The Academic Challenges International Students Face and How They Can Cope with Them

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Completing education abroad gives a huge amount of opportunities for the student as well as for the university and a hosting community itself. Even though, it may be the most valuable experience to be a full-time student in another country, benefiting in many areas of life: personal and professional – it comes with many problems, challenges, and issues that the exchange student is forced to face during his time abroad. Students who decide to spend a part of their studies abroad have to deal with issues that consider academics and language, socialization, and finances.

As Milian (2015) mentioned in the Journal of International Education and Relationship one of the most difficult obstacles for exchange students is an academic issue which is mainly caused by the fact that English (in most cases) is a foreign language and the proficiency in it varies when it comes to every student. Özturgut (2009) emphasizes that it increases the stress level in the majority of exchange students. Milian (2015) also suggests that students from abroad are not familiar with the way of teaching in other countries and cultures. In her article, Milian (2015) states that difficulties consider mostly students from Asia as well as Eastern Europe where students are used to passively listening to the lecture whereas in Western universities they are forced to use critical thinking, learn how to take notes efficiently, and get familiar with oral presentations. As a response to Milian article, I am able to confirm her ideas from my personal experience. While studying abroad I meet many obstacles related to the way academic knowledge is provided to students. As a student from Poland, I notice many differences between the polish and Western style of teaching. In my home country, students are expected to sit quietly in the lectures, not ask questions, and not express their doubts where in Spain you are allowed and encouraged to speak up and share your opinion. Oral presentations also do not play a huge part in the learning process in polish universities. Since I was not thought to perform and present my own ideas in front of the class, now I am experiencing problems with how to efficiently prepare and deal with stress when it comes to talking in front of many students in the class.

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In her article, Milian (2015) points out the difficulties international students have adapting to a new society. She emphasizes that the most common aspects are: discrimination, limited social support, and culture shock. As Alghamdi (2016) in his article confirms students have issues fitting into new society mostly because of the language barrier as well as the fact of their temporary status. Many students experience social exclusion and isolation. One of the reasons is culture shock. New lifestyle, different food, habit, the way people greet, talk, the walk has an impact. Everyday tasks become unfamiliar and challenging. And since the way of teaching and language are different international students often have to spend more time studying and understanding topics. As a consequence, they obtain less time for socializing and making new friends. All of it leads to emotional overload and homesickness. Another valid point is preconceived expectations which are pointed out by Gebhart (2013) in his article EFL learners studying abroad: Challenges and strategies. He explains that students from expectations about another country, its culture, and they’re the whole stay abroad and they do not consider any problems they are likely to meet. They get too excited and hitting the reality makes them feel emotionally drained. And last but not least issue is the discrimination problem. And it may not be as obvious in the people’s behavior since everybody these days seems to be tolerant and accept new cultures. For many students lack of knowledge about the host country culture makes it impossible to fully integrate and participate in many activities. As a result, international students often experience social exclusion. As a response to Milian’s and Alghamdi’s point of view, I am able to confirm their ideas but also I would like to notice that it does not consider all of the international students and every single university. Since everybody’s emotional state differs there are people who cope with culture shock very quickly and it does not interrupt them in any way enjoying their time abroad. When it comes to students who incur difficulties that I would recommend for the host universities to engage and be understanding toward them. Observing many international students I noticed cultural and social discrimination. Some people do not understand that students may need time to adjust to the new environment and after one unsuccessful conversation or a meeting, they stop integrating and lose an opportunity to experience different cultures.

Finally, Milian (2015) in her article argues that many international students encounter difficulties with financial matters. Alghamdi in his article points out a very vital case that students from abroad often have limited work and health insurance rights. Milian also says that due to English or another foreign language level it is usually challenging to find a good quality apartment since landlords often cheat and take advantage of people who are not proficient in their mother language. Another issue is fundings from universities or other organizations that are supposed to sponsor the stay but in most cases the money received is insufficient and it barely lets people pay rent. From personal experience as well as other international students I fully agree with Milian’s and Alghamdi’s point of view since the money Erasmus student gets from the European Union is very little and it only pays off the rent. It often causes a lot of stress for international students and discourages them from taking such an opportunity in the future.

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