How to Have a Happy Successful Study Abroad Experience

Written By Young Lee

Studying in a foreign country can be an exciting and nerve-wracking experience. During your time, you will learn, grow, and be transformed both as a student and an individual, but with the many sudden changes a new environment can bring, it’s important to know how to take care of yourself and to stay and strong through the challenges you face. This article discusses how to prepare yourself to thrive socially, personally, and academically during your valuable time abroad. 

1. Be ready to face challenges

Being a smart international student isn’t just about being book-smart. It requires you to anticipate emotional, cultural, academic, and social hardships that may come your way. During your transition to a new place, you may receive something like a bad grade. This might be upsetting at first, and that’s okay. But continuing to remain discouraged can block you from further improvement. It is important to understand that your teacher is by no means punishing you with a bad grade but wants to support you to have the best experience possible. Teachers at your school are trained to specifically help international students, and they will be more than willing to talk to you about what you’re finding difficult in the classroom and how to fix it. Communicating by honesty and a willingness to improve will show that you care about your education. Know that your school and your teachers care about your well-being and success, and be assured that having a hard time or receiving a low grade does not mean you did something wrong, but that you have that much more room to grow.

2. Be brave and seek out help when you need it

A study about the experience of mainland Chinese international students at Yale University showed that 45% of participants indicated symptoms of depression and 29% of anxiety. However, of all the participants, only 4% said that they had used the school’s mental health counseling services. On the other hand, 12.8% and 13% of overall U.S. university students reported to having depression and anxiety, and 11% of them sought help from university counseling services. Compared to U.S. university students, mainland Chinese international students had much higher reported rates of depression and anxiety and were also much less likely to get help. 

The study results show that mainland Chinese international students demonstrate a lesser willingness to address their depression and anxiety. The cultural stigma surrounding mental health in many Asian countries discourages people from seeking help out of fear in appearing weak, unsuccessful, burdening, ungrateful, or disrespectful. Others simply don’t know how to talk about their problems or believe they won’t find therapy helpful. Not everyone experiences these problems, but it is absolutely crucial for all international students to share their concerns with trusted adults. Even if therapy may seem unhelpful, students should consult a school counselor, host family parent, or teacher and communicate when they are struggling and don’t know what to do. This requires bravery to speak honestly and also an understanding that whoever you confide in will not judge you or think lesser of you. Rather, they will be glad to have received your trust and to help you thrive in everything waiting ahead.

3. Try new things and explore the offerings at your school

In your application essays and your interviews, schools are likely to ask you to explain why your hobbies, passions, and extracurricular activities matter to you. Your interests are important to the schools because they want to assess what you can offer them, but in the end, the diverse array of student body interests will benefit you, the student, most. Your interests open up new possibilities for other students, and in the same way, your peers bring new prospects to the table for you to explore. It is your responsibility to pay attention to your needs and your mental health, and you can do this by getting engaged in different clubs and after-school activities. Participation in school activities and clubs will shape your overall enjoyment and positively enhance your experiences abroad. Living in a foreign country may be the perfect time in your life to try things maybe you have never tried before. You will meet a lot of people and become more deeply immersed in the culture. You’ll become naturally involved with the student community that you truly come to call your own. 

During your time abroad, you are sure to meet many kinds of different people and learn how to live in a culture that may be confusing to you. Though there may be many challenges that come along with the journey, you will also encounter new fascinations, make new friends, improve your English, and become a more educated citizen of the world. When the school becomes too challenging, ask how your school, teachers, and host family can help you best. Nothing should ever keep you from having the having the transformational study abroad experience that you deserve.




Studying abroad in France was a life-changing experience for me. I'm happy to bring that passion to my job as the international student advisor at Harrisburg Academy. This article has great advice! If you approach your study abroad experience with these pointers as a guide, you will have an amazing experience!

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