Stress, Temptation, and Solutions while Studying Abroad

temptations and solutions

Located in uptown Manhattan, a little remote from where all the neon lights shine, Columbia University is a rare paradise, free from the hustle and bustle of a world-renown metropolis, an ideal place to focus on academic performance while keeping pace with whatever is going on around the globe.

However, the university’s great expectations of its students are sometimes overwhelming. As a visiting student at Columbia College, I have experienced that pressure and been trying hard to handle it. I would like to be frank and talk about these things - namely the stress and temptation I have felt, and the possible solutions I have come up with to make sure everything could stay on track. Despite all the frustration and struggle, the efforts I put in trying to manage these things turned out to be rewarding.

Every point I lose on the TOFEL test changes into tears that taste way more bitter. Here at Columbia (or this could apply to many other highly competitive American higher education institutions), international visiting students can’t expect their language skills to take giant leaps in only a short period. All the esoteric reading materials, the specific terms on the slides, and the responsive in-depth discussion in class place insurmountable tasks on newcomers, resulting in massive workload to compensate for the disadvantage.

Still, cultural factors play an important role during the process. Words and phrases may not make sense if foreigners are not familiar with typically American slang, aphorisms or metaphors, even if they successfully catch whatever instructors, TAs, and classmates say verbatim.

The difference between previous educational backgrounds adds up to the predicament. American students’ K-12 education equips them with common sense ways of communication and means of assistance, which they take and use for granted without the awareness that foreign students might lack that knowledge. Hence, not only is international students’ academic performance hindered but their social ties are restricted due to the asymmetry of information.


Difficulties are explicit during the time studying abroad, while pitfalls are more implicit, lurking in the bushes and waiting for a sudden attack. From my point of view, fear of mistakes, rejection, and failure could easily drag people into being wallflowers. The sense of isolation is not merely an objective product shaped by the outside environment; it is, on the contrary, a child of both objective and subjective factors. Whenever the fear grabs one’s heart, it gets harder to step out of the comfort zone, that is, go and talk to professors and TAs and form groups with fellow students.

The sheer weight of pressure also subordinates people to the lure of delicacies. In one of the three Columbia’s dining halls, Jony J, desserts, ice cream, drinks, grills, and many other delicious foods fill up the trays, ready to be served. Not only people’s eyes but also their noses couldn’t stand for such plentiful options. Gluttony thus becomes the daily topic of confession. Why couldn’t people just stop? The reason is simple: dining halls serve buffets, meal plans are overbooked, and “desserts is the word ‘stressed’ spelled backward.”


Facing so many challenges and temptations, how can people still pass through with flying colors? Here are some tips that could be of help.

Old Homies and New Buddies
First, if you feel uprooted and couldn’t adapt to the new environment at first, seek help from your family and old homies, but remember, not too much! They can be your loyal listeners during the transition period, but eventually, you should rely on yourself or reach out to someone new who is currently around you. Finding new friends is conducive to both courses and leisure.

On-campus Resources
Browse through the information posted on the university official websites to locate feasible helping hands! Faculty and staff like advisers, tutors, or mentors always welcome students to contact them. Also, peers could be reliable problem solvers too. There are usually student organizations voluntarily taking on your troubles and fighting against them together by your side. Do not miss those friendly buddies!

Work Hard, Play Hard
It sounds tough, but it is sometimes true, the best way to fight off negative emotions is to occupy yourself as much as possible! Find more meaningful things to fill in your busy schedule, your options could be a 3-hour-long intensive study in the library or a late night walk on campus (be sure to keep safe). Also, why are you always stuck in school? Go hang out with your besties to explore fancy-schmancy New York City! That’s why you are here for a city campus, right?


~ From an SAF Student Correspondent