In Nigeria, the concept of studying abroad is pretty astonishing and those that study abroad are considered to have “MADE IT”. But nothing is perfect (not even perfect stars at night, sorry), while studying abroad comes pretty close, it really isn’t. It’s not without its problems. Sometimes it’s the environment that discourages you, most times you just miss home like crazy, or even times you just lack the motivation to continue studying; Many international students experience a number of different challenges unique to their life abroad.
However, a road bump here and shouldn’t derail you or detract you from your overall time abroad (which is always an amazing experience). The best way to mitigate potential problems is to be prepared to face them. At IES, we pride ourselves not only getting you there but staying with you until the end.
Brace yourselves as we outline some of the major challenges international students face while abroad.
By the record, this is by far the most recurrent problem you would encounter as an international student. Okay, you never thought you would say it, but you actually miss your kid sister and your family, you actually miss Mom’s cooking, my God all those Nigerian delicacies, and you actually regret not packing your favorite snack (Suya) for the long journey abroad. It is perfectly healthy and normal to feel homesick, just do not let it become a crippling part of your experience abroad. Don’t forget that your support networks are still there, you just can’t see them often!
Now, how do you conquer it? There are a number of ways to quiet down the loud voices in your head reminding you just how far away from home you actually are. You can get involved in new interests or clubs or adventures in your study abroad destination, you can call up friends/family/advisors for a bit of advice and an ear to listen, you can find a taste of home( find that native Nigerian food shop where you would find all of you’re the Nigerian delicacies to your hearts satisfaction), you can also start journaling and other self-awareness activities.
Most importantly, be sure to avoid spending hours on end perusing Facebook, Instagram and your other favorite social media websites – this is counterproductive and actually feeds your feelings of homesickness, rather than eradicating them.
2. Getting Lost
No matter how many maps you pour over or street names you memorize, you will inevitably find yourself in a sticky situation in an unfamiliar place also known as LOST.
How do you conquer it? Thank God for those that invented Google Maps, they have narrowed the problems of getting lost to a small bit. Now all that’s left for you is to be prepared. Never leave for an adventure without checking out the locale. With your phones, you can always access the street view of the particular area you are going to and that helps you save a lot of trouble.
Also, when you get lost at late hours of the night in a sketchy part of town, your initial response shouldn’t be to freak out, calm down and breathe. You will get through it!
It would also help to note down helpful phrases in the local language pertaining to your situation, such as “Help me, I am lost” or “Can you please direct me to the nearest hotel/gas station/bus stop?” Travel guidebooks are especially helpful and usually contain a section dedicated to this very problem.
If you are extra travel-savvy, you will also keep a stash of emergency cash, perhaps at the bottom of your purse, for these very situations.
3. Running low on cash
Well, well, well! Despite all of your best efforts to plan ahead, budget, and track your expenses throughout the semester, you may have had one or two pizzas too many or splurged a bit too much on that weekend at the resort. No one can blame you for running your bank account to its double digits. Even so, it is your responsibility to stretch your cash until your return home.
How to conquer it? Before leaving on your study abroad program, consider setting aside an account that your parents have access to it, so should you need to tap into your reserves, they can help transfer the money to your account for use.
Once you catch on that your funds are quickly dwindling, pump the breaks. Be extremely conscious and hyper-sensitive to only purchasing necessities versus desires. If all else fails, hit up the Bank of Mom and Dad for an advanced birthday gift or loan. We are sure they would not want their baby to suffer while abroad (fair warning, just do not expect exorbitant amounts of money!).
4. The FOMO effect
Fear of missing out FOMO is a widespread notion that affects our everyday life. You get the feeling when some of your friends, colleagues seem to have a nice time and you are missing out on all the action. As elemental as it sounds, FOMO takes a drastic turn for the worse when you are thousands of helpless miles away from the action.
How to conquer it? Do yourself a huge favor and minimize the time you spend cruising around on social media. The world is changing and everything is changing with it. Everyone is seemingly having a good time, and yes, as much as you want to have a good time, understand that sometimes its best to work now and play later. There is an opportunity cost for everything in life, and if you constantly let your mind drift to “What if this?” and “What if that?”, you will never find contentment. Shut your laptop. Get outside and explore.
