This post only lists the struggles for international students studying abroad in America. I’ve experienced at least 80% of these struggles before, and I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one. The struggles are very real!
- Figuring out the American date format
- Getting used to the American measurement system
- Converting from U.S. Dollars to your country’s currency and vice versa
- Dealing with people who assume that you can’t speak any English at all
- Dealing with people who assume that you understand American slangs and idioms
- Thinking in your native language before trying to translate it to English
- Teaching people how to correctly pronounce your name
- Dealing with stereotypes
- Feeling lonely without your family and old friends for comfort and support
- Dealing with renting an apartment and setting up utilities
- Getting through all the jet lags
- Getting used to the time-zone differences
- Getting used with the legal drinking age in the U.S.
- Carrying your passport with you wherever you go
- Getting used to the huge food portion size
- Constantly searching for an acceptable restaurant that serves your native food
- Having to pay higher college tuition fees
- Figuring out CPT, OPT and H-1B visa
- Considering marrying an American citizen
- Figuring out where your “home” is
- Adding English words when talking in your native language
- Accepting that you may have to leave when your study abroad journey ends
I grew up with the day/month/year format, but in America, people write as dates as month/day/year. Just imagine how confused I was during my first year studying abroad in the U.S. While it’s much easier to realize that 06/25/2011 means June 25th, 2011 (since obviously the 25th month doesn’t exist), I (still) always get confused whenever the day is less than 12! For example, if the date is 10/08/2012, I automatically perceive it to be August 10th, 2012. It takes me another few seconds to realize that it actually means October 8th, 2012 in America!
Once again, I grew up using units such as meters and kilometers to measure height and distance, grams and kilograms to measure weight, and degree Celsius to measure temperature. Just imagine how confused I was (and still am sometimes) trying to figure out and convert to the American measurement system (e.g. miles, inches, feet, pounds, degree Fahrenheit)!
Friend: “How tall are you in feet?”
Me: “Ummm… 4 ft? 5 ft? However feet you wanted me to be?”
Friend: “It’s 37 degree F here!”
Me: “That’s very nice and sunny weather right?”
Story of my life!
During my first year studying abroad in the U.S, I constantly had to convert back and forth between the U.S. Dollars and Vietnam Dong in determining whether or not something was expensive. And not to mention the pain of dealing with inflation! Fortunately, I got used to the U.S. Dollars fairly quickly and didn’t have to struggle through the conversion anymore.
If you say that you’re an international student, there will always be a person who automatically assumes that you don’t know any English. So trying to be a nice, considerate, and understanding person, he/she’ll start to speak very slowly and even spell out difficult words just so you’ll understand!
This is the opposite of the previous struggle. Instead of assuming that you don’t know any English, this time people will perceive that your English is as good as a native speaker. Thus, they start speaking extremely fast with lots of complicated technical terms, slangs and idioms and expect you to understand and reply with similar terms.
When I first started to learn and speak in English, I always listened in English, translated into Vietnamese in my head, then came up with a respond also in Vietnamese, and finally translated it to English to reply. This is very common with anyone learning a new language. It’s difficult for international students to respond immediately in English, since we need time to understand what’s being said in our native language before translating our answer back to English. The more you practice your English, the better you’ll get and the less time you’ll need. Eventually, you may even begin to think and respond in English right away!
This is a real struggle for those of us with more unique, longer, and harder to pronounce native names (especially when we decide to use our native names instead of choosing a more common English name). My name is Hue, pronounced “hu-ay” instead of how you would normally pronounce the word “hue.” Although my name is fairly simple, just 3 words and 1 syllable, not everyone can pronounce it correctly when I first introduce myself. I’ve experienced through so many variations of “Hue,” including “hue,” (like how it should be pronounced in English), “hoi,” “hai,” to “hay,” “huey” and “hewey.” I would then have to continuously repeat my name over and over again and put in a lot of effort to get people to correctly pronounce your name.
But ultimately, I’m proud of my name, because it’s unique, it’s special, and it defines who I am! To read more struggles for people with unique names, click HERE.
Regardless of where you from, you’re almost certain to have to deal with stereotypes that people have for international students, ranging from your English skills, your major of study to your food and even personality. You may want to ignore them, but don’t forget that you also have the right to speak up and let them know that these stereotypes are offensive and you’re not OK with them.
To read the common stereotypes for Asian international students, click HERE.
This was one of the major struggles that I faced during my first year studying abroad in the U.S. Although my relatives in America were supportive, I didn’t have my parents or old friends with me. I only relied on phone and Skype to be in touch with them. It’s always challenging at first to be in a new environment, a new culture without your close ones with you for comfort and support. I did feel lonely, home-sick and even lost trying to figure my way around and coping with the new transition. Although it wasn’t easy, I did learn to become independent and treasure the short times that I have with my family and old friends whenever I was able to reunite with them!
This struggle doesn’t apply to those who live in dorms and those with covered utilities. Otherwise, renting an apartment can be challenging, especially if you don’t have a Social Security Number (SSN) and good credit score. In most cases, these apartments require you to pay a 1-2 month deposit upfront before moving in.
Next, you have to deal with setting up all the necessary utilities, including electricity, water & trash, gas, cable and Internet. The process would be much simpler if you have a SSN and good credit score – just call these utilities companies with your phone and everything would be set up automatically. But if you don’t, once again you need to pay the deposits upfront and even physically visit these utilities companies to verify your ID!
