Disadvantages of Studying Abroad

Guest post by Marie M. 

Yes, studying abroad has many advantages, but also for some, there might be some disadvantages of studying abroad and you should be aware of them! Studying abroad is not always easy, but it is overcoming those challenges and solving those problems, that will have the biggest impact on you, give you confidence, and make you stronger. 

It would have been so simple: you go to a  foreign country and everything is wonderful, people are nice, your home is beautiful etc. Studying abroad is not (always) so nice. You might have to face one or even more problems while living abroad and see some of the disadvantages of studying abroad.

This guest post by my friend Marie, who is studying abroad here with me in San Diego, and she shares that Study Abroad is not all rainbows and roses for everybody. While for me it was, I also want to share the other side of the story. Not for everybody, study abroad is the time of their lives. But Marie and I also want to share some ideas how to change the disadvantages of studying abroad and maybe help you to turn it around and have a wonderful time abroad.

#1 Disadvantage of studying abroad: You are not a genius

Reality is hard, I know. Studying in another country does not mean you will learn English or other languages magically. I remember the father of one of my friends: he was British and used to live in France for 3 years. But he could not speak French because he never tried to learn it. Of course, living abroad will help you to understand the language better, but if you do not talk, you will not improve.  That is why you need to pay attention and study, but because you are immersed in a foreign language, learning a foreign language will be much easier and faster.

How to Improve: Sit down and learn the language

But even if you go to a country, where you speak the language already, you can have some difficulties due to the local dialect. Read how Amy (from the US) dealt with the language barrier when she studied abroad in Scotland. 

#2 Disadvantage of studying abroad: You are aloneHow To Stay in Touch with Family while Abroad

Our society is more and more connected and thanks to Skype, WhatsApp and Social Media you can stay in touch a bit easier with your family and friends. That does still not mean it is any easier to study abroad in a foreign country halfway around the world.

Studying abroad is hard because everything is new and you don’t have your familiar safety net of friends and family. Especially in the beginning, you might feel sad and homesick. This is completely normal, but there are some tips against homesickness that will help you to get out of the funk and make the most of your time abroad.

Experiencing culture shock is also normal. Give yourself a break and allow for an ‘adjustment period’. But it is also important to not close up and hide. Make it a point to create new habits, explore your new surroundings, and meet new people for example. Sometimes, it will be hard. Sometimes, you might feel excluded in your new country and it can be difficult, as you don’t have the social network yet that can give you support and strength. 

How to improve: Go out and meet people, explore your new country and don’t feel sorry for yourself. You should also consider staying with a host family during your study abroad time.

#3 Disadvantage of studying abroad: Reality can be disappointing

When you first get to a new country, you might feel a bit of disappointment. Maybe you had this dream about how your glamorous life in Paris, and when you get there, you discover that your dream destination is not living up to your expectation. Prepare yourself for a culture shock, when you study abroad. And keep an open mind. Sometimes, the beauty of a place might not be visible at first sight and if you are overwhelmed with all the new stuff, are homesick and miss your family and friends, are you really giving the location a fair chance?

Differences can be huge if you move from Europe to Asia or smaller between France and Belgium. Standard of living can be different: there are more poor people in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe or you cannot expect the same way of life in India than in the United States.

You will have to face a different culture, other behaviors, and some can make you feel uncomfortable if you are not used to them: in the United State people are very outgoing and strike up a conversation with strangers on the bus, whereas in Europe, talking to a  stranger you will probably get you an angry look or might even scare people away.

Everyone knows that Chinese people are different from Americans, Americans are different from Germans, some differences are obvious while others are more subtle. Moreover, the food is different, you might have difficulties to find your old comfort food while you are abroad. Food is an important part of a countries culture so if the culture is different, the food will be too. Culture shock can be a real disadvantage for your study abroad experience.

