Overcoming key challenges as an international MSc student

17 August 2022

MSc Finance & Economics ambassador Juan shares his approach to overcoming key cultural challenges as an international student moving to the UK to study for the first time.

I come from the centre of the world, literally. Ecuador is a small country located in South America, down from Colombia, up from Peru, and far away from the UK. Quito, my city, has the particularity that you can stand up with one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern one, making it an exciting city to live in. Also, being a small country, it has the perfect mix of beaches, mountains, and jungle at approximately 4 hours between each. This difference between environments enriches its culture, which could be sensed in its music, food, and people. Additionally, in Ecuador, I had the advantage of being surrounded by my family and close friends. For these reasons, leaving my country was one of the most challenging and self-improving decisions. During my experience, I have encountered and overcome four challenges as an international student at Warwick.

Combatting loneliness and making small wins everyday

The first challenge I encountered was loneliness. The feeling of being alone started to burn inside me when I said goodbye to my family. This might be one of the best and worst things in the experience of being an international student. To begin with, at least in Latin America, our family and friends become so close that we become accustomed to being surrounded by them; thus, going abroad becomes difficult. Secondly, I was overwhelmed by the things I would need to encounter alone now; for example, cooking and laundry were something I did not have to worry about back home, but now I had to do them on my own. However, I started to use a technique to stop thinking about loneliness and share the best of times with myself. So, in the beginning, I set some goals that were achievable in the long term, like having good grades on the exams and graduating; therefore, I changed to a new method of making small wins each day. In this new method, things that made me feel lonely at first, like cooking or laundry, became reachable and helped me build inner confidence. Thus, my first shock was a negative perception of my adventure, which was pushed by uncertainty and fear of how my life would be far from my comfort zone but being able to change my way of looking at things transformed my loneliness into building a stronger character.

Building a new community

The second challenge I encountered was the feeling of being new. It felt like when you enter a new school, people have already settled things, and you are starting to build everything from scratch. However, this feeling went away as classes began. Because Warwick Business School has diverse students, many came from different countries and shared the same sense I had. Also, the university organised meet-and-greet events at WBS to get to know more students. I remember that in the first class we had, we already started to work in groups and do various activities that made us get to know more students. As classes got more intense, we got to build more friendships after each lecture and seminar; this was crucial because it helped us handle in a better way all the new material and exercises we had to do for class. Finally, the university offers a variety of extracurricular activities; in my case, I joined the salsa club and the sports hub, which both opened the opportunity to meet more people, and the salsa club embraced my Latino roots. Thus, feeling the new one slowly transformed into being part of a new community.   

Tackling the cold weather

The third challenge was between December and March. As I previously mentioned, I come from a tropical country located in the centre of the world. The climate I experienced in Ecuador was summer and winter, with relatively stable temperatures, unpredictable rain, and a stable amount of sun during the year. However, living during winter in the United Kingdom was a different experience. The most challenging task was dealing with the cold weather because it made it difficult to walk outside or even be with friends outdoors. Also, I had to get used to seeing the sun for small amounts of time during the day, making 4 pm feel like it was already 10 pm. However, the positive thing concerning this weather was that during those months you have to prepare for first term exams, which cold weather motivated you to study rather than go outside. Another positive thing related to climate was that because of festivities, during those months, different cities organise Christmas Markets in which the university organizes trips to visit them, so these events make you forget the negative aspects of winter. Furthermore, I also started to enjoy comparing the differences between Ecuador and the United Kingdom related to the weather; for example, I had a lot of fun when it snowed in Coventry. Therefore, even though at first it was hard to handle the weather, being exposed to a different climate makes you encounter life in another way, which makes your life story filled with new adventures.  

Getting to grips with different learning methodologies  

My final challenge as an international student was getting to know the different learning methodologies in the United Kingdom. For example, in Ecuador, we had long lectures and exercises to prepare for the various examinations. Also, the module had two tests that accounted for 60%-80% of the final grade and one final exam for the remaining points. However, at Warwick Business School, I encountered the methodology of 1+1+1, which was a 1-hour lecture plus 1-hour of online material plus 1-hour of seminars, and a final examination determining most of your grade. This was a different way of learning, adding that part of the knowledge also depends on the student, so it was challenging to organise my schedule and activities to be prepared for the seminar. Still, exposure to a new learning methodology helped me look at the modules from a different perspective. Also, it made the learning experience more self-satisfying because it depended on your critical thinking to understand and untangle new information to build a better knowledge of the modules, making me more adaptable to different experiences.  

Being an international student is demanding; you are faced with different challenges that ultimately help you enrich your experience abroad. The good news about all these challenges is that they are manageable, you have friends experiencing the same problems, and the university supports you during your time at Warwick. In the end, the outcome of your experience will be an enormous amount of life experiences that will help you in your professional career and personal development. Finally, the best advice as an international student I can give is to make your experience worth it; you are the one writing your own story, making the Warwick Business School chapter one of the most enriching and exciting chapters of your book. Looking back at how hard it was for me to leave Ecuador, I feel it was worth it.     

Discover more perspectives on life at Warwick Business School on our Postgraduate blog, or visit the MSc Finance & Economics course pages.

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