8 things student's wish they known before studying abroad
What students wish they knew before taking the plunge of studying in a foreign land.
Before embarking on their studies abroad, international students can try to prepare for various situations: culture shock, financial issues, potential housing problems and differences in educational styles. But yet there are other unexpected things, good and bad, that many do not even think about.
Learning Maths in English is Hard
Even if you have always been good at mathematics, you are almost guaranteed to have trouble when you start doing maths in a language that is not your native. Simple calculations may suddenly seem difficult, as even divisions and subtractions are conducted slightly differently from one country to another. English is one tricky foreign language when it comes to doing maths, as it includes complex-sounding words like “quadrilateral” and “parallelogram.” You might want to study some maths vocabulary beforehand to make your life easier, especially if you are heading to the USA. Everyone there has to study a few courses of maths, no matter what their university major.
You Will Mix Up Languages
As an international student, you may speak several languages: English during classes, your native language when you call your parents, and possibly even a third one that you speak with your new international friends. Sometimes this is fun – and other times this will make your brain feel like a tired, blurry mess. And yes, sometimes you will accidentally ask the librarian for a libro instead of a book and feel like a dork. These moments will feel discouraging and embarrassing, but hang in there. Things will get easier over time, especially as you improve your English. And just know that you are doing yourself a favour with your multi-lingual life: studies show that speaking several languages leads to a better-functioning brain, and can even delay dementia later on.
People Will Always Ask Where You Are From
When you move to a foreign country, you will hear the question “Where are you from?” several times per week. It may be your accent that reveals that you are not a native of that land, or your exotic looks or unusual first name. Either way, you will face this question over and over again. Yes, it is irritating – especially when you may already consider yourself to be a local, and would rather not be seen as an obscure foreigner. But try to stay positive: most people who ask about your origins do so because they love travelling and learning about other cultures. Sometimes this simple question can even lead to deeper conversations, or introduce you to new friends.
You Will Never Completely Feel At Home
When you leave your birth country and build a new life elsewhere, your idea of home changes permanently. You suddenly have two of them. When you are in one, you often miss the other, and vice versa. You have dear friends and belongings in both countries – it almost feels like leading two lives in parallel universes. Your old and new home countries might be wildly different from one another, but both have some good sides that you love. Sadly, neither will feel 100 percent home. At some point you may even notice that the only place where you feel truly at peace is in an airplane flying between the two places.
Homecoming Is A Bittersweet Reunion
Before you study abroad, most of your friends probably come from similar backgrounds as you: they attend the same high school, have the same friends and play football in your local club. You and your best friend can practically finish each other’s sentences because you know each other so well. However, this comes to an end when you move abroad. Your new university friends will come from all walks of life, and will have lead lives that may be complete opposites of yours. When you return back home, your relationship with your old friends probably will not be the same either. You will have changed and grown through having new experiences abroad. At times this may make you feel lonely but you get a chance to understand different viewpoints and expand your horizons.
The World Will Feel Welcoming
Of all the people you meet, your fellow international students will come the closest to perfectly understanding you. The shared experience of studying abroad brings people together, even if one person hails from New Zealand and the other from Nigeria. Often you will become lifelong friends, and may even visit each other’s home countries. Suddenly it seems like no big deal to go to Pakistan or Uruguay on holiday, as you know you have a familiar face greeting you there. The world really becomes your playground.
Global News Hits Closer to Home
If you have never lived outside of your home country and do not know many people who have, you can follow global news as a relative outsider. Sure, you feel bad about hearing about the destruction of a hurricane or a tsunami, even a traffic accident across the globe, but these events do not impact your daily life. But once you study abroad, you will develop a new type of empathy for people and situations in other countries. Next time there is a mudslide in Brazil, you might be frantically calling your Brazilian classmate to make sure his family is okay. Similarly you will rejoice with your Gambian uni friend that her country finally got a new president. In short, many global events and major news suddenly matter more to you because your circle of friends now spans worldwide.
The Travel Bug Will Bite You Badly
When you leave your home country one time, it becomes easy to leave again in the future. After studying in the USA, you may start dreaming of working in Singapore, and going on a safari in South Africa. You also want to ski in the Alps in Italy and attend a yoga camp in the Sahara Desert. The New York skyline is also suddenly calling your name. The more you see of the world, the more you want to see. Studying abroad often leads to the first bite of the travel bug, and then you just want to scratch that itch all the time. Just know what you are getting yourself into before leaving for your studies abroad - this is a condition with no known cure.
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About the Writer: Mirva Lempiäinen is a US-educated freelance journalist from Finland. After calling New York City home for about a decade, she now resides on the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.