The Common Stressors of an International Student in the UK

by ICL
Oct 1, 2018

Studying abroad can be a great adventure – you get to access the top tutors in your field, have new experiences, and meet different people. However, for all the highs that come with being an international student in the UK, there can be lows, too.

Here are a few of the emotional issues that could crop up during your time studying away from home, and a few tips on how to manage them.


Despite the vast number of international students in the UK, loneliness is a major issue for students studying away from home.

Research suggests that there are three types of loneliness that can be experienced by international students, where you might experience one or more of these types at any time.

  • Personal loneliness comes from being away from family members and the home environment.
  • Social loneliness comes from being apart from friends and the social scene.
  • Cultural loneliness comes from being out of sync with your native language and cultural habits and the feeling that everything is unfamiliar.


If the feelings of isolation start to overwhelm you, or affect your grades, you should think about seeking support. Most universities offer some student support services, or international student support groups, or you can contact your GP, or seek a private referral to a counsellor or psychotherapist.

Culture shock

The thought of immersing yourself in a new culture might seem exciting, but it’s also common to feel a sense of culture shock at some point during your time as an international student. You are most likely to experience culture shock in your first months in the country. This is linked to cultural loneliness, where everything is unfamiliar, including the food, the people and the language. When you move, you might feel like you are on shaky ground even everyday things, like learning how the public transport system works can cause stress. Cultural shock can leave you feeling low, anxious, and unsettled.

There are a few things you can do to help with culture shock, including

  • Keeping in touch with loved ones back home – if possible use technology; schedule regular video conversations and keep in touch through chats.
  • Nest: Fill your new living space with things that make you feel at home – like a framed photo of your family or décor that means something personal to you and who you are.
  • Cook your home cuisine, find a grocer that sells international food and stock up.


If your cultural shock does not go away or lessen with time, or you are feeling overwhelmed by the difference in cultures, then sessions with a therapist can help you develop coping techniques.

Financial pressures

It’s estimated that 84 per cent of students in the UK worry about money at some time during their university years. For most students, university is the first time that they have to manage their own budget. International students often have more strain, with the added pressures of currency conversion and not having family or friends around for support. Financial stress is always about the balance between social and financial pressures. There are a number of ways to help you manage financial stressors:

  • Use budgeting apps to make your money go further.
  • Take out cash at the start of the week and only spend what you have in your pocket.
  • Make use of all the student discounts.
  • Sessions with a therapist can help you understand your spending habits and look at ways you can reduce your anxiety over money.


Anxiety and Depression

It is common for international students to feel anxious or to suffer from depression. Symptoms of depression include sleeplessness, low mood, difficulty thinking straight, loss of concentration and a lack of interest in activities. While anxiety can manifest in many ways including panic attacks and hypochondriasis.

It is important to communicate the way you are feeling to someone. Having a network of other international students around you can help you combat anxiety and depression. If you do not feel like you have anyone to turn to, seek help from a counsellor or therapist.

The International Clinic, London has an international team of counsellors many of which have experienced living away from the place they were born, so they are best placed to help you. Some also offer therapy in other languages including Arabic, Russian, German, Greek, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Bulgarian. For help and advice on how to deal with stressors associated with being an international student in the UK call to book a session with one of our therapists on 0207 467 8548.

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