Lost In Translation: Overcoming The Challenges Of Studying Abroad

"At first, all the changes hit you but then you get used to it!"

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“I’m an NYU student who studied abroad in Florence. I hated every aspect of my semester abroad.”

The Insider posted this headline earlier this month, causing an internet furore with much of the anger being directed at author Stacia Datskovska.

She was branded as “spoiled” with many comments saying she did not deserve the opportunity.

Yet the hate was unnecessary and over the top. Moving abroad to study is hard!

However, it can also be an extremely rewarding and positive experience, as we found out in conversation with our network of international students:

Raluca moved from Romania to study at Oxford, then NYU, and is now a trainee in Luxembourg.

Also studying in the UK was Aggelina from Greece, who attended UCL and Manchester.

Jon moved from Turkey to study at McGill in Canada.

He was joined by Prune from Spain, Sonja from Sweden, and Aubrey and Jeanne both from France.

To kick off, Jon, Raluca, how did studying abroad impact you?

(Jon) “Studying abroad definitely allowed me to see different worlds. It impacted my way of thinking and my way of dealing with problems. Of course, it introduced me to different cultures, especially since McGill is such an international school, but I would say that I learned about much more than just Canadian or North American culture.”

(Raluca) “Indeed, I think it can depend on whether you’re going to a homogenous or a more diverse environment. For me, when I went to Oxford which was very concentrated culturally, I felt like my understanding of British culture really expanded.”


I’m assuming New York was quite a shock compared to Oxford?

(Raluca) “Well, by contrast, in New York, my understanding of every culture expanded. You obviously learn new things about cuisine and tradition, but you also learn a lot from other people about things that are useful in an academic context – like international politics.”


Prune, Jeanne, Sonja, did you experience any shocks?

(Prune) “The real shock for me was living far away from my family and anyone I knew for the first time. I had to learn pretty fast how to be an adult!”

(Sonja) “I agree, studying abroad forced me to immerse myself in a completely different culture.”

(Jeanne) “I actually didn’t feel too many shocks because Canada, where I went, was similar to France where I’m from, it was still quite western. So going there actually made me realize I wanted to go further away! Now I’m in South America.”

(Sonja) “Actually I think by living in Canada, I appreciate Sweden more even though it’s also in the West. People often believe they are similar but only by studying abroad did I realize how vastly different they are in terms of politics and lifestyle.”


Does anyone else feel like studying abroad helped them appreciate “home” more?

(Raluca) “Definitely. One of the biggest impacts studying abroad had on me was “loving where I’m from.” In Romania, we are taught that you should practice your English so you have the opportunity to study and work abroad – but being away from home I really missed and loved my country. It just put me in touch with my own heritage and my own traditions.”

(Aubrey) “Same. When I left France to go to Canada, never in a million years did I think I would want to return home to study more or live long-term, but yeah… The North American culture was amazing, but it really made me miss the European lifestyle.”


Aggelina, what impacted you the most about studying abroad?

(Aggelina) “Ah I loved it so much! Being out of my home country really allowed me to expand my knowledge on other cultures, how the population acts and behaves. After 4 years abroad, it really shaped who I am today and especially who I choose to have next to me in my social circle.”


So, other than the culture shock, what was a challenge you had to overcome?

(Jon) “Living alone for the first time!”

(Prune) “For real.”


Was it really that bad!

(Jon) “It was a bit of everything, homesickness and independence and responsibility… It was challenging to live with lots of people from different backgrounds at first in halls. Then, just moving into a new apartment and balancing work/life was tricky.”

(Prune) “I was definitely homesick. Also learning a new language!”

(Raluca) “Yes, language-wise, it can be difficult when there’s a barrier.”


Did you experience a language barrier at university?

(Raluca) “Not at university since I was already fluent in English, but in Luxembourg as a law trainee it’s hard to connect with the francophones as my French is less fluent. It’s harder to be funny in a language you don’t speak so well!”


Sonja, what do you think of challenges like homesickness?

(Sonja) “Honestly the biggest challenge I had to overcome was the feeling of loneliness, not so much homesickness. Even if you make friends and have a good time, there will come times when you feel so incredibly alone. Not because you don’t have anyone to call or nothing to do, but because you’ve left everything you know behind, and decided to create a new life somewhere else.”


How did you overcome that?

(Sonja) “Well to rebuild the life you had back home takes years somewhere else. I don’t think there’s a particular way to overcome loneliness, just time. I don’t see an issue with that. I think if you feel lonely in a new place it’s a sign that it’s getting closer to feeling like home one day.”

(Raluca) “So well said. I think not knowing how things work in a new place is always a difficult adjustment. It takes a while to get hold of things. At first it feels like a hit in the face, all the changes, but you get used to it!”


Jeanne, Aggelina, do you have any final thoughts on the challenges?

(Jeanne) “I think I was pretty lucky in halls to have everyone in the same position as me. So, I wasn’t homesick for more than a week because everyone really helped me. Being out of your comfort zone is probably one of the biggest challenges. But it helps you realize what you want to do with your life a lot sooner!”

(Aggelina) “Homesickness was not as much as problem for me as I was still on the same continent. The biggest challenge was actually traveling back and forth every 2-3 months. I struggled with that a lot because I felt like I was leaving something or someone behind and it tired me a lot more than I initially thought it would.”


We hope these stories showed you the rewards of studying abroad and help you weigh up the decision to go if the opportunity ever presents itself!

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