International enrollments make up nearly 5% of the total student population in the United States; according to statistics compiled by the Department of Education, more than a million foreign-born students attended American institutions of higher learning in 2020. As for Americans going abroad to study, the number was higher than 360,000 before the coronavirus pandemic. Each of these students has certain expectations of what their experiences might be like when they move overseas to broaden their learning horizons, but quite a few of them end up facing unexpected realities.
Why Study Abroad in the First Place?
Although there are numerous reasons why many people choose to attend schools overseas, the chance of going through a once-in-a-lifetime experience is the most often cited motivation among international students. University curricula in Western Europe and the Americas share many similarities in terms of how courses are developed and delivered; for example, college algebra courses at the University of Wisconsin will not be so different from those taught at King’s College in London. There is a major difference, however, for international students.
A British student moving to Milwaukee to pursue an Applied Mathematics degree will learn more than her peers back in the United Kingdom. Conversely, an American student at King’s College will learn more than his friends back in Milwaukee. When you move abroad for school, you will get an education beyond what is described in the curriculum, and this is because you will be immersed in a different culture. With all this in mind, we can safely say that getting more than a basic education is the primary reason many people choose to study overseas.
What International Students Can Reasonably Expect
There is no question that studying in a different country will change your life. Whether this change is positive or negative depends on how realistic your expectations are. It is generally better not to have so many expectations; you should be able to narrow them down to a handful in order to keep your goals as down to earth as possible. A problem in this regard is that many students tend to envision a perfect image of their experience abroad even if they have never visited the community where they will attend classes. Check out this international student housing guide to help you set some expectations.
Let’s say you are granted an international scholarship to study nursing at UC Irvine Health in Orange County. In this scenario, you can check out Santa Ana luxury apartments to rent while you complete your nursing program; quite a few of them are just a couple of miles away from the campus of the medical center. This is an example of a reasonable expectation. An example of an unreasonable expectation would be to think that you would be able to go surfing at Huntington Beach every morning; the driving distance and the Southern California gridlock traffic conditions would make this impossible.
How to Approach Your Expectations of Studying Abroad
If you can narrow down your expectations, you will be much more likely to have a positive experience while living in another country. You will be satisfied with your choice of study abroad program; otherwise, you might have regrets that can become exacerbated upon returning home. As previously mentioned, a problem many prospective students run into is that they paint mental pictures that tend to be highly idealistic. Watching Instagram Stories posted by influencers whose videos are edited to portray perfect lives is not a good approach.
If you set your goals or expectations too high, you might end up disappointed. Remember, your goals can never become more realistic than how you picture them. Otherwise, you could end up with unrealistic expectations, and you might not even end up doing what you originally set out to accomplish. It is better to avoid creating standards for what you are not familiar with. Instead, you should engage in a line of thinking that is not only practical but also heuristic. Let’s say you are hesitant about your foreign language fluency before heading overseas; how about taking some courses now instead of expecting that you will learn everything once you arrive?
In the end, keeping an open mindset when becoming an international student will always be better than setting yourself up for disappointment through lofty expectations. Don’t let pipe dreams get in the way of your study abroad experience. Learn to keep your feet on the ground before you depart.