Don't Give Up: Strategies for overcoming obstacles as an international student

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    International students encounter numerous challenges unique to foreigners during their studies abroad, putting them at a disadvantage and often hindering their academic performance. Therefore, international students should be taught how to use coping tools for when they face difficulties during their stay abroad. The purpose of this article is to identify common obstacles that students studying in a foreign country encounter and provides strategies and practical advice useful for overcoming their difficulties.

    International students encounter numerous challenges unique to foreigners during their studies abroad, putting them at a disadvantage and often hindering their academic performance. To avoid pitfalls, students should thoroughly prepare themselves for their life changing experience before leaving their home countries. Having a good notion of what the experience and the new culture will be like can prevent complications upon arrival in the host country. Yet no matter how prepared they are, foreign students will inevitably face unforeseeable challenges. Therefore, international students should be taught how to use coping tools for when they face difficulties during their stay abroad. This article identifies common obstacles that students studying in a foreign country encounter and provides strategies and practical advice useful for overcoming their difficulties.

    Before Traveling: Be knowledgeable about the country

    Each country has its own rules, culture and values. So, knowing about the country will minimize surprises and shocks that can disrupt the initial period of adjustment. Doing a simple Internet search and spending some time browsing through websites is sufficient for a general overview. However, to get a better idea of what the country will be like, a student should listen to the perspective of a person from the same country who lived in the host country. That way, the student can receive helpful advice and suggestions from someone who has experienced the new country as a foreigner.

    When You Arrive: Determine, accept and overcome your obstacles

    Knowing the challenges you may face helps to reduce the tension and stress of moving to a new country. Common obstacles are language barriers, culture shock, difficulty establishing friendships, and worst of all, depression.

    Answer the following questions to see if you may be facing any of these obstacles.
    1. Do people often ask you to repeat your speech?
    2. Do you stay silent while others wait for your answers to questions?
    3. Do you pretend to understand when you donít?
    4. Do you try hard to accept everything in the new culture?
    5. Do you feel irritable or insecure in the new environment?
    6. Do you have problems solving even simple issues?
    7. Do you feel you need to speak with somebody and canít find anyone to talk to?
    8. Do you sit alone during social activities while others are sitting in groups?
    9. Have you thought of leaving everything and going back to your country?
    10. Does it seem like a long time since you were happy?
    11. Have you been experiencing or ever had some of these symptoms (, 2013):
      • changes in sleep
      • changes in appetite
      • poor concentration
      • lack of interest
      • low self-esteem
      • hopelessness or guilt

    If you answered 'YES' to questions 1,2 or 3, you may be facing a language barrier. Read the section on language barrier for some advice on how to handle this problem.

    If you answered "YES" to question 4,5 or 6, you may be facing a cultural barrier. Read the section on culture barrier for some advice on how to handle this problem.

    If you answered "YES" to question 7 or 8, you may be having difficulty in establishing friendships. Read the section on difficulty in establishing friendships for some advice on how to handle this problem.

    If you answered "YES" to question 9, 10 or 11 you may be experiencing depression. Read the section on depression for some advice on how to handle this problem.

    Language barrier:

    This is often the most common and most difficult barrier for international students. Since most students move to a country with a different operating language, it is hard for them to accurately say what they desire. For those who come to the United States, most have been exposed to the English language before they arrive, yet many still encounter difficulties in understanding the expressions of native speakers, especially when they use slang and idioms.

    When international students have to deal with complicated issues like signing a lease and opening a bank account, they take a risk by signing papers they canít comprehend. It also takes much longer to understand what is being offered. In the classroom, a student may sit through lectures that he or she canít comprehend or may be required to partake in group projects. The pressure to perform can cause a lot of stress and self-doubt.

    Strategies for overcoming a language barrier:

    Try to accept the fact that acquiring a language is a lengthy process. Be patient and give yourself enough time to succeed. Immerse yourself in the language by watching TV and movies, and listening to the radio. Change your phone and computer settings to the language you are trying to learn. Donít view websites in your native language. When communicating with others, do not be shy. When you donít understand, ask for clarification. Join clubs and interest groups. Making friendships with native speakers will help you to improve your speaking and listening skills. Remind them that you appreciate being corrected. If possible, avoid speaking your native language, even with people who are from your country.

