Why Studying A Foreign Language Is Challenging, But Life-Changing

Going abroad and embracing a study programme is a very challenging but fruitful experience for students. Since I can remember, I always wanted to study abroad as I come from an international background. I was born and raised in Colombia but with a Dutch father and an American mother. But, taking the challenge of going abroad for my bachelor degree, meant that I really had prepared myself for studying in a foreign language. What made my decision easier was that I felt confident, as I already spoke three languages (Spanish, English and French) and lived quite independently from my parents before moving to the Netherlands. This definitely made things much easier.

Studying abroad has become significantly popular among students. The British Council revealed that the number of UK students who go abroad as part of their degree programme has increased by as much as 39 per cent. Worldwide, there are a growing number of opportunities to study in a second language, making it more accessible for you to start a whole new adventure. The majority of these second language courses are taught in English and include degrees that are in countries where English is not the local language. For example, in the Netherlands, there are more than 1,500 courses are taught entirely in English, ranging from short training seminars to Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs.

For my experience studying in the Netherlands, there are several elements that you should take into account when embracing a study programme in language other than your native one.

Language

First, you will require a high level of skills in this language (many programs have specific language entry requirements). Therefore, it is important that you prepare yourself for test such as TOFEL, IELTS, and CAE among many others. Most institutions list the tests and the enrolment requirements on their websites. Some examples of these tests can be found in this article. For example in the Netherlands if you come from a non-English speaking country you have to take the TOEFL, but this might be different in England or in the US. Furthermore, you have to closely check the requirements, as usually you have to score above a certain number. In the Netherlands your score has to be above 70 points.

You also need to be prepared for the academic demands in the foreign language, mainly regarding the writing style, specific vocabulary, academic conventions and methodologies. For Jingjing Li, a 25-year-old Chinese student studying at City University London, mentioned that “Learning a language for studying your career degree is a difficult task because it is not just about using the alphabet, words or grammar but the whole cultural and academic experience. I had to take a foundation degree to improve my academic level.”

Context

When studying in a foreign language outside your home country, you will need to prepare for learning in a different environments in which academic/classroom/teaching and learning practice is unfamiliar or different from your prior experience. You will have to learn how to deal with different educational systems, dynamic and especially working with people from another culture.

From my personal experience, one of the toughest things but most valuable aspects during my studies, was working in international groups because we all have different perspectives and ways of doing “business.” It was challenging, but you learn a lot about communication and patience. In the end turns out a lot of fun as you can learn other perspectives.

For Marieke Wewvers, a 22-year-old German student, studying at Sciences Po Grenoble in Saint-Martin-d’Hères, France mentioned that “taking classes in French was very exhausting during the first weeks. It was hard to listen and take notes at the same time, especially because there are connotations that you might not understand at the beginning! However, it helped a lot in improving my language skills within a short period of time, so I can only recommend studying in a foreign language!”

For Lenka Praxova, a 25-year-old Czech student, studying at Technical University Eindhoven, “studying in a different language and culture was for very exhausting at first. Sometimes I found myself whispering a random Czech sentences after exhausting lecturing day, just to get my brain back to a normal speed. Nevertheless, in general using a different language is playful! One can play with a different intonation and color of the voice, for instance I would use a quotes from different movies. This would not be otherwise possible with my own language as I already have my ‘personality created.’ Studying and learning in a different language gave me the opportunity to learn and access different data, same as shape who I am or can be.”

Develop your language and academic skills in advance.

Many online resources and method can help you with preparing and improving your language skills before your adventure starts. With the raise of the digital world, there are tons of interactive materials and resources that can support the development of your academic skills including your critical thinking, academic writing and assessment. For me the best method was to enroll in an intensive language course, to really push me in taking my language skills to a higher level. If you need additional language preparation before travelling, I would advise to find an adequate language course according to your own needs. There are several online resources to help you with this process including: Language Learning Portal, Study in Holland, English UK, ABLS Accreditation, Federacíon de Escuelas de Español and many other useful resource. On the other hand, there are also many free online resources that can support you practicing your language skills including Duolingo, Bussu, Babbel and HiNative among others.

Research different perspectives.

Studying in a foreign language can be very demanding due to cultural and academic differences. Especially at the beginning you might face challenges in writing papers, presenting and reading extensive academic articles. For Ann Chang, a 25-year-old at Taiwanese student, studying at Tiasnimbas in Utrecht mentioned that “Studying abroad helped me see the world, immerse with different perspectives and pushed me out of my comfort zone! I browsed through GOGO Dutch, an organization that helps Asians better adapt to the Netherlands. Studying in a different language was definitely challenging, but has been a life changing experience, because then you are able to understand things in a different way!

Therefore, it is important to do some research about how other students have experienced their period at the place you are planning to move to. Luckily the internet has open new doors to communication, as now we can easily find different sources about what life is really like where you are planning to study. International students, are open to share their experiences and provide you with tips and trick to help you with academic matters. There are many websites for students to share their experiences of studying abroad, such as Facebook groups from the university itself, student association and other online student communities such as STexx. For example, I browsed through several student organizations such as Scope and Compass to find out what other students were saying about their experience studying at my universities.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Many universities have web pages particularly aimed at international students with advice and tips. Check out the pages of the university you are planning to visit. Universities are trying to attract more and more international students, therefore, they try to provide a smooth and helpful service. So write all your questions and send them, they will be happy to help you.

It should also be possible to get language help once you have started your studies, through the University Language Centre. The language center will often provide courses in a range of languages along with language support for students.

We might all be afraid and anxious about embracing an adventure like studying in a foreign language away from home. There are some many things that you have to consider and be aware of, but taking this challenge is definitely a turning point in your life. So, you are fearless and brave to study in another language, you might want to consider points discuss in this article to help you with your process. TC mark

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