Common Problems for International Students


International students, especially at their freshman year, face a number of challenges when come to study to a foreign country in terms of adapting to the new environment, language barrier, social isolation, dealing with financial problems, and feeling homesick. It is considered in much of the literature that these students are at a high-risk of experiencing emotional, personal, and psychological difficulties, which can affect all other spheres of student’s life (Sandhu, 1994; Lewthwaite,1996).

Studies reveal that there are a number of challenges pertinent to international students’ experience (Sandhu, 1994; Olivas & Li, 2006). Culture shock is the most common challenge international students experience when they come to study to a foreign country.  Students move to unfamiliar culture and experience the shock from the new environment, meeting new people, new teaching methods, and different norms, which may lead them to experience the feelings of confusion, anxiety, and depression (Lewthwaite, 1996).

Language barrier is another common problem faced by international students (Sandhu, 1994). Language barrier may prevent student’s motivation to integrate and socialize, which in turn may lead to student’s isolation and feeling of loneliness. Moreover, psychological needs of international students have been examined by Sandhu (1994), who found that international students experience the feelings of alienation, loneliness, fear, stress and quilt.

Considering all of the above-mentioned challenges and moreover standing from the position of being international student myself, I have conducted a mini research during my undergraduate degree on the perception of international students of on-campus counseling services. The main argument behind my study was that as a result of increased enrollment of international students, university has to ensure that support services available for international students are responsive and supportive, and particularly counseling services need to play major role in helping students to promote student’s emotional well-being.

The major finding of my study was the fact that thirty per cent (out of 30 ) of respondents stated that they have experienced an emotional/personal problem that had its significant effect on their well being and academic performance, however, none of them considered seeking help from the counseling support. Surprisingly, students’ reluctance related to the process of maturation and learning to be independent and self-reliant. Participants suggested different ideas on how counseling services might effectively response to the needs of international students including employing a counselor with an international stance, developing effective peer mentoring scheme, better university marketing campaign, and organizing counseling sessions targeting international students particularly.

To sum up, by increasing the quantity of international students, universities need to proportionally increase the quality of support services to assist students to overcome challenges originating from cultural and linguistic differences and improve their academic performance.


Lewthwaite, M. (1996). A study of international students’ perspectives on cross-cultural adaptation. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 19, 167-185.

Olivias, M. and Li, C. (2006). Understanding stressors of international students in higher education: What college counsellors and personnel need to know? Journal of Instructional Psychology, 33 (3), 217-222.

Sandhu, D. (1994). An assessment of psychological needs of internationals students: Implications for counselling and psychotherapy. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 17 (4), 229-239.

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