Students studying abroad must strike a balance between study and social life

Students studying abroad must strike a balance between study and social life

Studying abroad means striking a balance between the books and your social life – and making local friends is key.
Karen Pittar

Hannah Hye-eun Yang was born in South Korea, and that’s where her parents, brothers and grandparents still live.

But she has always felt a strong urge to explore the world. So when her mother suggested that she study abroad, Yang jumped at the chance. Now the 20-year-old is in her second year at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.

“I was lucky, because I started learning English at about age five, so the language wasn’t a problem for me,” Yang says. “I had a choice between studying in New York and Canberra. I chose Canberra because I wanted to embark on a journey to a place I had never heard of.”

Students like Yang have settled into college life in a strange land well. But many others feel overwhelmed by the challenges it can pose: will they be able to fit in and make new friends, keep up academically and cope with being homesick?

“It is challenging for all students to leave home, develop independence and make decisions,” says Linda Magnussen, a certified planner with education advisory firm The Bertram Group.

“But an international student may well be adding a layer of language and cultural adjustments, too. There may also be academic structures and expectations that are very different from those at home.

“All students experience some degree of culture shock, but international students have more aspects of their environment to sort out and balance as they adjust to university life,” she says.

This adjustment process also applies to third-culture kids who have grown up in global cities such as Hong Kong, where their parents have relocated for work.

Consider the experience of Louis Bond Smith. Having lived in Hong Kong almost all his life, he was keen to study abroad to be more independent. He opted for Britain because both his parents are British.

Despite his heritage, he was surprised by some of the adjustments he had to make.

“It is slightly harder to get on with English people. I often get on better with internationals because we have more in common,” says Bond Smith, who has completed his first year in engineering at Durham University.

Although Britain is not foreign to him, he has never lived there. “I am unaware of so many things people there have grown up with – politics, TV, famous people,” he says.

The greater test was balancing his social activities with academic commitments. “That’s a skill I think most people get wrong in their first year,” he says.

Bond Smith achieved good grades, but it took discipline. “Lots of my friends did way too much sport or drinking and almost no work. They had to change that for their second year,” he says. “I finished my first year with lots of friends who have just finished their second year, I played lots of sport and loved it. When I needed to work more, my social life suffered. But sporting events are planned when there aren’t exams.

“There is a lot to do – work and otherwise – but it depends on who you are as to whether it’s a difficult balance. I didn’t find it particularly hard to get the balance right.”

Teenagers often face social pressure at university to drink, take drugs and party, education advisers all agree. This is something parents should broach with their child before they leave home. They should also ensure that the lines of communication remain open.

It is challenging for all students to leave home, develop independence and make decisions

“Have conversations about sexual activity, drug use, balancing academic and social life, and staying healthy,” says US university admissions consultant Deena Maerowitz.

“Try to give your child tools to cope with social pressure and establish what their own comfort zones are around specific behaviour. Encourage them to reach out to others on campus if they feel unsure about how to handle a specific situation,” says Maerowitz.

Hong Kong-based educational psychologist Tara Levinson urges parents to prepare early and start teaching children life skills – how to manage their time and look after themselves.

“In Hong Kong children are often not expected to participate in household chores. Having a sense of responsibility for the home – cleaning up, making beds, picking up your belongings – all are necessary life skills when sharing a space with roommates,” she says.

“Teach your child to make a budget, account for their expenses and figure out how to set and achieve both short- and long-term goals.”

Once the children are at school, encourage them to engage fully in their studies and seek help if they need it.

Magnussen says a little planning early on will go a long way to helping with good grades.

“Make sure they understand the requirements and expectations in each course and create a balance with courses they take in terms of level of work and type of work. Make sure your child develops a relationship with the faculty and teaching assistants and meets with them to review work or ask for feedback,” says Magnussen.

“Be proactive – if they are disappointed with an assignment, seek guidance for improvement. All universities have academic support, but students need to ask what is available and how to get it. Make the university work for you.”

Bond Smith says his advice to new students is to just get out there, make lots of different friends and throw themselves into activities.

“Students wanting to study abroad should consider the university and town they are going to. Some places have a lot [fewer] international students than others and, as a result, the international students end up only hanging out with each other. That is a shame.

