International Students

Studying in a foreign country is exciting, but can also be a stressful experience. Transitioning away from a familiar environment and adapting to a new country and culture can be very challenging. International students not only encounter unique challenges related to living in a different culture from their own,, but must do so while making the additional transition to becoming a college student.

The following concerns are ones international students face, that may differ from their non-international student peers.

  • Culture Shock
  • Immigration concerns
  • Financial strain
  • Language differences
    • Language and communication barriers that may lead to misunderstanding and you being misunderstood
  • Homesickness
  • Discrimination
    • Experiencing clashes of beliefs and values and conflicts in cross-cultural relationships and dealing with being the target of stereotypes/prejudices/ discriminations (e.g., your country of origin, race and ethnicity, gender, accents in your English, and religion)
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Academic demands
    • Learning how to navigate in a foreign educational system and dealing with unfamiliar rules, customs, and expectations (e.g., faculty-student relationship, teaching styles, classroom activities, group projects, and interactions with American classmates)
  • Loss of social support and status
    • Experiencing changes in your socio-cultural and economic status and dealing with its impact on your identity. Limited availability of ethnic foods, personal funds, means of transportation, family support, and diverse religious communities.
  • Loss of self-esteem

Research findings suggest that if international students fail to adjust to new, challenging, and diverse demands, they undergo high levels of loneliness, depression, and increased physical and mental health issues (Pedersen, 1995)

It is normal to experience some or all of the challenges listed above. However, it is important to recognize the warning signs that you may be in need of additional support. Being aware of the physical, mental, and behavioral signs that you may be overburdened by acculturative and/or other psychosocial stressors is important so that you can seek the help that you need.

Recognize when you need help

  • Increased nervousness
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep
  • Feeling agitated for no apparent reason (racing thoughts, constant worries, crying spells)
  • Chronic fatigue and decreased motivation
  • Profound sense of loss and grief
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances (e.g., nausea, stomachache, poor digestion, diarrhea, and constipation)
  • Constant negative emotions (e.g., resentment, guilt, and shame)
  • Mental fatigue and lowered cognitive functioning (e.g., difficulty processing, memorizing, or recalling information). 5
  • Behavioral problems (e.g., hostile attitudes and behaviors toward others, avoiding people and social situations, and skipping classes, and missing assignment dues)
  • Social isolation and sense of alienation (e.g., feeling powerless, meaningless, and lonely)
  • Increased use of alcohol, cigarettes, or other substance


  • Araujo, A. A. (2011). Adjustment issues of international students enrolled in American colleges and universities: A review of the literature. Higher Education studies, 1, 2- 8.
  • Brinson, J. A., & Kottler, J. (1995). International students in counseling: Some alternative models. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 9, 57-71.
  • Buffalo State University Counseling Center (2013, June 10). Myths about Counseling. Retrieved from Johnson, L. R., & Sandhu, D. S. (2007). Isolation, adjustment, and acculturation i
  • Leong, F. T. L., & Chou, E. L. (1996). Counseling international students. In P. B. Pedersen (Ed.), Counseling across cultures (pp. 210-242). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Mitchell, S. L., Greenwood, A. K., & Guglielmi, M. C. (2007). Utilization of counseling services: Comparing international and U.S. college students. Journal of College Counseling, 10, 117-129.