How to improve: Learn about the local culture, traditions, and food. Try new dishes and participate in local events. Who knows if you’ll ever have the chance to participate in an American Thanksgiving or a Chinese New Year again after your study abroad semester ends?

#4 Disadvantage of studying abroad: Nothing is free

Another big disadvantage of studying abroad can cost. Studying abroad can be expensive. The cost of studying abroad will depend on your major, the university and the country or city you choose. Keep in mind that many countries do not allow a foreign student to work, so you need to have enough money before your study abroad semester/year or have someone from home supporting you. Ask yourself if you can afford to study abroad.

Airfare can make a pretty big expense, so check out Skyscanner for cheap airfare deals. 

What to do: Chose a cheaper country or city, reduce your living standards or follow these 20 tips to Study Abroad and save

#5 Disadvantage of studying abroad: One year lost?

For students, the credits earned abroad might not count towards your degree. This means your study time might increase, costs will go up and you might be longer depending on your parents. These are some of the major disadvantages of studying abroad. Before you leave and join the next study abroad program, you have to considerate this: are you ok that your degree might take longer than you anticipated? 

What to do: Make sure that your study abroad credits count towards your degree program or try to make up by taking summer classes etc. 

Disadvantages of Studying Abroad# 6 Disadvantage of studying abroad: Reverse Culture Shock

When you are going to study abroad you only think about the time you are going to spend abroad. But you forgot that one day you will have to come back to your home country. It can be just as hard to live in another country as to come back to your own. This feeling is called reverse culture shock.

You will change during your time abroad and return as a different person (hopefully). But so do the places and people back home. Time won’t stay still, just because you are not there and you’ll sometimes feel excluded in your old group of friends or feel unfamiliar in your own hometown. 

What to do: Accept that things change and use the things you learned from being abroad to see your home with a different perspective!

#7 Disadvantage of studying abroad: Your Mom will nag you

Don’t laugh! You know as well as me that moms can be really, well, intruding at times. So she will nag you: you will receive e-mails with hundreds of question and if you do not answer as fast as she wants, retaliation could be horrible. She will create her own Facebook account with the aim to know everything you don’t want to share with her.

Each time you will be on Skype, she will call you. So I tell you one thing before you go: You will need to establish rules for your study abroad time. Or you will come home from the Pub and have 30 exponentially more frantic voice messages from your dear mother, and if you don’t hurry up and call her back right away, the police will storm your room and disturb your slumber. 

What to do: Set rules and try to calm your mom’s nerves. Send her text messages and keep her informed, when you go somewhere out of the ordinary. Remember that you are her baby and she only does that, because she loves you <3

What do you think? Is Marie right? I think she is, to a degree. Nothing is perfect and depending on your situation, studying abroad might not be the best idea for you. Maybe an internship abroad or working as an Au Pair is a better option. But I also think that there are many, many advantages of studying abroad for most of us. If you study abroad and you encounter a problem, put your problem-solving-hat on and get to work. Try to see it from the locals’ perspective and respect their culture and traditions. 

Why you should study abroad anyways

Even though there are some disadvantages of studying abroad, I feel that that the advantages of studying abroad far outweigh them. I have studied abroad as a High School student, during my Bachelor’s degree and even completed my Master’s degree abroad. Yes, at times it was hard, but because I faced those challenges, I grew as a person.

When I first came to San Diego, I didn’t know anybody. Everything I accomplished, I did on my own and this is something that gave me a lot of confidence. It showed me that I can achieve my goals when I set my head to it. It also showed me that the success of living abroad is a mindset. If something is not going as you want, take charge and change it. 

Advantages of Studying Abroad

If you read through this article about the disadvantages of studying abroad and got a bit overwhelmed with all the things that could go wrong, whether you should take the plunge and study abroad or not, check out this book: The Global Student is the perfect book to show you that that living abroad is a great way to spark your career and see how many advantages living and studying abroad really has.

This article was first published on April 21, 2010 and has since been updated.