‘I’m struggling with the workload’: the difficulty of courses at your student’s host university is likely to be different from what they’re used to. If courses are harder in terms of content, workload or frequency of assessment, students can find this very stressful. It may be hard for them to know how to access academic support, or it may not be available. They are much less likely to have course friends to ask for help.
“How can I access counselling?”: It is a positive thing when students acknowledge their need for counselling. However, some may not know how to access it if they have not previously participated in counselling before their exchange. It is good to be aware of what counselling services your university provides, and to encourage students to explore counselling options at their host universities.
“Can I return home?”: Although most students try their best to take advantage of their international experience, if they are really struggling, they may wish to return home from their exchange. Follow-up questions to this include implications of returning home, such as how this would impact their degree and financial implications.
“What does the university’s insurance cover?”: If a student finds themselves in a situation facing costs for medical attention whilst abroad, they may ask about the university’s insurance policy. It is always a good idea to provide students with university’s insurance policy before they go, and to even incorporate a “how to make a claim” section they must review within their pre-departure risk assessment.
“How can I find a doctor?”: Because of a lack of knowledge of their host country’s healthcare system, students may struggle to locate and register with a doctor. Registering with a doctor is extremely important for a student’s physical wellbeing. It is always a good idea to build a medical section into a pre-departure risk assessment, asking students to research and include details of how to register with a doctor in their host country.
“Can I bring prescription medications?”: Students may have essential medications that they need to take with them on their mobility. Medications prescribed in one country may be illegal in another. Students should contact their host country’s embassy or consulate to find out if certain medications can be legally used abroad. If legal, students should try to ensure they have enough medication to last their entire exchange. However, students should also obtain a signed prescription to bring with them that contains the medication’s generic and brand names, along with a letter from their doctor explaining the medical need for the medications and their dosages.
“Can I request an extension or time off from my courses for wellbeing purposes?”: If their exchange becomes too much for a student, they may ask for an extension or time off. A common follow-up question would be financial implications and how this will impact their degree.
“I am struggling with homesickness, how can I deal with it?”: It is normal for students who are abroad to feel homesick, especially when cultural differences and language barriers become more apparent. It is always good to encourage the student to stay positive and offer helpful tips including speaking to a trusted friend or family member, go to events for international students, and trying to really assimilate into the local culture. You can also suggest students spend less time scrolling their social media feeds, in order to prevent “fear of missing out” on activities back home.
“I am feeling like an outsider, what can I do? Similar to above, even though they may be surrounded by “others”, students may feel out of place or disconnected. Their looks, fashion, or inability to communicate in the local language may make them different, which can make them feel isolated and alone. It is always good to encourage students to try and make at least one local friend, and seek out local language exchange events in their host city.
“How can I cope with reverse culture shock?”: Students may have enjoyed their experience so much, they don’t want to leave. Returning home can induce a feeling of unfamiliarity that occurs when you come back to your own culture having lived elsewhere. You can provide students with coping tips including preparing for it, giving themselves time to readjust, embracing their emotions, and understanding things have changed.