The prospect of travelling, exploring new cultures and meeting different individuals has always fascinated me. Like the majority of people, I too had an inkling to go beyond my home – to see what else the world had to offer; to get a better perspective of things.
Studying in Scotland was the perfect, early opportunity for me to get a taste of this dream.
It was a dream that tasted so sweet. But starting the first semester, I took my rose-coloured glasses off and reality set in. I was all alone, left to fend for myself in a country unparalleled to home. I felt truly afraid.
Being a foreign student studying abroad, you are chucked into a completely new and unfamiliar world. While it’s very exciting, it’s also incredibly nerve wracking – mainly due to the fear of miscommunication, not “fitting in,” or strong cultural polarity.
In the beginning I often compared and contrasted all that I was used to to all that was new. It piqued my curiosity regarding the endless differences and similarities that bind us all, but the distinctions between myself and others were sometimes too striking.
I knew to an extent that I was going to encounter all kinds of people, but I don’t think I was truly prepared for how overwhelming the culture shock could be. At the end of the day, there was only one thing that saved me: clear communication. This can be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary.
Although misunderstandings can be scary, it’s best to learn from them and focus on embracing the diversity among people and cultures rather than dwelling on the mistakes. Slip-ups will happen, they are completely normal.
I learned a lot about myself and my values this way. I learned about what I look for in friends, how to be an even more effective communicator and how to persevere in difficult situations. It wasn’t easy, but being open to educating myself definitely benefited me in the long run.
One of the hardest things I still face to this day is the intimidation of sometimes being the only international student in a room. It’s a lonely experience, and at times even alienating.
I’m not insecure or fearful that no one will understand my English; it’s more about the paradox of being simultaneously in the spotlight but also invisible. Stirling University is predominantly a British university – in 2018, only 28% of its students were from overseas.
Being international in a mainly British university like Stirling, I sometimes feel as though everyone watches my every move and pays extra close attention to how I express myself, always looking for a mistake. At the same time, I feel hidden away in a corner; unable to fully blend in and understand others or be understood.
That is not to say this actually happens. Most of the people I have encountered have been lovely and respectful, not paying much attention to the fact that I’m international and taking me under their wing. It’s simply a feeling that I can’t yet abandon, but hopefully one day I will.
I should mention, however, that while Stirling primarily hosts British students, it is very welcoming to international pupils. The university has an International Society as well as a Language Exchange Society, which I would recommend joining if you’d like to find a diverse crowd!
Another tough aspect of being an international student is the inevitable homesickness. Although I consider Stirling my second home, sometimes I’d give anything to not be so far away from my family. Calling home, sending pictures to my family group chat or cooking one of my grandma’s recipes helps me deal with these feelings.
What also helps me feel connected to home is talking to people about it. Whether it’s about the culture, customs, food or my family, I always enjoy sharing a little piece of Slovakia with others.
Overall, being international and studying abroad is something you should be proud of. Of course, it will come with its challenges, but it’s an incredibly rewarding experience. The lessons you will learn are invaluable and the memories you will make are unforgettable.
Featured Image Credit: Poynter
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