How to Overcome Expat Student Challenges

Carolina Jacobs

Feb 24, 2023

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Studying abroad sounds like a dream come true for adventurous students. You get to immerse yourself in another culture, meet interesting people, try different foods and post enviable Insta photos. However, you may need to contend with things you did not anticipate when far from home. Here’s how to overcome expat student challenges so you can make the most of your time overseas.

Overcoming Language Barriers

You are lucky that about 1.5 billion people worldwide speak English or at least know a minimal amount. However, you can’t count on that to carry you through. Learning some common words and phrases is respectful when spending a significant amount of time in another country. 

Consider France. They will generally not speak English unless you are at a tourist destination or your college residence hall. You may find some difficulties at the local bakery or cafe. You may find it helpful here and elsewhere to learn these basic phrases:

  • Hello
  • Where can I find —
  • How much is —
  • Thank you

Install a language translation app on your phone so you can converse with people. They will at least appreciate you trying, and you will learn much more than what’s taught in your classes.

Feeling Like a Square Peg

One of the biggest expat student challenges is traveling to a new school in a foreign country and not knowing anyone. There may be other students from your college attending the same program, but you can’t bank on that. It will seem like first-year orientation day all over again. 

In addition to not knowing anyone, you are in an entirely different culture where people speak, act and live differently than you. Your behaviors might make you stand out, and not always in a good way. The last thing you want is to come across as an Ugly American. It’s really OK to eat chicken feet in China, deal with no air conditioning in Italy and drink warm beer in England.

The best things you can do are adapt and adjust, and keep an open mind. You will likely make new friends in your classes and living arrangements. You can also join school sports teams, clubs and social organizations. Getting involved will help you fit in in no time.  

Figuring Out Money Moves

Money makes the world go round, which is certainly the case no matter what country you visit. You may just be getting used to having a budget and saving and spending accordingly, and now you have to figure it out again with foreign currency.

Thankfully, there’s an app for that. Be sure to download a currency converter app on your cellphone to become more familiar with your host nation’s money and always know how much things cost. There are bad actors everywhere, and you don’t want to overpay for things. You’ll probably have things figured out by the time you head home.

Dealing With Homesickness

You’ve probably been looking forward to going overseas and embracing your new home away from home. Before you leave, there’s a flurry of packing, obtaining your passport and visa, and registering for classes. The last thing you might expect to feel is homesick once you finally arrive.

Homesickness is one of the biggest expat student challenges, however. About 43% of international students feel homesick once a week or more. Thankfully, modern tech can help out. Set up regular Zoom calls with your friends and family back home. You can show them the sights and introduce them to your new friends while you’re at it. Try not to overdo it, though, or you’ll spend too much time chatting and not enough time on new experiences.

Be Prepared to Overcome Expat Student Challenges

It’s natural to feel out of place and homesick when you’re in a foreign country for an extended period. Consider yourself lucky to have an experience like this, which will broaden your perspective and stay with you for a lifetime. Expat student challenges are to be expected, but they’re nothing you can’t handle. If you can stomach haggis in Scotland, you can overcome anything.

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