What I’ve Learned About Identity as an International Student

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Person touching a globe with their finger.
The world is at your fingertips.

I feel like the number of international students out there is on the rise. No matter if it’s just for a semester abroad, or a year, or even a full degree, it’s getting easier and easier to explore the world and get an education at the same time. Talk about a two for one deal!

I could list all of the benefits of being an international student: expanding your horizons, learning to adapt, the cultural norms, seeing the world, the work experience, and so on and so forth. After all, when else would you get the opportunity to live in far flung places, or learn a language while immersed in its natural environment? It can also set you apart when applying for jobs after college.

I’m from Hong Kong, but I attend university in the UK, which is about 5,000 miles away from home. It may have been naïve of me, but I expected it to go fine. After all, those hours spent watching The Great British Bake Off and British YouTubers must have counted for something, right?

For me at least, like Belle in that French village, there was also the lingering feeling of not quite fitting in. Although Hong Kong may have once been a British colony, there were certainly about a thousand and one things that made me stick out from everybody else, and therefore a thousand and one things to feel self conscious about. Jokes about strange turns of phrase, like saying “candy” instead of “sweets”, or not relating to conversation starters such as “remember the A-levels?”. These, of course, seem arbitrary, but they do start to add up and then the homesickness sets in.

Identity as an International Student
Going from a sleepy college town to a city that never sleeps always fazes me.

But there’s also the flip side–going back home and expecting everything to be the same, but for some reason it isn’t. Maybe you’ve adopted mannerisms from your new country, like eating dinner (sorry, “tea”) early, or the fact that the number of people around in a big city, which once felt so normal, now feels completely overwhelming. 

But at the end of the day, do I regret choosing my university? Not at all. Of course there are the benefits that I’ve said above, but it’s also this fear of change that had turned out not to be as scary as I thought it was. It doesn’t matter that I’m different from how I was in high school; in fact, it’s a good thing. 

A part of living well is to keep changing and developing yourself into a better person, and I believe that living abroad has helped me do this. My advice? Incorporate elements of everything into your daily life, speak in a mish-mash of accents. It just makes you different from everybody else and, at the very least, is a good conversation starter.

So if you’re thinking about applying somewhere abroad, even for just a short while, I would encourage you to go for it. And if you’ve been or are currently are studying abroad, share your experiences in a comment below!

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