Tufts international students face challenges but gain new perspectives


For decades, the United States has been the most popular destination to go to college internationally. Known as the “Land of Opportunity”, students from around the world choose to go to the world’s best colleges in the USA for the quality of education, endless opportunities, and study experience at foreign. In fact, according to a study by the Institute on International Education, more than one million foreign-born students were enrolled in colleges in the United States for the 2019-2020 academic year, although this number has decreased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hailing from more than 200 countries, millions of international students share the same goal: to find an opportunity to succeed.

Although studying in the “land of opportunity” is supposed to be a dream come true, the process of fitting in might not be quite as glamorous. One of the most common things that international students experience during the first few weeks of college is a social phenomenon called “culture shock”: the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is subjected to a culture, a mode of life or a set of unknown attitudes. Mastering English as a primary language, adapting to a different climate, learning new transport systems and internalizing new norms are examples of culture shock and challenges for international students.

Adapting to a new culture can be difficult. A study by two professors from Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, showed that international students tend to socialize the most with people from their own culture. Language, customs and shared experiences of being away from home can often facilitate the development of these bonds.

Ekin Kaya, a freshman at Tufts from Istanbul, Turkey, shared his experience. “One thing we all have in common is the difference in cultures and this adjustment that we go through,” she said, adding that “cultural differences can make the experience even more difficult for international students. Personally, there are times when I feel like I don’t even belong here.

Many factors can facilitate this transition process. Collaboration between professors and students has a positive impact on the academic performance of international students. The Queen’s University study showed how international students who worked closely with their professors did better in their academic work, particularly if the professors were aware of cross-cultural issues and their own ethnocentric biases. Fortunately, Tufts faculty are known to be very collaborative, approachable, and supportive, which can be a great support mechanism for international students navigating the transition process.

Homesickness is another challenge for international students who leave their homes, families and communities to build a new life. It can be psychologically difficult at first. A 2002 study published in the journal New Directions for Higher Education showed that international students are often homesick and feel lonely and lack mental health support. To fill the void, it can help to socialize and do their best to adjust to their new “home”.

Kaya mentioned homesickness as the biggest struggle she faces. She expressed her emotions as follows: ‘I miss my family, my friends and a sense of belonging somewhere – a home – which is very normal as this is the first time I have been away from home. [my] residence.”

With these challenges, navigating the international experience can be difficult. However, it is important to assess the situation from different points of view. Although cultural differences may seem like a barrier, a diverse learning environment can contribute positively to personal growth and worldview. International students from different cultural backgrounds can embrace these challenges and embark on new cultural experiences, making their college experience even more rewarding.

Students can use the resources and support offered at Tufts. The International Center provides information and resources, while Counseling and mental health service offers individual and group consultations. Sharing her experiences with campus resources, Kaya said, “The International Center brought in the resources…but I feel like to eliminate those bad experiences, they could have monitored us individually.” Still, they are places where students can seek support and guidance.

There is no one way to navigate this process. As Ekin said, “Everyone’s experience is different and unique.” Personally, getting out of my comfort zone and following the advice of international upper classes has helped me a lot. They advised me to join clubs and always keep in mind that every international student experiences the same emotions and difficulties. I also allowed myself to miss home and my family, which allowed me to express my emotions rather than bottle it all up. Prioritizing our goal here – getting an education – can also make a difference. Although the international experience can be challenging, finding resources and making connections can make it one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.


Comments are closed.