7 Challenges Of Studying Abroad and How To Overcome Them

7 Challenges Of Studying Abroad and How To Overcome Them

One of the best ways to gain fluency in a language is to surround yourself with native language speakers. With that said, one of the best ways to learn a second language is to embrace the challenges of studying abroad.

If you study abroad, you will not only get to hear another language constantly, you will be “forced” to speak and think in that language too.  This is why going on an immersion program, traveling to another country is considered the most effective way to learn another language.

Aside from being an effective tool to gain fluency in another language, studying abroad is fun! You learn how to communicate with new people and make new friends! You also get to experience things for yourself! 

For example, instead of just hearing your tutor describe how delicious their favorite local dish is, you can ask a local where you can find a good restaurant that serves the dish and try the dish yourself! 

While the benefits of studying abroad seem obvious, not many people really think about the challenges it poses. Or at least, they don’t think about it before they make their decision. This can lead to some nasty shocks that might put them off of the experience and make them come back home early.

In this post, we are going to look at five of the common challenges of studying abroad and how to overcome them.

1. Feeling homesick

Sure, you might have always dreamed of traveling and living abroad – that’s probably a huge part of your motivation for learning a foreign language, but just because you are living the dream doesn’t mean you won’t miss home.

Studying abroad will allow you to “sample” a new life and get to experience a culture that in many ways is different from the one you grew up in. That’s part of the appeal, but it can also make you feel homesick.

It’s not just that you will miss your family and friends; it’s that you will miss what is familiar. After a hard day of trying to figure out new rules about how to conjugate words or a confusing night out when you struggle to remember what a particular idiom means, you might find yourself returning to your lodgings and wishing you were home instead.

When we face hard times or are frustrated, it’s easy to feel the sudden longing for the comfort of “home”. When you are studying abroad, home is literally far away and the longing may seem unbearable.

How to overcome this challenge?

Luckily, with the rise of the internet, there are now many ways to keep in touch with friends and family back home. You can send them an e-mail or a private message or, best of all, have a video call with them. When you feel homesick, taking a few minutes to call a loved one can lift your spirits.

You can also try to prepare beforehand by taking pieces of “home” with you. Pack a few comforting “homey” items with you – a favorite picture, blanket, or stuffed animal. It might also help to be able to “taste” home, by having a few pieces of your favorite candy bar or sachets of a powdered chocolate drink that you love with you.

2. Being an “outsider”

Even if your native language speaking tutor said your beginner French or Mandarin was “great”, when you are actually living somewhere where the second language you learned is now the dominant language, you can’t help but feel a little insecure.

When you first begin your studies abroad, it’s common to feel a little “out of step”. As you are still mentally translating much of what you hear in your head, it might sometimes feel like it takes you longer to get a joke than others or respond to an invitation. 

You might also find yourself hesitating to join in a conversation because you are afraid of making a mistake

This fear and insecurity tend to end up with you feeling like an outsider and maybe hesitating to join in and make new friends or try new experiences. Feeling like an outsider may color your enjoyment of not just your language studies but of being in an exciting new place.

How to overcome this challenge?

First of all, you need to have the right mindset. Remember why you are studying abroad, why you are learning a foreign language. You are doing so to learn how to better communicate with other people and to do so, you need to practice. 

In order to get the “practice” you need, you have to jump right in there and give it your best effort. One reason lists of common phrases in a foreign language tend to include ways to say “I’m learning”, is because it will help you communicate better. If the person you are trying to talk to realizes you are just learning, they will be more patient with you.

One advantage of studying abroad, instead of just traveling abroad, is that you have access to activities that an ordinary tourist might not. Your school or language learning center is bound to have groups or clubs on various interests that you can join. They will also have special activities and excursions that you can go on. Take advantage of this and find friend groups where you can feel like an insider.

3. Not understanding “normal” speech

No matter how diligently you study your vocabulary lists or your list of common phrases, you are bound to be a little confused when you find yourself amongst native language speakers.

Native language speakers don’t talk in “textbook” language. A conversation won’t necessarily follow the dialogue examples found in a textbook. Native speakers will color their speech with expressions, slang words, and idioms that could make it hard for you to follow along and have “normal” conversations.

How to overcome this challenge?

Make sure that you take the time to learn about the slang and idioms that are commonly used in the foreign language you are learning. We have several lists of common idioms and expressions in various languages that you can download and study.

Before you leave, ask your online tutor to give you lists of common expressions and their meaning that you can memorize and learn. Go through the lists with them to ensure that you are pronouncing everything correctly.

