12 Things Your Study Abroad Advisor Might Not Tell You

12 Things Your Study Abroad Advisor Might Not Tell You

They tell you about student diversity, but they don’t tell you how difficult it is to make friends with people from such vastly different backgrounds.

High quality of education, personal development, networking opportunities, job prospects, high salary, enhanced independence, and superior quality of life—all the sweet nothings that draw in ambitious students looking to study in the U.S. What your study abroad advisor doesn’t reveal are the challenges of studying abroad.

12 Challenges You Will Face When You Study Abroad

1. Acclimating to the weather can be challenging

Do you think 10°C is pretty cold?

If you are from a tropical country where it’s never truly cold, come prepared with your warmest sweaters and jackets. The excruciatingly low temperatures in some parts of the U.S. can be agonizing for unaccustomed visitors.

Your advisor won’t tell you a word about it before you’re shivering in bed one December morning, unable to go to class. But hey, coffee always helps.

If you absolutely can’t bear to be cold, consider attending a U.S. college in a state like Florida, Arizona, or Southern California.

2. You have to do everything on your own

If you come from a country like India where children are spoiled and pampered, and not required to do household chores until they are full-grown adults, you have another thing coming for you. The United States values self-sufficiency, so you’ll need to learn to adapt.

In the U.S., you have to do everything on your own: Laundry, cooking, cleaning, groceries, bill payments, budgeting, and even earning money. If you can’t manage all of these, you will have a very difficult time.

These daily chores are one of the most backbreaking challenges of studying abroad that no one tells you beforehand. However, if you come from a country where self-sufficiency is encouraged from a young age, this will seem like a piece of cake.

3. Expect negativity from family and acquaintances

“Why do you need to go to the U.S. when there are so many good universities here?”

“You’ll forget all of us, won’t you?”

“What’s the use? You won’t get any jobs, you know. It’ll be difficult to survive.”

We all have some of those token, negative relatives who are always ready to ruin a good thing. Your own parents may be opposed to the idea of letting you go as well.

Be prepared to brave these odds. A logical explanation might do the trick, or you may have to resort to sterner measures.

4. Time zone and currency differences

It’s not enough to know that your country is five hours ahead of the U.S., or that $1 equals 100 in your national currency.

You will still ring up your parents in the middle of the night thinking it is morning, or maybe it’ll be the other way around.

You will still spend a few minutes converting the price of items from dollars to your national currency to estimate how expensive something is.

In other words, you’re physically in the U.S., but mentally stuck back home. The transition is going to take a while.

5. Expect unexpected expenses

You might suffer an accident and fracture a bone, or there might be an emergency back home and you are suddenly packing your bags to rush back.

These are the most daunting challenges of studying abroad that no study abroad advisor would warn you about, as it would scare off most candidates.

An emergency ER visit or a last-minute flight ticket costs thousands of dollars. These are expenses you can neither predict nor avoid. So, what can you do?

Well, make sure you have international student insurance, of course.

Depending on the school you’re attending, there may be a health insurance plan provided as part of your tuition, or you may have to purchase insurance yourself.

Regardless, making sure you have sufficient insurance coverage is the easiest way of securing yourself financially against unforeseen dangers when you study abroad. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

6. The language barrier

You may have passed all the tests and consider yourself fluent in English, but communicating effectively with Americans is another thing entirely when you study abroad.

Fluency in speaking with Americans comes only with practice.

Even when you know the language, a language barrier may still impede your communication in terms of:

  • Accents (vary from state to state)
  • Expressions and idioms
  • Local slang
  • Connotation of certain words
  • Cultural references
  • Body language or signs

7. Homesickness can cripple you

There’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to miss your family and friends when you study abroad. Some days when you aren’t feeling well, you’ll pine for when your mother would take care of you. Other days, you’ll go quiet at gatherings due to a sudden urge to hug your annoying little sister. From food to family, you’ll miss everything.

Homesickness can seem overwhelming at first, but it will gradually become bearable. Remember, your friends and family are always a call or text away!

8. Loneliness, anxiety, and depression

Homesickness, combined with a lack of friends or sources of support can easily lead you down the rabbit hole of misery.

Here’s what you should do to make friends:

  • Use your academic program as an excuse to talk to your classmates.
  • Do assignments together, or form study groups.
  • Join college clubs that interest you. You may find like-minded people. 
  • Participate in classroom discussions and voice your thoughts more often.
  • Communicate with fellow international students who might be in a similar state of mind.
  • When the going gets tough, consult a therapist or counselor. Find out if your college provides this service.

Know that this feeling of loneliness is only temporary. After a few months, you’ll start adjusting to your new life. You’ll make friends no matter how impossible it might seem initially.

9. Culture shock and misunderstandings are rampant

“Why is the professor asking us to call him by his first name?”

Coming from a foreign country, a lot of customs in the U.S. might seem strange, or even rude. It’s important to set your expectations right. Be cautious not to judge a foreign culture by your own cultural standards.

The same applies the other way around. Things you do and say may be perceived as offensive in the U.S. For instance, you might think it is okay to call an overweight person ‘fat,’ but Americans will take it as body shaming. So, do your research and be as culturally sensitive as you can.

10. Adjusting to a new style of learning

The way they do things in U.S. universities is vastly different from what you’re familiar with. Managing academic expectations is one of the greatest challenges of studying abroad. They don’t tell you how much pressure you’ll be under, so you better figure it out before you go from the frying pan into the fire.

To ease the process, familiarize yourself with your university’s:

  • Teaching style and expectations from students
  • Student credits
  • Grading system and rules
  • Study load per semester
  • Compulsory assignments and projects
  • Process of creating your schedule and selecting classes
  • Use of technology
  • Attendance requirements
  • Classroom culture

11. It’s natural to feel like an outsider

Sadly, you might feel like a misfit both in the U.S. and at home.

When you’re in college:

Everyone starts laughing, but you don’t get the joke.

All your friends are excited about St. Patrick’s Day, but you can’t relate.

When you return back home:

A new trend has started that no one told you about.

Your childhood friend got engaged, and you found out from a picture on Facebook.

This feeling of being out of the loop might never really go away. As you will get more accustomed to the American lifestyle and feel like you finally fit in, you may find you are clueless about what’s going on back home. You can’t win on both fronts.

However, most people get used to it. The sooner you stop worrying about missing out, the better off you’ll be.

12. Your safety is your responsibility

Consider the following scenarios:

  • You’re robbed of all your valuables.
  • You get lost on your way to a new place.
  • A fraudster tricks you and you lose a lot of money.
  • You sense someone is following you on the road.
  • You get abused, harassed, or assaulted.

Without your usual support network, no one has got your back. No one is coming to save you. So, you have to stay on your toes all the time. A careless mistake or lack of precautions can land you in serious trouble.

What can you do? For starters:

  • Always keep a list of emergency contacts with you.
  • Research the local laws concerning the most common dangers.
  • Insure your valuables.
  • Follow Google Maps and ask locals for help.
  • Act responsibly.
  • Contact 911 for emergencies.
  • Keep up with the local news.

One simple solution: Time!

There is really one solution to most of these challenges of studying abroad: it’s giving yourself some time to adjust.

That’s why study abroad advisors don’t tell you anything about these problems. They know that once you are there, you will have to get accustomed to everything. They don’t want you to miss this opportunity because you are scared of the challenges. In the end, you’ll emerge as a self-sufficient adult who can hold your own. Don’t let the small things stop you from achieving your dreams.

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