“I strongly suggest internationals try to meet as many different people as possible. Meet people you normally wouldn’t hang around with. Don’t just stick to people who are similar to you or who come from near home.”

This is true for all students, says Bond Smith: “Use your experiences and stories as a way of meeting people and making friends, not as a barrier to doing so.”

Yang agrees. For her, one of the greatest benefits of studying at the ANU is its multicultural community. Yang is majoring in Japanese and relishes being part of an eclectic mix of students. “I am not a model student, so take my advice with a grain of salt,” she says.

“But don’t come to study abroad if you’re not passionate about learning and you are not going to be responsible for your education.”

Yang explains that “university” in Cantonese is dai hok dai meaning “big” and hok meaning “study”. “University is the place to study big, not apathetically.”

Published by

Robert Chaen

Global CEO-Founder of ChangeU and Movsha Movers & Shakers, Hero-CEO Whisperer, Writer, The #1 Alpha Change Expert, Father of Asian FireWalking Robert Chaen is an International Keynote Speaker, writer, researcher, and corp games designer. He is famously known to be the “Hero-CEO Whisperer”, 1-on1 coaching with many CEOs and Celebrities for corporate strategies, staff & office political issues, personal branding, and even public figure OSHA safety drilling called Drager Defense. He has transformed CEOs and managers in Coca-Cola China, TVB Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airport Services, VADS, TM, Public Bank, Auditor General's Office Maldives, etc. He is the prolific creator and online Author of innovative management tools such as DragonCEO, Diamond Leader, Papillon Personal Effectiveness, OSHA Drager Defense, KPI Bank, etc. He is also the Founder of Movsha, an international networking with monthly mingles with MOVers & SHAkers, Angels, Entrepreneurs, CEOs, Celebrities, HR-PR-CSR, HODs, and the Most Influential IDEA people. ​Chaen is widely considered as one of the top International Platform Keynote Speakers for Resorts World Genting Senior Management Conference (Manila), 7-Eleven HK, Samsung, Coca-Cola China Mini-MBA @Tsing Hua University, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Jockey Club, The Story Conference where he interviewed Datuk Kamarudin (Chairman of AirAsia) and Siti Nurhaliza. He has been widely featured in TVB, AWSJ, CNBC, SCMP, The Star, and Sin Chew. As “The Father of Asian FireWalking”, he coached TVB celebrities (Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin) to walk on 650°C fire; and raised HK$68M in the world’s 1st and only live TV Charity FireWalk (TVB Tung Wah Charity Show), before Tony Robbins even came to Asia. If Robert can get you to walk on 650⁰C fire, he can inspire you to be THE BEST. He champions CN-HK-EU-US Tycoons to be philanthropic, and to be angel investors to support the next generation of Jack Mas, Steve Jobs, Richard Bransons, Steven Spielbergs, or Barrack Obamas. With some slick motivational speakers with fake doctorates out there, graduates often describe Robert to be "the most credible, empowering, truthful Coach" who believe in his graduates to believe in themselves. ​However, clients have described Robert as "The #1 Cool Badass Alpha Change Expert". He has the coolest first class stature, rapport and trust from clients. He will not hesitate to tell the badass truth ever so gently because clients are paying him big bucks to reveal the truth, find solutions, persuade the hostile HODs, and align cross-teams within the organization. Originally based in Hong Kong for 20+ years, he had worked with top Branding/Ad agencies at J Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett, and was a certified FranklinCovey (7 Habits) in USA, and NLP MasterCoach (USA). His warmth is known to soften the most hardened, resistant sceptics. He will inspire your team to Go for Top 1, or to be a Dragon CEO. With boundless energies, Robert owns 15+ successful business Joint-Ventures, and created unique products under his global VC network called Chaen's Angels VC. He is deeply passionate about ChangeUTH Youth CSR, Science-Based Medicine (vs. quackery), short films and Reality TV. Touched by a personal tragedy through the loss of his HK-born Portuguese wife, co-coach and business partner, Brenda José of 18 years, Robert explores the many ways in which the spirit world is communicating with the living with real scientific studies and evidence. He gives inspiring conferences on The Secret Afterlife.

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