Opinion: International Students Studying Away from Home Experience Added Pressures

International students must navigate academic and personal pressures. Photo by Dian Sun.

More and more Chinese students choose to study away from their home country, hoping to get better educational resources and opportunities overseas. During their time away from home, they experience many pressures that those around them might not know about.

I am a foreign student. I have spent three years of my high school life in Waterloo. For me, the pressure I feel comes from a range of aspects. I am worried about my studies, I miss my family, and I feel helpless against many uncontrollable factors.

Many other foreign students I know begin to feel pressures like this, too. If they can’t release the pressure in time, the pressure will become great, and even insomnia and memory decline will occur, which will affect the learning efficiently. The pressure on international students can no longer be ignored.

Studying abroad, away from home, is challenging. We have to face a completely strange environment alone, far away from the shelter of our families. Growth seems to be accomplished overnight for us.

I asked several students who are studying in different parts of the world, outside China, about the kinds of pressure they feel as students studying away from their homes and families. They each shared a different kind of pressure that they feel.

Pressure from Family

Phoebe W. is a 11 grade student at WCI. “For me, the main source of stress is from my family,” she said. “My parents often ask me to report on my study, [and] they often criticize me and give me some advice. ”

Phoebe on a video call with her mother. Photo by Dian Sun.

Phoebe is an only child. Her parents have high expectations of her. This situation is very common in China’s one-child family system. Parents show high expectations for the upbringing of their children. Most overseas students think their parents invest a lot of money in them so they have to become better, so it puts a lot of pressure on them.

Pressure from Studies

Shiyu L. is a 12 grade student at WCI. “For me, the main source of stress is my studies,” she shared.

Shiyu struggles with her homework. Photo by Dian Sun.

The subjects she studies, especially math, often make her anxious.

“I am fully aware of the importance of MHF4UI [Grade 12 Advanced Functions],” she said, “I need to apply for university with the score of this course.”

Many grade 12 international students face the same academic pressure as Shi Yu. They come to another country to study far away from their hometown, and they are eager to go to a good university. And they often face the dual challenges of language and subject knowledge.

Pressure from networking

Jane Liu is a freshman in University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. She is studying a relatively obscure major, and there are almost no Chinese people in her program. She feels very uncomfortable in a new environment.

“Networking is my biggest problem right now,” she said. Her introverted personality makes it more difficult for her to make friends in an unfamiliar environment.

In fact, because of language barriers and cultural differences, many overseas students cannot integrate into the lives of local people, so our lives are confined to a small circle of friends from the same place or friends who are having similar experiences.

Jane’s spare time is often spent alone. Photo contributed by Jane Liu.

Financial Pressure

Alan is a 16 year old and a student at a high school in the UK. He is like many boys of his age, as he is careful about his image.

“For me,” he said, “my pressure mainly comes from my friends, I don’t want to look worse than others financially.”

It is well known that studying in Britain is expensive. Alan spends a lot of money on luxury goods and says that most of the time it is just to satisfy his vanity. He does not want to be what he describes as inferior.

A lot of pressure for international students also comes from the people around them, not only financially, but also in terms of academic performance.

Alan pictured with some of his shoes and clothes. Photo contributed by Alan.

As overseas students, we must be strong, face up to our difficulties and not shrink back. We need to be brave to face our own psychological pressure, learn to vent properly, learn to solve problems rather than let the pressure lead to more and more serious problems. 

The challenges we face are different from our peers who get to return home to their families most nights.