Studying abroad is an amazing experience. But with every experience there is good and bad. I wanted to share with you all some of the challenges I experienced as an international student living and studying in Los Angeles. If you are new to my blog, welcome! I am from Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam and I have lived in Los Angeles for 3 years. I study communications and go to LMU. I love the photo I used for this blog post because it was taken in 2017 when I first arrived to LA. Oh the memories…
Here are the top 10 challenges of studying abroad and how you can overcome it:
#1 Being far from your support network
This one I struggle with the most. Most of my friends and family are back home in Vietnam. When I have a bad day and I want to see them and talk to them in person, I can’t do that. I have to wait until Christmas break or summer to fly back home. But to overcome that I created my own network of friends here in Los Angeles. It was hard to find a group of friends that I really connected with but overtime I am happy to have found a few that I click with. 🙂 And even if you cannot physically do that right now with Covid-19 calling, facetiming or skyping them is better than nothing. I know life right now is not the same but it does make you feel good to talk to a friend and catch up with them after a long time. Keep going, don’t give up. I know this pandemic makes you feel like you want to throw everything away your hard work, joy and sacrifices. BUT DO NOT DO THAT. Keep going. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.
#2 Coping with cultural misunderstandings
This is bound to happen. You are in a new country with new set of customs, beliefs and rules that you are not used to back home. Whether you’re studying in France, England, Australia, New Zealand wherever, you will run into cultural misunderstandings and culture shock. When I first came here to America, I was so surprised with how much Americans loved to talk and that “how are you?” was their normal way of greeting. In Vietnam, “how are you” I guess is something you say once you become friends or know each other for a while. The first time an American asked me that I felt so weird…like hmmm I just met you what do you mean? :p But now since I have lived here for a while, I am used to it.
Americans do not like long silences which is very surprising for me because in Vietnam sometimes people are just quiet and it’s totally normal. We speak when we need to. I guess I’m still trying to find the balance. Sometimes I do enjoy talking to strangers if I feel the connection is genuine, but sometimes I just do not feel like talking at all. Most Americans, I find just like to talk for the sake of talking. I’m the complete opposite. :p I talk when I need to and enjoy being quiet and present in the moment. Another thing you also have to be aware of is if you come to America, you need to be on time. In Vietnam being 30mins late or 1 hour is acceptable. I am embarrassed to admit that I used to be like that. Hahaaha but not anymore 😉
Now I love being on time, because it shows the other person you respect their time. The idea of running late to me is repulsive. So Vietnamese people if you come here to America or anywhere else in the world besides Vietnam . COME. ON. TIME. DO NOT BE LATE! You’re going to get a bad rep and people may never do business with you again. You only have one shot to make a good impression, so don’t blow it away.
From time to time, I miss my old life in Vietnam. I just miss seeing family on a Sunday and spending time with my grandma. I also miss just grabbing a taxi and being out later at night and not having to worry so much like I do here in LA. LA nightlife is non-existent, not that I go clubbing or I’m a wild party animal like my sister. Jk! Hehe. But all I’m trying to say is that if you do want to have fun at night, nothing is open that late here, in fact things close pretty early here like around 9pm. When I was living in NYC things were closed like at midnight or 2am.
Also another thing that makes me feel homesick is that the culture in America is all about work. And even though I enjoy the hustle and grind, I still miss enjoying life and going to Vietnamese cafes like I used to in Vietnam. To overcome homesickness you just have to live in America longer and push through each day. It will get better I promise and it is part of growing up. I also tell myself that I am not alone in this journey and that there are many students like me who study abroad.
I should be proud of myself for coming here because the alternative would not be as good as where I am now. So to overcome homesickness, I just tell myself that all my hard work here in the U.S will pay off and will make me grow. Or the alternative is to stay in Asia and be stuck living under my parent’s roof and not grow at all. My country does not have the same opportunities here. So that is what I keep in mind and perspective every time I dread being here in LA and wanting to move back home.
I’ll admit I can be such a baby sometimes and don’t want to grow up. Haha.
#4 Having serious FOMO
I don’t know how many times I’ve missed my grandma’s birthday, parent’s anniversary, cousin’s wedding, friend’s engagement and etc…because I’m all the way here in America. It sucks 🙁 But I can’t do much because I’m in school and my family understands. I just remind myself that I am here to learn and that once I get all my education done, there will be plenty of time to celebrate.
