In the previous blog-post, I discussed extensively the pros and cons of studying abroad.
I pointed out there that one of the disadvantages of studying abroad is the risk of academic failure
and heavy academic workload. Of course, these disadvantages are not inherent to studying abroad only.
Students who attend universities in their home countries can also fail. Also, the majority of students complain about the heavy academic workload. Still, studying abroad is different. Firstly, the consequences of failure at university abroad have more serious, in some cases disastrous effects on international students’ lives, finances, and confidence.
Consequently, international students are under enormous pressure to perform well academically which affects their mental health, well-being and rather unsurprisingly academic performance. International students rarely can afford to drop out of university, change the course or simply return to their home country empty-handed (without a degree).
Also, heavy-academic workload often prevents international students from reaping the potential benefits of studying abroad and enjoying life. There is very little time left for developing extra-curricular skills, following interests, social life. Simply, reading, writing and learning suck in all available time. There is rarely time for any distractions and fun. This is obviously hardly conducive to students’ mental health. International students can easily find themselves in a vicious circle which is hard to break.
This is not what international students imagine when they think about studying abroad. Students are often influenced by what they see and read in university brochures and marketing materials, full of success stories, positive experiences, and photographs of happy international students. Marketing materials never mention or discuss the challenges experienced by students. Understandably, they never include negative experiences, horror stories of students who failed, almost failed, or paid their academic success with mental health. But, let’s be realistic. Studying abroad is not always a pleasant experience as presented in these materials. Many international students struggle academically during their studies, often despite their excellent English and impeccable educational record results in home countries.
I don’t want to sound too negative. International student experience many happy moments. Gaining knowledge in the UK/the USA is not always strenuous. For instance, many students report that the proportion of task which require ‘rota memorizations’ is lower when compared with their home educational system, so studying abroad can be sometimes easier too.
Still, international students are likely to experience moments when they are overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated, feeling inadequate, misunderstood, abandoned, desperate and powerless. I am sure; it is not something students will hear from educational consultants or university recruiters. The fact is that studying in a second language is challenging when students are prepared. It becomes stressful and taxing when they are not.
International students who want to prepare adequately for studying at English-speaking universities, first of all, need to understand what challenges they will face. Hopefully, this multi-part blog-post will help students gain this basic understanding. I want to answer two questions. (1) What are the academic challenges international students face e.g. in the UK, the USA or Australia? (2) How prevalent are these challenges?
I would like to start off with the short recount of my experiences as an international student in the UK.
I will tell you about academic problems I had to face myself. Then I will focus on my professional experience as a Tutor of English for Academic Purposes and Academic Skills Tutor. I have been tutoring Academic English, academic writing, research methods to international and native students for over three years. That considerable first-hand experience let me gain a better insight into challenges experienced by international students. I will share a few rather typical stories of struggles experienced by four students I tutored or met. Subsequently, I will have a look at online forums for international students. It would be interesting to see what academic challenges are reported there.
I know that my personal and professional experience, also experiences of other students, have rather low value as evidence of international students’ struggles. The examples I provide might not be representative, might be biased and exaggerated. Therefore, in the final part of the blog-post, I will investigate what the research says on academic challenges experienced by international students.
My Experience as a tutor of English for Academic Purposes (in progress)