Jet lag is the tiring effect you feel after traveling to different time zones. Because I almost always traveled back to Vietnam during summer and winter breaks, I constantly had to deal with jet lag and the time differences, especially during the first week of school. On those days, I went to sleep at 6-7PM (sometimes even earlier), skipped dinner, and woke up at 3-4AM. I know quite a few people who can get through jet lag pretty quickly (the constant travelers), but for me, I’ll need at least 5-6 days to get back my normal sleeping schedule!
This correlates to the previous struggle of getting through jet lags. International students often have to figure out when’s the best time to call or Skype with our parents and friends back home. That usually means you either have to stay up pretty late or wake up super early and vice versa.
But hey, it’s not too bad to stay up a few extra minutes to be in touch with your loved ones and hear that they’re doing OK and that they miss you tons right?
The legal drinking age is different in different countries. For the majority of the countries, the legal drinking age is 18. In America, it’s 21. So even though at 18, 19, or 20, you can legally drink in your home country, you’re still underage when it comes to alcohol consumption in the U.S!
Fun fact: Vietnam, Armenia, Cambodia, Russia, Norway, Netherlands, France, Denmark, Czech Republic, and Bulgaria have no legal drinking age 😉 (although there may be some restrictions on the legal alcohol purchasing age for some of these countries).
… and risk losing it one day! Before I had my driver license, I had to bring my passport with me pretty much everywhere I went since it’s my only form of ID (unfortunately many places didn’t accept my school ID). I was always worried that I might lose it somewhere one day and wouldn’t be able to go back home! Thanks God I now have my driver license with me!
The food portion is very generous in the majority of restaurants in America! Like actually huge! I remember going to a Vietnamese restaurant in Orange County with my relatives for the first time and ordering a bowl of pho, just to see the waiter brought out an almost 10-12″ bowl full of pho! Back home, I was used to eating pho in a 7-8″ bowl! No wonder why people typically share their food with each other and almost always bring back leftovers. I guess having large food portion size isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just remember to pace yourself and ask for to-go boxes when you can no longer eat anymore!
As an international student you will for sure have moments where you really crave your mom’s homemade food or a particular local dish that you always have every week back home. It won’t always be easy to find a restaurant that serves your native food nearby to where you live. Sometimes you may even have to drive for more than an hour to get to the restaurant. And most important of all, it won’t be easy to find a restaurant with your native food that you’ll approve, especially since you already have high standards for these food back home!
In most cases, the tuition fee for international students at any college is always higher than that of an American student. Sometimes, our tuition fee doubles or even triples than that of our American friends, unless we’re able to get scholarships. It’s also much more difficult for us to get financial aid. So don’t be surprised when your tuition is almost $60,000 per year when your friend (a U.S. citizen) only has to pay $20,000 per year!
If you want to find an internship or a job in the U.S, you’ll need to understand what CPT, OPT and H-1B visa mean. You’ll also need to apply for them in order to legally work in the U.S. CPT is much easier to obtain, since it’s mainly used for internships when you’re still in school. OPT is for the graduating seniors who wish to get a job in the U.S. and is valid for one year. Then if you still wish to work legally and for a longer time in the U.S, you’ll have to go through all the applications, lottery and nerve-wracking waiting period to apply for the H-1B visa. Not to mention that you’ll also have a find a company that’s willing to sponsor you in order to stay and work in the U.S.
Sometimes, you can’t help but seriously consider marrying an American citizen so you can legally stay in the U.S, especially if you prefer to work or live here rather than going back to your home country.
After 6 years of studying abroad and living in the U.S, this has been another major struggle for me. I wasn’t too sure where is my real “home” anymore between Vietnam and the U.S, since both have their pros and cons. If you just begin your study abroad journey and have only been in the U.S. for less than 2 years, your “home” is very likely to be your home country because everything in the U.S. is still brand new. However, it becomes more difficult when you start to get used to your new life in the U.S.
Once you’re comfortable speaking English and have spent quite some times in the U.S., you may begin to add random English words when talking in your native language (especially when you forgot words in your native language or want to say them quickly)! It’s OK to do this to our friends, and I do that a lot to my friends. But if we butcher up words and mix up languages when talking to our parents or grandparents, we may be scolded or given a lecture on how to properly speak in our native language!
No matter how much fun you’re having, ultimately you may have to leave the U.S. and go back home when your study abroad journey ends, whether you want to or not (unless you’re able to obtain the H-1B visa or green card and can legally stay in the U.S). You may have to say goodbye to all the friends and acquaintances that you made and everything you’re familiar with in America at the end. All the feels…
Sometimes you may feel that you have to deal with these endless struggles everyday and don’t know how to get through them…
Source: Tumblr via Giphy
…Just remember that #Yourenotalone. I’ve also experienced tons of these struggles before, and I know all my fellow international friends have also experienced them. So just be strong and hang in there! Talk to your family, friends, professors, counselors. Ask questions, and ask for help and support. I’m positive that you can get through these struggles!
Source: Tumblr via Giphy
About Hue La
Hey there, I'm Hue (pronounced “huay”, not “hue” like how you would normally say it in English). I'm a USC graduate and traveler with 6+ years of study abroad experience in the U.S. I founded Study Abroad Corner with the goals of providing helpful advice and building a social network for fellow study abroaders around the world.