Again, if you are confused, ask. Remind the person you are speaking to that you are learning the language then ask them to repeat and explain the phrase they used.

4. Being confused by cultural differences 

Every culture has certain mannerisms or unwritten rules and taboos, these might be the same or different from the ones you are used to.

For example, most cultures have a word that translates to “no”, but some cultures have rules about how you are supposed to say no. Take Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines. 

“No” in Tagalog is “Hindi” and you can say that to refuse an offer. BUT if you listen to a native speaker, they might sometimes say “hindi, po”. The “po” is a sign of respect and while a “hindi” will usually get the point across adding the “po” is sometimes considered more appropriate.

How to overcome this challenge?

Once again, preparation is the key here. Doing research on the cultural norms in the country, such as the appropriate forms of respectful greeting or how body language is used, can help. 

Working with an online native speaking tutor can also be very helpful here. You can ask your tutor to tell you about their culture. Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions. If you are anxious about the proper way to use chopsticks, for example, or if a Brazilian Portuguese idiom will be understood in Lisbon ask. 

Also, once you are actually abroad, don’t be afraid to admit you are confused. Again, many locals will be quite willing to help and may even be eager to “show off” their culture by explaining it to a confused foreigner. Just remember to be polite and thank them for their help afterward. 

5. Different Time Zones 

Traveling to a new country or region, especially for a long period of time can be confusing and disorienting. For most foreign students, there are three “practical” things that they may struggle with and could impact their ability to “fit in” and get down the business of learning.

 

We’re not just talking jet lag here, though that can throw you for a loop for the first few days. We’re also talking about being “out of synch” with things back home.

As we mentioned, keeping in contact with family and friends back home can keep feelings of homesickness and being an outsider at bay. Time zone differences can make this difficult. You need to constantly check and compare the local time to your home time zone in order to find the appropriate time to call, Skype, or message home.

How to overcome this challenge?

Once again, modern technology can come to your rescue here. Most clock apps on mobile devices have a “world clock” option where you can keep track of time zones around the world. When in doubt, check the world clock app.

6. Local currencies 

No matter what your purpose for travel, this is a legit concern – especially if you are not that good at math. 

When you are studying in a foreign country, budgeting is an important skill to have. You need to make sure that the money you brought with you is enough for your daily needs as well as a bit extra for trips with classmates, nights out with new friends, or just to buy a few cute mementos.

To budget effectively, you need to know the value of items, and to do that; you need to be able to convert the local currency to your native currency. This can be confusing, especially if you are in a hurry.

How to overcome this challenge?

Keep an eye on the foreign exchange rate. Again, technology can help. There are websites and apps that serve as currency converters that you can easily access from a mobile device.

7. Understanding directions

Not all who wander are lost, but if you have an appointment to make, you don’t want to waste time wandering around a strange city. 

How to overcome this challenge

Do your research beforehand. Before you leave your home country, look up places you want to go and find a good map of the area. Learn how to ask for directions and how to understand basic directional phrases like “left” and “right”.

Before you leave your school or your lodgings, ask someone to help you interpret the directions you were given. Again, learn how to ask strangers for help and if they can point things out on your map.

Lastly, technology can help here also. Find and download city maps on your phone. There could be directional apps that you can use as well.

Conclusion

While there are challenges to studying abroad, the rewards are worth it. You are going on an adventure that will not just improve your fluency in a language but also improve your understanding and appreciation of a culture. You’re also about to make a ton of new friends.

What are the most common challenges of studying abroad?

Feeling homesick, Being an “outsider”, Not understanding “normal” speech, Being confused by cultural differences, Different Time Zones

How to prepare to move abroad?

Most of the challenges of studying abroad can be overcome with some preparation on your part. One of the most important ways to prepare is to have a few sessions with an online native speaking tutor before you leave. A good tutor can help you learn the basic phrases that you will need to get around a new country. They can help you acquire a basic level of fluency that your studies abroad can build upon.

What's the best way to become fluent in a foreign language?

One of the best ways to gain fluency in a language is to surround yourself with native language speakers. With that said, one of the best ways to learn a second language is to embrace the challenges of studying abroad. If you study abroad, you will not only get to hear another language constantly, you will be “forced” to speak and think in that language too. This is why going on an immersion program, traveling to another country is considered the most effective way to learn another language. Aside from being an effective tool to gain fluency in another language, studying abroad is fun! You learn how to communicate with new people and make new friends! You also get to experience things for yourself!

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