The struggles you experience as an international student

March 16, 2017
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Heading overseas to study is a scary but exciting experience. In the weeks leading up to your departure, you research everything you can and gear up for the trip of the lifetime. While most often it’s the amazing experience you imagined it to be, some parts of your trip can be a bit of a let-down. While it’s a different experience for everyone, these are the struggles you might be familiar with if you’re an international student.

The struggle of making friends who aren’t international students

While some unis help to foster relationships between local and international students, many don’t, which makes it hard for international students to make friends with locals.

“I mostly made friends with international students, which was actually not how I'd imagined or wanted it to be. I would have really liked to have more local friends,” says Sarah Leow, an international student who studied in Melbourne.

“I've heard that local students don't actually think international students are interested in making friends with them. So I'd really like to clear that up and say, yes! International students would love to know local students too!”

Like many others, Sarah felt her uni didn’t do enough to connect international students to local students, as international societies and activities tend to revolve around helping international students meet each other.

The time difference

While Sarah didn’t encounter many issues with only a three-hour time difference from her home country, for others it’s a bit more difficult. My own exchange experience proved to be quite tricky; studying in England meant I was going to bed as my friends and family were waking up, and vice versa. While at times it will be tough, at other times it will work and make for great memories (particularly if you’re Facetiming your home friends while they’re in a lecture and you’re out drunk at 3am).

Earning money abroad

Strict visa requirements can make things tricky for international students when it means limiting the hours you can work per week. In Australia, international students can only start working part-time when their course begins, and are limited to working 20 hours a week. Earning money can also be tricky when some jobs only accept Australian citizens and at least 60 per cent of international students working in Sydney are paid below minimum.

The culture shock

Sarah found it particularly difficult to assimilate into Australian culture when all her friends were international students.

“[I’ve spend] four years here, and I'm confident that if I start working here, I'll experience culture shock all over again,” she says.

“If you choose to hang around other international students, you rarely get exposed to how the Aussies do things.”

Despite knowing English as her first language, Sarah was unprepared for culture shocks like the insane coffee culture, informality, slang and sports allegiance in Australia.

Image: Tatiana Dzelskalei, Flickr Creative Commons license