4 Challenges Abroad and How to Conquer Them

Sydnie Schell is a student at the University of Kentucky and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Lima, Peru.

Cusco, Peru, Schell, Photo 1

Nothing is flawless (except maybe Beyoncé), and while study abroad may be the experience of a lifetime, it is not without its problems. Whether you’re suddenly struck by back home FOMO (or, to save you a trip to Urban Dictionary, “fear of missing out”)  or the cultural norms leave you feeling like an alien, many international students face a number of different challenges unique to their life abroad.

However, a road bump here and there does not have to detract from your overall trip. Deterrents are bound to happen, but taking them in stride will help you make the most of your time abroad.

  1. Homesickness

Ah yes, homesickness, the parasite of all study abroad experiences. It is perfectly healthy and normal to feel homesick at times, but letting it cripple you will take away from your overall experience. There are a number of ways to quiet down the loud voices in your head reminding you just how much you miss your dog, your mom’s pasta, or your dad’s corny jokes.

For some, practicing yoga, journaling or other self-awareness activities do the trick. For others, joining clubs and doing activities with new friends at your host school works best. Whatever the method, the main idea is not to sit in your room alone watching Netflix or spending hours on end perusing Instagram. You are in a foreign country. There is so much to do and see and discover. As our Resident Director Michelle always says, “Always bring a positive attitude and get out there and explore. No excuses!”

  1. Feeling like an outsider

Is there something on my face? Seriously why is everyone staring at me? Whether it’s your fashion, your looks, or your inability to communicate in the local tongue, everything about your presence may make you feel out of place. You may feel separate, awkward, and alienated at first, but with time this passes. To overcome feeling like an outsider, try to make at least one local friend at school. With cross cultural boundaries, this may seem like a monumental task, but your efforts will leave you with a friend who can help you feel more at home in your new country.

  1. Staying motivated in school

You have had a taste of this great, big, beautiful world and are now hopelessly addicted. How can your professors possibly expect you to sit through two hour lectures, reviewing Spanish grammar, when you could just as well be out exploring, checking out new cafes, and actually using your language skills?

The key here is to remember it’s called “study” abroad for a reason. While there is value in the act of living abroad itself, to truly maximize the learning potential of the experience, you need to stay committed to your studies. Some of the classes may be more challenging than you are used to back home, especially if you are taking classes with locals in a foreign language. You might even find that your personal beliefs and the way you see the world begin to shift due to all the new information you are receiving from your professors or those you meet in class. Balance work and play, but be proactive and focus on coursework if you find yourself struggling.

  1. Wanting to stay forever

You have fallen in love with your new home abroad. Everything about it – the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the energy has become a new (and improved) normal. You love the freedom, the adventure, the life you’ve created for yourself here. You are dreading the thought of returning home to family pressures, working, and responsibilities defined by others. Luckily, conquering this challenge involves return trips! You might even consider moving abroad semi-permanently  or even permanently one day. The possibilities are endless. Remember, all life is a journey, and this experience is just one piece!

Miraflores, Peru, Schell Photo 2


Want to learn more about Sydnie’s adventures in Peru? Check out “4 Reasons Why Everyone Should Visit Ica, Peru”