6. Be friendly 

The more alone you feel, the more you’ll realise you need to be yourself which means you don’t have to pretend to belong. But don’t just hide out in your room making small awkward talks with everyone. I’m not saying you should start conversing with everyone you meet in the streets, but be friendly and go out of your way to find people you will get along with. Study abroad students can easily make friends at school because there will always be someone who wants to help you get by. Choose the ones with very good intentions towards you. If you do meet people, you could find some pretty cool places away from the largest tourist traps or be able to get some things at a discount thereby saving you more cash.

7. Pack for the weather

In most cities, you’re likely to experience variation in the weather, and you may notice this more than usual – mainly just because it’ll be a little different from what you’re used to. It’s essential to bring clothes that will keep you both warm and dry in winter (add another few layers if you’re planning to study in places like New York City), as well as light cotton clothes to stop you getting too warm in the summer (remove another layer if you’re headed to study in places like Hong Kong). Basically, be sensible – if you spend a lot of time too cold, damp or heat-exposed, you’re going to end up getting sick and where is the fun in that?

8. Plan to do things on time

Eventually, you will learn that you need to conserve your resources (money, energy etc) and one way to do that is to smartly do things on time. For example,  as an international student new to the system, the public transport will not be 100% reliable. Even worse is if you have to use it. You will have to make plans to always leave early for lectures and important meetings. After the first few weeks, your lecturers will probably stop accepting transport issues as a valid excuse for being late to class!

9. Consider getting a job or internship

Money gotten from parents or guardians will never be enough. Eventually, your standard of living will change to adapt to your new surroundings and you may see the need to have steady flow of income. To keep head above water, study abroad students can seek out internships and jobs that are available for international students through their school’s international student center.

Choosing to study abroad can be a great decision, but only if you INTENTIONALLY make the most of living at the heart of everything. The above tips help to ensure that your trip will be an adventure, wherever you’re headed.

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