#5 Feeling like an outsider
I guess this is something bi-cultural students face when they move abroad. I was born in Vietnam and completed all my high school in Saigon and moved to the U.S only for college, while my parents remain back home. Being bi-cultural does not mean you’re bi-racial. Two complete different meanings. This has to do with you absorbing whatever culture you come in contact with for a long period of time, and as a result you feel like you’re a combination of cultures.
For me, I consider myself modern yet traditional. I agree on a lot of things most Vietnamese people find unorthodox but I still embrace my heritage and traditions. This article is a good read if you ever feel like an outsider and trying to figure out yourself.
Remember this whenever you feel lost and an outsider:
- Most of the time people are thinking about themselves. You’d be surprise, we humans can be pretty selfish and our thoughts are always about us. I doubt the person next to you looks at you and thinks “gee that person looks like an outsider!” 🙂 Do not worry too much of what others think of you. Being kind and polite always goes a long way in life.
- Everyone feels out of place. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to feel like they fit in. I think that is enough to make you feel that you are enough and you will be okay. People don’t immediately look at you and assume you’re an outsider. Be proud of how far you’ve come to attain your education abroad, be confident and carry yourself with pride. Eventually you will feel a sense of ease of living in a new country.
#6 Language Barriers
I can only imagine the struggles, anxiety and hardships you face when you’re trying to communicate in English when English is not your first language. You are brave and I commend you for that. While I cannot speak about having language barriers because I am fluent in English, I do acknowledge the problems and hardships of it. All I can say to you is to not give up and to continue to learn English and make use of all the free online resources available. And most of all be proud of yourself. When you learn English it is an incredible experience because you open up a world of opportunities and chances to meet new people. If you ever need help with English feel free to reach out. I am glad to help you as much as I can.
#7 Food Habits
Off course we have to talk about food. Food is part of our daily life. So when you come to America or a new country that is probably the first thing you will recognize. In Vietnam people have more access to fresh vegetables, cheap take-out, or have more time to cook depending on their job. Here in America, people are too busy to cook and they tend to order out more because it is easy. I would not recommend that because it is crazy expensive and not healthy.
I am a big advocate on meal prepping on Sundays. It saves time and money. I am also working with a trainer right now so my nutrition has to be on point. He’s from Australia and specializes in Fat Loss. I love just being able to know what I am eating and knowing that this will all help me get to my goals. If you are looking for a trainer let me know I am more than happy to help.
#8 New Culture and identity
I know we talked about homesickness but there is something that not much people talk about when they study abroad. That is, the new culture you’re about to live in and get used to might change your identity either for good or bad. It is up to you to decide that.
I knew that when I came to America, I made a promise to myself that I would absorb the good things that resonated with me and discard the rest. At the end of the day I have to be true to who I am. I don’t want to be fake and follow the rest. I want to be able to look back and know that when I came to America, I did the best I could, I grew but I still kept my Vietnamese customs and beliefs like respecting elders, manners, dressing well being put together, respectable, looking out for my sister etc…. that was important to me. I would never want to throw away those good traits.
BUT at the same time, I would be modern and have to be selfish at times and put my needs above first. Which is a very American way of thinking. Because in Vietnam, it’s always about putting family first above your own.
So for me, I do what I can, still balancing between both cultures.
#9 Finance currency and running low on money
Los Angeles is expensive. I know as a student there maybe times where our bank accounts look depressing but know that if you work hard you will be able to support yourself and be able to afford the things you dream of.
Invest in your education and work when you can. Don’t worry about the type of car you drive, or your apartment that has no furniture. Overtime you will get everything that you want. But be willing to put in the work. Since I came to America I’ve worked at Zara, Sur La Table, Business Tutor, Cryo therapy receptionist, Sushi hostess and more. I love working, and it feels great!
#10 Wanting to stay forever
My parents joked with me that if I came to America I would never want to go back to Vietnam. They were right. Now that I have made LA my home, I love it so much and I am used to my life here that the thought of returning back home makes me feel overwhelmed. I am just used to the lifestyle here and I don’t want to move back. So LA is my home now I will go back to visit my family and friends but I don’t see Vietnam as my permanent home in the immediate future. But we will see about that. Right now under the pandemic many things are uncertain. But the one thing I can be sure of is that I can always make home anywhere I go. Because home is in my heart <3 and that is something I want you to learn to do. Once you can do this, no matter where you are in the world you can always make things feel like home in your heart and soul.
I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post. I’m watching KBS Sleepover tonight here my friend is actually in it 😉
As always thank you for reading, your support, comments and kindness motivates me to write more. I felt like giving up on writing but after seeing the comments and instagram inboxes it really made me happy and pushed me to write better. Thinking of you all and cannot wait until we are back to normal life soon.