5. Staying motivated to attend classes
You have had but a taste of this great, big, beautiful world and are, in a word, Addicted. You are familiar with the city and all the perks therein. How can your teachers possibly expect you to sit in a lecture hall for 5hours, learning anatomy when you could just be out exploring, checking out new museums, actually having fun etc.
How to conquer it? Do not kid yourself. You would not be actively studying during your wanderings around the city. It is called “study” abroad for a reason, and by its very name requires an academic effort on the part of the student. Since you are taking classes, it is important that you stay committed to your coursework (otherwise you might lose your scholarship, crash your grade point average, or get kicked out of your program altogether!).
Remember that your classes complement your exploring. While there is value in the act of living abroad in it of itself, if you are truly maximizing the learning potential of the experience, you need to get yourself into your classroom!
6. Time zone differences
Trying to navigate two time zones on opposite ends of the planet can be frustrating at best. You constantly have to double-check which times are appropriate to which time zone and get in the habit of making phone calls super early in the morning or late in the evenings.
If you carry a smartphone, it is advised to add any relevant time zones to your timekeeping apps. Commit the time difference to memory (6 hours behind, 12 hours ahead of time + 1 day). The sooner you can do this, the easier things will be on your end – though you might still need to constantly remind your friends and family back home what time you would be available for chats will be!
7. Feeling like an outsider
You suddenly look around and feel very alone. You are surrounded by “others,” and your looks, your fashion, your inability to communicate in the local tongue, or your general presence is very obviously… different. Never before have you felt so out of place or disconnected.
How to conquer it! Find peace in knowing it’s unlikely that the locals are deliberately trying to make you feel unwanted in their culture. While you are a stranger to this new land, you will start to feel comfortable in no time – it might just take you a few weeks to adjust.
Try to make friends with at least 1 local. I know it sounds like an easy task, but it does take effort to establish and cultivate meaningful relationships, especially across cultural boundaries. Your efforts will be well-rewarded, though; you will gain a friend and an ally. This relationship might give you the foot in the door you need to start feeling safe and relaxed in your new country, instead of separated and awkward.
8. Language or cross-cultural barriers
Take, for instance, you order for food with chicken and they bring you something entirely different from what you ordered or you tell the taxi to take you to a certain and he takes you to a different place because you couldn’t communicate properly in their native language or. You can choose to let these follies stress you out, or you can take them in stride and chalk it up as another learning opportunity.
How to conquer it? Make an honest effort to familiarize yourself with local cultural norms and lingo. If you are not fluent in the host country’s first language, carry around a translation dictionary or fill up your smartphone with related foreign language apps. Befriend locals and ask for tips and advice for ways to more authentically interact with strangers.
At the end of the day, you should not let the fear of offending someone or speaking incorrectly keep you from interacting healthily within the host culture. You will learn with time, and if you are patient with yourself (and conscious not to repeat mistakes, lest you get spat in the face TWICE), you will feel like a bi-lingual superhero before you know it.
9. Wanting to stay forever
You have fallen in love with this new place. You love everything about it – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the energy. More importantly, you love the YOU that lives here. You feel more confident and self-assured than ever, and you are dreading the thought of returning home to family pressures, expectations, and responsibilities defined by others. You love the freedom, the adventure.
How to conquer it? Everything in life is a learning opportunity, and returning home is a very crucial part of your overall experience studying abroad. Without returning home, you will not be forced to confront the newfound changes in yourself that you suspected while abroad.
The key is to take home with you the feelings of ecstasy and freedom that you found in your life abroad. Do not confuse the two locations as being polar opposites, whereby in one you are your best self and in the other you are simply pining for the former.
Return trips are ALWAYS an option. You might even consider moving abroad permanently or semi-permanently someday. The possibilities are endless!
Now that you are ready to anticipate common study abroad problems and take them in stride, you can focus on what is most important – having FUN. Enjoy your stay abroad!