    Culture barrier:

    Cultural differences, especially and culture shock are often causes of great anxiety. Culture shock, consisting of four stages, Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment, and Mastery, is the process of adapting to a new surrounding. The honeymoon stage, usually the first stage, is when people feel happy, cheerful, and interested in new experiences. They make new friends and discover new places. In the negotiation stage, people start to feel that everything is strange and different from their country of origin. As a consequence, the feeling of the excitement is replaced by confusion, sadness and frustration. In the adjustment stage, people start to understand and accept the differences between the original and the host country. They feel more confident in dealing with daily activities. In addition, they begin to feel like they belong in the new environment. In the last stage, mastery, foreign students are comfortable and enjoy being in the new culture. Also, they may prefer some cultural traits of the new culture to those of their home countries. The intensity, duration and even the order of the four stages varies from one person to another. Some factors that impact how a person experiences culture shock are how each individual deals with the unfamiliar culture, his or her personality type and the available support system.

    Strategies for overcoming a culture barrier:

    Try to participate in cultural activities. Enjoy the experience and try not to complain or compare. Remember your strengths and don't force yourself or others to do things that do not feel natural. Be patient and positive. Practice your hobby or develop one. Look for support networks with other international students. Don't give up, and give yourself enough time to adapt.

    Difficulty in establishing friendships:

    Building friendships is difficult for many people. 38% of 454 participating international students studying in the US in 2012 had no close American friends and were unsatisfied with this lack of contact (Gareis, 2012). Shy or insecure students may find it more difficult to make friends than outgoing, confident extroverts.

    In lieu of finding American friends, international students in the U.S. spend their time with people from the same country since they have similar backgrounds and mindsets. Though it may be easier to stick to what they know, that does not help students adapt to their surroundings. Not making friends from the new country may affect how students participate in social activities and classroom discussions. Without friends, a person might feel shy and prefer to sit alone in class or at lunch, which only perpetuates the problem. Once a person has established himself or herself as shy, it can be hard to break out of that mold.

    Strategies for overcoming difficulty in establishing friendships:

    Donít isolate yourself from others. Join associations and organizations for international students. The people you will meet there will have experienced the same thoughts and feelings as you. Be outgoing and let others know more about you. Smile and show that you care about other people. Join those who have the same hobby and interests as soon as you arrive. Look for a volunteer job to facilitate building relationships with others. Don't be shy about starting a conversation. Be a good listener.


    Depression is a psychological disorder which is characterized by feelings of sadness and hopelessness. It's a condition that often results from a great loss or hardship. Depression is one of the major problems that international students face. There are many causes of it, such as language problems, culture shock and homesickness.

    Unfortunately, depression can make it hard for students to adapt and adjust to their new environment. It might cause physiological and learning problems. Fortunately, international student can avoid these problems by knowing and seeking information and advice at the right time.

    Strategies for overcoming depression:

    Firstly, seek medical attention. Only trained professionals can diagnose and treat depression. To avoid being overwhelmed from day to day, make your daily routine as simple as you can. Keep in touch with your family and friends. Write in a journal or talk to someone you trust. Seek counseling if you need it. Donít compare yourself with others because everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Stay organized and plan ahead. Donít let school assignments pile up because that only adds to your stress. Stay positive and keep your eye on your target.


    To sum up, overcoming obstacles makes you stronger and more capable of handling future stressful situations. Adapting to a new environment is challenging for most people who take the conveniences of their daily lives for granted, so a person must be resourceful and resilient. Knowing that support is available and using it can dramatically impact a person's transition and stay in a foreign country. Using the information provided, international students can identify the barriers they face. Students should always remember to seek help early on so that they can fully enjoy and maximize their experience abroad.

    Gareis, E. (2012). International relations: How to foster host-national friendships. University World News. 228. Retrieved on March 7, 2013 from
    National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2013). Depression: Symptoms, causes and diagnosis. Retrieved from:
    Last edit by Joe V on Apr 3, '13
    waqarahmed, angel_prias, and Joe V like this.

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    About Fatimah Alahmed

    From 'Hamden, CT, US'; Joined Apr '13; Posts: 2; Likes: 3.

    Read more articles from Fatimah Alahmed

    4 Comments so far...

  3. 1
    Thank you for sharing this article. It is very informative and helpful.
    Fatimah Alahmed likes this.
  4. 0
    You are welcome!! It is my pleasure to share this crucial information with you all.
  5. 0
    Great Article! Only addition is Discrimination issues
  6. 0
    Not knowing if they will get their ultimate goal is usually the biggest worry for international students during their study and that is permanent residency. 99.9% of international students are studying in country with hope of permanent residency, not to return home, as thousands of dollars are invested in this venture.
    Last edit by ceridwyn on Apr 22, '13

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