International student: How hard is it to be one?
March 01, 2022
Being an international student comes with pros and cons.
We talked to 5 students about their experiences studying abroad. Here’s how it went:
Pro: “You can build a professional network early as an international student.”
I already had plans to work in the United States after graduation. I freelanced and worked part-time in the industry throughout my studies to prepare for this.
My professional network expanded and I started receiving internship and job offers during my final year of college. My point is, there’s plenty of opportunities for you to kickstart a great career overseas if you start building your network from your part-time jobs or internship.
Con: “Culture shock is not uncommon.”
As an Malaysian international student, the culture shock hit me hard.
I struggled to adjust because I was surrounded by a different environment and culture. As an introvert, I wasn’t used to stepping out of my comfort zone. Going out scared me. Speaking up in classes made me nervous.
After making some friends who understand my introversion, I worked around the challenges and tapped into my strengths as an introvert. The rest was history!
Pro: “You appreciate the little things better.”
Before I studied abroad, I used to take things for granted. I finally learned to be grateful for what I have. Ever since living away from my family, I valued the limited bonding time we have through video calls. I even treasured the Maggi instant noodles sent by my hometown friends!
Con: “Language barrier can be daunting to an international student.”
My first few semesters in Germany weren’t easy because I wasn’t fluent in the language. Living outside the city, exploring nearby towns felt intimidating because I was afraid that I would get lost and have no one to rely on. This went on for a few weeks.
I spoke to my professor about my concern and he introduced me to an affordable language programme. I also installed navigation and translation apps to use while communicating with the locals.Travelling around the country became something I looked forward to after I learned to speak German fluently.
Pro: “You gain independence while living away from family.”
The feeling of total freedom was indescribable. I can go anywhere and do anything I wanted! I spent most of my weekends trying new food and visiting tourist attractions around me. It felt like the whole world belonged to me.
Con: “It is easy to lose track of your expenses.”
So much to explore, so little time (and money). While I indulged in the excitement of living abroad, I underestimated my spending behaviour. The tuition fees and living expenses weren’t cheap. I spent recklessly during my first year and had to ask for more money from my family back in Malaysia. I regretted my immaturity and was ashamed of myself.
I have been super careful with my money ever since. Keeping track of where my money went allowed me to spend mindfully. Reading money management tips helped me greatly with saving money too. Whether you’re studying abroad or not, putting aside some money is always a good thing!
Pro: “You gain a global mindset.”
Meeting people from different countries opened my eyes to what is happening around me. I became more informed about the world’s issues and applied the knowledge in my assignments, essays and job interviews.
Con: “You can be overwhelmed with homesickness.”
I felt incredibly lonely as time passed. I wanted to see my parents and my siblings so badly; no amount of video calls could cure my homesickness. I even missed the kind nasi lemak mak cik back in Malaysia who never failed to greet me with a warm smile.
I joined a club created by Malaysian students and discovered that there were others like me. We worked part-time jobs and studied together, and lifted each others’ spirits whenever we could. I found comfort in them and eventually pulled through, knowing that I wasn’t alone in this journey.
Pro: “The food, culture and people were amazing.”
Despite studying in Malaysia for just 3 months, living away from home (South Korea) helped me discover a beautiful blend of cultures. My Malaysian friends were so kind. They introduced me to delicious foods and explained to me the different races, ethnicities and traditions in the country.
Con: “Unpredictable weather can disrupt your plans.”
I love travelling very much. However, the Malaysian weather can go from sunny to rainy quickly. I once cancelled my trip to Terengganu beaches because of the flood!
It is better to make plans before going on trips in any country. I learned my lesson the hard way. After I started travelling with my local friends, I learned to monitor the weather forecast before deciding to go anywhere out of state. Also, always bring an umbrella!
*names have been changed for privacy purposes