We asked Glasgow’s International Students what their biggest struggles are

It’s not just the language barrier

Is there more to studying abroad than just studying?

It’s well documented that international students bring monumental benefits to the UK and latest reports confirm the amount is in excess of £25 billion.

They pay their tuition fees, rent pricey accommodation and have large disposable incomes, but what do they get in return? Typically residing in the UK for between one and three years to obtain their degree, studying abroad can be a tough time away from family and friends.  

We chatted to some of Glasgow’s foreign students to find out what their biggest struggles are while studying abroad.

Amal, from Saudi Arabia

Although it can be exhilarating being in a more open and diverse society, at times you just can’t escape the homesickness from the sheer lack of familiarity. Everything is different compared with home. Most international students arrive not knowing anyone and it can take a long time to build real friendships. The time zone also makes it difficult for stay in touch with old friends.”

Amal, who is an Accounting student studying at Glasgow Caledonian University, said teachers in her hometown had mainly Arabic or Indian backgrounds and it was rare to have an American or British teacher. Her and many of her peers feel they don’t have a good grasp of colloquial English which becomes a barrier for them to have the confidence to interact in class or outside on the street.

Mei, from China

“I usually go to bed just as my mum wakes up, so it can be seven or eight hours until she replies to a message. It’s easy to start feeling isolated from your family, especially if you are close to parents like I am.”

Mei recalled the first time she went to the university library, a member of staff spent ten minutes explaining how to check out book and she couldn’t understand a single word.

Gloria, from Nigeria

It requires critical thinking, researching, analysing… I had never been trained like that before. In my country, it is more like the teachers are cramming knowledge into each lecture for you to absorb and recite.

“I had never left home before I went to the UK – my undergrad University was in my hometown and I always went home to spend the weekend with my parents. All of a sudden, I have to cook my own meals and manage my own home.

“I live in student accommodation which is expensive but convenient and my friends, who rent a house, need to take care of everything – communicating with the landlord, calling repairmen and security, all while keeping on top of their never ending reading list which is in English!”

Kim, from the Philippines

All the available entertainment is pubs and clubs. There are only two karaoke bars in Glasgow and the facilities are very outdated compared to the nightlife of Taiwan, China, Japan or the Philippines.”

Zara, from Morocco

“None of my friends want to stay here and I think that is the reason why they aren’t open minded about trying to get involved in local events or activities – these mean nothing if you can’t make a long-term commitment.”

Linnéa, Sweden

“There are so many rules that made me feel unwelcome. We are being treated differently, things like registering with the local Police Station at the beginning of each semester even though you are a good student with no criminal record at home.

“It’s so hard to find job here as most companies do not offer a working visa, so why should I stay?”

Afzal, India

“It is more like a one year journey and full of change. It will definitely benefit you, but at the same time it is hard and challenging.”   

Other challenges

Classes are not easy for International Students. Aside from the language barrier, students like the ones we have spoken to are not accustomed to the longer lectures, tutorials and workshops. Outside the UK, it can be common for students to have a short break every hour. Additionally, some students found essay writing, something that should be familiar to every student, to be a new challenge.

Some students mentioned irritating lifestyle details. Several students from China complained the kitchen ventilation systems in the UK are useless compared to the Chinese standard, having to open the window and close the door while cooking otherwise the smell of oil will last for hours. A lot of people from Asian countries say life in UK is a little bit boring, with most of the shops closing at five in the evening while the day is still bright.

With only four months with the right to remain after graduation for non-EU postgraduates, it can be especially difficult to feel settled here. Many foreign students believe they will leave the UK soon after they graduate, and this is part of the reason why they live shadows of their normal lives at home while they are here.