Coping with the challenges of being a mature international student: tips for adjusting to a new academic and cultural environment
By Oluwatomilola Oyewusi-Muraina Master of Laws NTU student
Being a mature international student has its perks and downsides. On one hand, there’s the self-esteem boost that comes with achieving something great in a new country through education, despite one’s age. On the other hand, there are a range of emotions that can arise from starting a new life in a completely different environment at an advanced age. These feelings may include a lack of sense of belonging, difficulty adapting, homesickness, meeting new people, paying bills and expenses while excelling academically, and more. As a mature international student, coming to the UK was a major financial and emotional decision for me. Although I have two children back home, my desire for advanced education and an improved lifestyle motivated me to take the leap.
Here are some seven tips that have helped me so far:
- Ask for help – Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Moving to a new country can be overwhelming as there’s a lot to grasp, such as finding accommodation, navigating transportation systems, seeking employment, and so on. It’s essential to ask for help from friends, classmates, and others to clarify doubts. Additionally, I found it beneficial to schedule sessions with Student Support Services on various issues. People are often eager to assist, but you must take the initiative and ask the right questions. I’ve realised that two individuals can do the same task, but the one who asks more questions can reap greater rewards simply by asking questions.
- Join a community/society – Joining a community/society on campus can provide a sense of belonging and help you meet people from different parts of the world. This can broaden your perspective and create lasting connections. Moreover, being part of a community or society can provide a sense of accountability and help you maintain a healthy work-life balance. There’s the Student Mental Health Champion programme and many more helpful societies to join.
- Have a support system – Even with all the support available, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed or homesick. I found it helpful to speak with my spouse in the UK, my mum back home, and a friend here in the UK. Having someone to talk to who won’t judge you can really make a difference.
- Take care of your health: Being a mature international student can be stressful, so it’s essential to take care of your physical and mental health. Exercise regularly, eat healthy, get enough sleep, and seek help if you feel overwhelmed. Taking care of your health requires a deliberate effort, but it’s an investment in your overall well-being and can help you cope better with the challenges.
- Stay connected with your family and friends: Being away from your loved ones can be difficult, but technology makes it easier to stay in touch. Schedule regular calls or video chats with your family and friends back home to stay connected despite your schedule.
- Take a break and indulge – It’s okay to take some time off for yourself and indulge in activities that you enjoy. Exploring the city is an excellent way to do this. Take a stroll around the city and discover new places that interest you e.g. a restaurant, shopping mall etc. It can be refreshing and help you feel more positive about your experience. Remember, you only live once, so make the most of your time in the new environment!
- Manage your expectations– On a final note, it is crucial to understand that you may not be able to do everything that others are doing. Everyone has different demands and commitments, and it’s okay if you can’t participate in everything.
To avoid feeling overwhelmed, focus on what’s essential to you and what aligns with your lifestyle. Don’t feel pressured to conform to others’ expectations, but rather set realistic goals for yourself. Take things one day at a time and try not to worry too much.
Being a mature international student can be challenging, but it’s also a unique opportunity to broaden your horizons and make the most of your experience while enjoying your time in a new country. Be humble, willing to learn, and support others. With the right mindset, you can make the most of your time abroad.
Your friend in this amazing journey!
For help, advice and resources whilst studying at NTU, take a look at the following for sources of support.
- Support from NTU
- Self-Care books in NTU’s libraries
- Silvercloud: SilverCloud is our online system designed to help with a range of mental health issues.
- Health and Wellbeing resources
- NTSU Information and Advice service
- Wellness in Mind: Advice and support for anyone in Nottingham experiencing issues with their mental wellbeing
- Student Minds or Student Space
- 10 Keys to happiness