Struggles international students face that no one talks about

The experience of being an international student is an opportunity to expand your horizons, create unforgettable memories, and find friends from all over the globe. What’s not talked about enough are the things that don’t fit with that wholly positive narrative.


Asha Bukharbaeva

9/3/20235 min read

Studying abroad is an incredible opportunity that offers numerous benefits, including exposure to diverse cultures, academic growth, and personal development. However, international students also face a range of difficulties and experience certain struggles that are too often overlooked in marketing and the media. The experience of being an international student is usually portrayed as an opportunity to expand your horizons, create unforgettable memories, and find friends from all over the globe. What’s not talked about enough are the things that don’t fit with that wholly positive, hardship-free narrative of studying abroad we all know and love. This article sheds light on the things that students aren’t usually aware of when they prepare to move and study abroad.

Being an international student myself, I have experienced a wide range of emotions and struggles I haven’t even imagined possible before moving away from home. Growing up I have always dreamed of studying in the United Kingdom, and looked up at those who were fortunate enough to move abroad to study. After two years of living and studying in London, I created a list of things for you I wish I knew and prepared myself for before starting my studies outside of my home country.

1. Fear Of Missing Out is scary

Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO, is a newly popularized term in the media emphasizing the feeling of anxiety about missing out on enjoyable and exciting events that others are perceived to be having. When you move abroad, some type of FOMO is, unfortunately, inevitable. Being away from home and all of your friends, and seeing them experiencing certain things you used to do together, is hard to comprehend at first. This is especially true for students who move to a country where they don’t know anyone yet.

On the other hand, Fear Of Missing Out can also occur when comparing your experience of being an international student to experiences of others, especially by looking at their social media. Being an “international” on social media is definitely portrayed as something exciting and fun. Fresher’s parties, student society socials, trips to cool places in the area, and many other opportunities are suddenly open to you when you become a university student. The novelty of these experiences is doubled when it’s in a new country, or even a new continent. That’s why many students tend to attend as many events as possible, guided by the feeling that if they don’t, they’ll look back and regret it.

I have struggled with FOMO myself, and what was important to understand for me is that in a city like London, where there are always something going on, I will always miss out on certain events and experiences. It’s totally normal. Studying at university can be a very draining experience from time to time. It’s crucial to understand that it is better to miss out on some things and reserve your energy for others that you truly enjoy.

2. Homesickness is real

Growing up I have always thought of myself as a very tough and independent individual. I for sure have been very close to my family, but it had never occurred to me that I was so dependent on them before moving away. Being a teenager and not having experienced living away from family before, memories of your life before can cause you emotional distress, especially when being in a completely strange environment.

What’s important to understand is how this experience will make you stronger, more mature, and self confident when you overcome those struggles. The problems you have faced before are going to look very small compared to what you need to deal with now, and this is an important step of growing and maturing as a person. The transition from teenage years into adulthood can seem rough, but it truly becomes a beautiful experience of evolving when you look back at it after overcoming those struggles.

3. Questioning everything (including yourself) is normal

I moved abroad at 18, and I’m 20 now. I have recently come to the conclusion that I was more sure of myself, and what I want to do in life, back then than I am right now. What was also crucial for me to realise is that this is absolutely normal and is, in fact, a sign of growth.

Studying abroad is a great chance to broaden your horizons, meet people with completely different mindsets and goals in life, and look at things from a different perspective. Considering this, it is completely okay to start questioning some things you have thought you believed in and stood by. It is also normal to change your opinion on something and then change it back again. Seeing certain aspects of life from completely different angles and trying out new things is one of the best things studying abroad can offer, so being questioned and feeling lost is a natural thing for every one of us.

4. Never feeling like you have one home

The last item on the list is something I have only started to realize after living abroad for more than a year or so. What was very important for me growing up was having a place I could truly consider a home. When I moved abroad, I realized that I started to lose the sense that this place really exists. To be specific - I believe that the whole experience of studying and living abroad changes you to the point where you can no longer feel yourself being fully at home, in either the country where you lived before or the place where you study.

Being back home during holidays made me realize I can no longer relate myself to some things my friends from school can relate to, as our experiences after school have been completely different. What’s more, being in a totally different environment shaped me into a person with a different mindset and perspectives from those who chose another route. At the same time, I can’t say I feel the same level of closure with life in the UK as I did with my home country growing up. There’s no doubt that the experience of studying abroad will make you feel connected to a place like no other. However, I wouldn’t say it gives you the same sense of comfort and warmth that being in your home country during your childhood probably did.

Conclusion: Be brave. It’s still worth it!

Even when considering the obstacles that I and many other international students face on a day to day basis, I can still say that studying abroad was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The possibilities, advantages and opportunities that studying abroad provides you with definitely outweigh the obstacles and difficulties that the experience can bring. Of course, it is always good to mentally prepare yourself for the difficult parts of the journey. But, at the end of the day, studying abroad is not only about studying for a degree. It’s about learning more about yourself, and life, by overcoming the challenges you face.