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How to overcome loneliness as an international student, CEO-style

Source: Warren Wong on Unsplash

Nobody wants to be lonely. Yet loneliness afflicts humanity, surely and painfully, at some point in our lives.

International students have the (un)fortunate luck of knowing this could hit them. That is: when they move to their new home in a brand-new country.

Transitioning from one way of life to another is no easy feat. Everything we think we know – from the most elementary activity, like eating, to the more complex, such as the different modes of socialising, is now foreign and you have to come to grips with that.

Do you adapt or assimilate? Or do you hold on to what you know, however strange that may look to the outside world? If there is a happy in-between, how do I get there?

Getting to that sweet spot is where you lose some of the loneliness and start relishing some of the fun that comes from the intercultural exchanges that will enrich your international education.

Who better to offer advice on this than Orit Gadiesh, a former international student who is now one of the most powerful people in global consulting today?

Today, Gadiesh is a force to be reckoned with in the corporate world. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Hailing from Israel, Gadiesh enrolled in Harvard Business School after graduating from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She later won the Brown prize for most outstanding marketing student and graduated in the top five percent of her class.

How did Gadiesh go from lonely international student – who couldn’t even comprehend how American supermarkets worked – to thriving during her studies in the US? In an interview for the book Before I was CEO the most powerful woman in global consulting today offers these following tips:

1. Pause, keep a can-do attitude and keep the long-term perspective

If Gadiesh felt like quitting and it’s already nighttime, she would just go to sleep.

And with good sleep, comes clarity of mind: “I woke up the next morning, and I thought: ‘I never quit anything in my life. So I shouldn’t quit this. I should read the important cases, and do so until I master them.’”

To this end, she talked to professors and joined study groups. The Israeli found these experiences “encouraging” and she decided that she wasn’t going to be shy about asking about things she didn’t understand.

2. Surround yourself with one person or more who you know will support you

Barreling yourself in your room all alone may seem like the easy option, instead of the prospect of going out, meeting new people and risk getting rejected by people who do not understand you.

But this may mean you could be missing out on simple human connections that could make all the difference. Gadiesh describes one event with a man took time to help her; an Israeli woman who didn’t even speak English:

“These kinds of interactions, perhaps more than an extra hour at the library, can really help in getting through the tough times. So seek out a few people to bond with, and dedicate enough energy and time to it. Don’t stay in your room all day and all week.”

3. Go out and explore, even when you don’t feel like it

Gadiesh had never been to a supermarket prior to studying in the US. Source: Shutterstock

When Gadiesh first arrived in the US from Israel, she didn’t even know what cereal was.

“I had never been to a supermarket. I had never eaten cereals in my life. And I didn’t know who Johnny Carson was,” she said.

Cultural differences will be coming at you from all angles as an international student in a new country. To overcome this, Gadiesh decided to find out more about the differences, down to its subtle details:

“I started to go to the supermarket with a friend, we looked in the isles about what Americans were eating, and went to a friend’s apartment to watch television.”

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