Studying abroad: making it work

4 September 2019

Raghujit Narula, Global Head of International and Cross Border, Wealth and Personal Banking, HSBC

Contacting friends and family has never been easier for people studying abroad. The growth of video calls, social media and internet messaging apps means it’s cheap and convenient for international students to stay in touch – even from the other side of the world.

But this increased connectivity doesn’t stop them from missing home. According to a new survey of almost 900 international students by HSBC, 92 per cent of people studying overseas have felt homesick at some point. As someone who has lived and worked abroad, I know what it is like to feel nostalgic for the familiarities of home.

As the poll found, it’s often sensory experiences that people miss the most – after all, even the highest-definition video can’t convey the smell of a home-cooked meal. And these feelings can have consequences: nearly half of those polled believe missing home has affected their academic performance. Some say it has even hindered their sleep.

Although there are no quick solutions, there are a range of ways to make the initial transition easier. Joining university clubs and societies may be a good way to meet people with shared interests and provide a useful source of support. And while regular contact with friends and family back home can be a comfort, it’s important to find a balance to ensure that keeping up with old friendships doesn’t get in the way of forming new ones.

Settling into a new life abroad can take time. But HSBC’s research also shows that international students believe the long-term benefits outweigh any initial discomfort. Some 99 per cent of respondents said studying overseas had a positive, lasting impact on their lives and 84 per cent said they had gained new skills and become a stronger person because of it.

Of course, studying abroad brings a number of other challenges. Finances are a common concern and the cost of a university education overseas can be significant.

The average person studying abroad spends at least USD20,000 a year on key expenses, including accommodation and travel home, HSBC’s survey found. This is on top of any financial contribution from their parents. Planning ahead can make it easier for families to manage the costs.

Students can also reduce their expenses, for example by buying second-hand textbooks and taking advantage of student discounts. Choosing a bank account that makes it easy for them to send and receive money internationally can help them avoid unexpected fees.

Student life comes with many hurdles, particularly for those far from home. But those who navigate those challenges can reap many rewards – from an internationally recognised qualification and a career head start to a boost in independence. There are also the memories and friendships that can last a lifetime.

Note: As part of its Sounds of Home campaign, HSBC commissioned a survey of 897 current or former international students aged 17 to 29 from Australia, mainland China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, the UK and the USA. The research was carried out online by Edelman Intelligence between 12 and 24 June 2019.