Study abroad: Homesick blues? Banish those fears

Students and parents can rest assured that European universities go out of their way to support freshers and help them to settle in

Mention the term pastoral care and most people think of schools and
colleges, but it can be just as important at university level – no more so than
when you’re going overseas to study.

“When prospective students and their parents from the UK contact us, they often ask what happens if they wind up suffering from the blues, homesickness, money worries or anxiety about their course or career prospects. Understandably, they want reassurance that they’ll be safe and happy,” says Marie Vivas, director of admissions at Jacobs University Bremen in Germany.

Parents, she says, tend to imagine that pastoral care in Europe is not as effective as in the UK. “But in fact there’s more of an emphasis on it. After all, at our university, we have 75 per cent international students, who naturally tend to have greater pastoral needs than domestic students,” she says.

The first fear parents have is about language, she reports. “‘How is my child going to manage and talk to people?’ they ask. They also worry about medical care. ‘What happens in an emergency?’ Then come the safety issues. ‘Will my child be safe on campus? Are drugs and alcohol a problem?’ And finally there are the emotional issues. ‘What happens if they don’t settle in or are dying to come home?’”

To answer these questions, the university provides an orientation week for new students and their parents during the last week of August.

“During this time, parents stay on campus and attend parent workshops, where they get to meet different staff members – careers services, academic and peer advisers and psychologists, among others,” Vivas adds. “For parents who can’t make it, we send out a PowerPoint presentation. We also work with the students in this week on their most common concerns. And we invite banks and medical insurance companies to explain their programmes.”

Once term has started, the university sends out a letter every fortnight, each covering one of the most prevalent fears. “These letters are posted on facebook, as well as a portal where incoming students and parents can view them,” says Vivas.

But it’s the residential campus system, she says, that provides the greatest reassurance. “Everyone has a college master who lives here with their family and is in charge of pastoral care for that particular college. They organise events and are always available for the student to talk to.”

Buddy programmes are also effective, says Nadja van Haren, spokesperson for HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht in the Netherlands. “All first year international students get a buddy coach – a student from a higher year who picks the student up from the airport, shows them around the city and campus and helps them with all kinds of questions,” she explains.

“Even before arrival, we arrange for our new international students to be contacted by phone by a current international student, preferably from their own country, so that they can voice any concerns they have and ask any questions they might not necessarily ask a school official.”

Van Haren says language is seen as the biggest barrier. “But they don’t need to worry – most people in Holland speak English and our whole study programme is English.”

Marcus Burnett, educational counsellor and UK and Ireland manager for Laureate Hospitality Education, agrees. “The idea of language being a problem is a myth as so many European universities have subjects taught entirely in English.”

Having an international educational counsellor based in the UK can be a great relief to students and their parents in the early stages, he adds. “That’s my role and it involves liaising with both parents and students to allay any fears they have.”

Meanwhile, the University of Groningen in the Netherlands boasts a Study Support Office, with courses geared specifically towards international students. “We realise international students have different needs and problems from our domestic students,” explains spokesperson Maarten Dikhoff.

“They are far away from home and will run into things like culture shock, homesickness and difficulties with the differences in education systems. So these courses help them out on such issues. Every programme also has a study adviser, who is there to help the student throughout their studies – not just for academic issues, but for personal ones – and we also have student counsellors and a student psychologist for international students.”

The Welcoming Ceremony is especially popular, he says. “It’s an official welcome to our international students and we have an information market, where students can find out information on all sorts of services, and student organisations relating to areas such as study support, doctors, dentists and health insurance. We also offer lectures on studying and living in Gronigen that day. These lectures are presented by someone from our Study Support Office and one or two international students themselves. Right after the ceremony, the International Student Week starts – an introduction week especially for students from abroad to help them settle in.”

For Craig Taylor, 23, who is studying modern global history at Jacobs University, it’s the high ratio of staff to students that has helped him settle in the most. “It means the interaction between professors and students is a lot less formal and a lot more frequent than at UK universities, and that counts for a lot.” As for homesickness, he says that, like many UK students in Europe, “I can fly home on Ryanair for £14 and be home in an hour, so I never have the feeling of being far away.”

For Ritwik Swain, who went to school in St Albans, it was only when his headmaster pointed out a newspaper article about Maastricht University that he considered studying overseas. “It led me to Google other psychology degrees in the Netherlands and I found Gronigen.”

The Dutch emphasise the importance of independent and self-development, he says. “But the university has a student support team, with a great team of counsellors and the other students are so friendly that I can rely on that community to get through anything.”

Vivas points out that knowing what to expect is half the battle. “Homesickness, for example, tends to hit in November. Until then students are running around and excited. But then their mid-term grades are usually not as good as school and it’s getting dark and rainy. But college masters organise cheer-ups and we explain it is normal.” Understanding that there’s flexibility – for example around changing courses if one doesn’t suit you – can also be key to settling in, she adds.

Students thinking of studying in Europe should research as much as they can online, advises Dikhoff – not just the university website, but the Facebook pages and groups.

“Talk to UK students already studying in the country and learn from their experiences and if possible, visit the city and institution. We just had an Open Day, which about 50 UK students and their parents came to.”

Most concerns stem from fear of the unknown, says Rob Maat, manager of international relations at Fontys International Business School in the Netherlands. “The better you inform yourself, the better you’ll feel.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Technical Support Analyst

£23000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cuu...

HR Advisor (Employee Relations) - Kentish Town, NW London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor (Employee Rela...

PHP Developer / PHP Web Developer

£25 - 40k (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A PHP Developer / PHP Web ...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment