While the transition to college is tough for all young adults, the academic challenge faced by international students can be far more complicated than that of the average student. Likewise, the cultural challenges faced by international students can put a strain on both their academic and personal lives.
The Academic Challenge
Students who study internationally are usually very intelligent and capable people in their home country. If they are studying in an English-speaking country, they usually take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam to prove their ability to read, write, and speak the English language. While scores vary depending on the school, many colleges have minimum expectations for proficiency in order to be successful. Unfortunately, the English language is among the trickiest languages to learn and can confront even the most prepared student with challenges. Their writing can come across as full of mistakes even if the information being discussed is very insightful. This can affect the student’s grades on things like papers and essays.
Students can also face problems when adjusting to new expectations in their academic settles. Schools overseas may have different expectations for homework, deadlines, paper format, citations, average workload, or communication with the instructor. International students may find it difficult to take on more work or shorter deadlines than they experienced in their home countries. They may also be accustomed to working independently, making them less likely to seek help from a professor or a friend. This may affect their ability to work on group projects similar. Of course, the exact opposite is true for students more accustomed to collaborative work rather than independent study.
Students in a new country also need to adjust to non-academic challenges. First and foremost, the challenge of financially managing an education can be difficult. In the United States, international students are not eligible for the same governmental financial aid that citizens are. This means that international students depend more on family support and individual scholarships to their college of choice. They must plan to spend wisely to support themselves.
Culture shock can be a major challenge for students, as well. They may find that, despite their high TOEFL scores, that accents, idioms, and slang make it difficult to understand their peers. They may struggle to make friends as easily as their peers, increasing the sense of isolation that can come from being far from family.
Students may become homesick when away from family for long periods of time. While peers may travel home for holidays like Thanksgiving in the United States, international students may be left to find a place to stay when the dorms close. International students may not be able to travel home as frequently, leading to a sense of disconnect from their family. On the other hand, summers spent at home may contribute to a similar disconnect from school, leading to a sense of not belonging anywhere. Students may struggle with where to apply for jobs after graduation, not knowing if they should return home or make a new life in their country of study.
Studying abroad can be a challenging experience for many students. However, the benefits derived from full immersion in another culture can be great. Doing research beforehand and making connections with the international student organizations and offices on campus can make for a smoother transition. All college students face challenges, international students just need to plan a little farther ahead to make their education a success.
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