All students feel stress at some point during their college years. For international students, however, this stress can be amplified by the overwhelmingness of relocating to a new country. The good news? There are some things you can do to minimize stress in order to enjoy the full international student experience, including the following five tips.
1. Be ready for culture shock.
Moving to a new place, acclimating to an unfamiliar environment, meeting many new people, and learning the different ways of life in a new country can all add up to stress. Factor in going through all of this while being separated from the most important people in your life, and add up to the fact that culture shock is very much a reality. Ignoring it won’t make it go away.
In fact, according to EAIE, the European center for knowledge, expertise, and networking in the internationalization of higher education, “As a result of the exposure to multiple stressors, international students are particularly vulnerable to developing mental disorders such as anxiety, mood and stress-related disorders. These illnesses can impact students’ functioning across multiple domains, including academia.”
The takeaway? Anticipating culture shock -- rather than denying it -- can be an effective preventative measure against stress.
2. Learn homesickness management strategies.
Homesickness isn’t a sign of weakness. Nor is it a sign that you can’t cut it as an international student. In fact, a full third of all students have experienced homesickness, according to a Nightline Association report. So while this phenomenon may hit international students harder, it’s still a common one across the entire student population.
There are many things you can do to mitigate homesickness. According to international student Ann Cheow, touching base with your reasons for pursuing a study abroad opportunity is helpful. “I was homesick for a few weeks in the beginning, but then I realized: no one comes halfway across the globe for nothing. I told myself that I had a bigger purpose in being here. THat missing home was the price I had to pay for the freedom, and the opportunity of an in-depth education,” she told The Guardian.
Other strategies for overcoming homesickness including joining your school’s international student group; cooking foods from home and inviting new friends to enjoy them with you; reach out to other to build as broad a network as possible (getting out of your comfort zone is key); sharing your feelings with friends and family members; and making time to connect with friends and family members back home via telephone and video calls.
3. Work on your language skills.
According to research investigating international students and stress, “the most visible and obvious area of stress for the majority of international students is language.” Insufficient language skills can lead to many issues, including everything from the inability to communicate with others in “real life” situations to difficulty understanding and keeping up with coursework.
Said one South Korean student studying in the UK, “When I give a presentation, other students ask me about my work and I have to answer immediately. But if I don’t understand, I cannot answer properly. It's particularly difficult to understand young students who speak very fast. I cannot catch their accent, then I miss a lot….Language is an obstacle not only for my learning but also for my social life. I’m really scared to speak to English students. I’m too shy…”
The best way to strengthen your language skills is to practice them. While it may be hard, speaking the local language is perhaps the only way to truly acclimate. Practicing before you arrive, befriending native students and committing to learn from them; and reading books and watching popular television programs are all ways to become more fluent.
4. Put yourself out there.
When you’re feeling homesick or stressed, the temptation to withdraw from others around you may be strong. However, doing so will only make the situation worse. Rather than holing up in your room, discover the natural stress-relieving powers of exercise.
Joining a sports club or taking a yoga class are great ways to reduce stress, improve your mood and meet people. But even taking a walk around campus can help you feel more connected to your new environment.
5. Remember that even if it feels like it, you’re not alone.
You may feel like everywhere you look you see people having fun with their friends. However, you’re far from the only person who’s ever felt stress, and we can assure you that many people who look like they’re living their best lives may actually be suffering from the same feelings that you are.
Furthermore, while you may not yet have a support network at your new school, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. If you have no one to talk to in person about your feelings, call a friend or family member from home. Also, if the feelings persist and or escalate, check in with your school’s counseling and mental health office. These services are designed to help students navigate the challenges of college life, including stress and homesickness. If you need to talk to someone right away, meanwhile, help is also available through free, 24-hour hotlines, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), the Trevor Lifeline Suicide Prevention for LGBTQ Youth (1-888-4-U-TREVOR) and the Crisis Text Line (Text START to 741-741).
One last thing to keep in mind? While you may feel stress now, this feeling is unlikely to last long. By honoring your feelings, focusing on the good things in life, finding healthy ways to cope, and seeking help if you need it, you can manage your stress in order to truly embrace your time as an international student.
For more information about college mental health or to find resources in your area, check out ULifeline.com.
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