social isolation
Studying abroad is an amazing experience, but many students report social isolation at some point. Source: Jens Schlueter/AFP

Social isolation has become a common problem for many students studying remotely amid the pandemic, particularly international students, who are away from the comforts of home, family and friends.

Some may feel timid and shy about being in a new environment and culture; studying in an environment where the curriculum and mode of instruction are different from the one back home can also be stressful.

Collectively, these experiences can fuel feelings of loneliness. Failing to assimilate can also lead to mental health issues, making it essential that students seek help or support from their friends or a mental health provider as soon as possible.

social isolation

International students have plenty to adjust to when studying abroad, including getting used to a new academic system, differences in weather to making new friends. Source: Philippe Lopez/AFP

Do some students struggle more with social isolation than others?

Cultural factors can impact whether or not a student seeks help or can better cope with changes to their environment.

Those from backgrounds where it is taboo to speak about the challenges and issues that they are currently facing may find it more challenging to ask for help when they need it the most.

This, along with the pandemic and the strict regulations that come with it, has magnified how important social interactions are. 

Moving into a new environment without pillars of support — be it family or friends — can be daunting. Reports say many students are struggling with their mental health, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

A survey by Boston University School of Public Health in partnership with the Mary Christie Foundation and the Healthy Minds Network found that nearly nine in 10 professors said their students’ mental health has worsened over the past year because of the pandemic.

Sai Shraddha Suresh, a 25-year-old Indian psychology student felt this in full effect as she moved to Scotland in the midst of the pandemic. “I have studied engineering in Pune, and to go from that to psychology in Aberdeen was quite difficult. The academic system, the assessment methods are starkly different and I took some time getting used to it, which also resulted in my grades dipping,” she said.

In many instances, students like Suresh not only deal with a new academic system when studying abroad, but also a host of other things, including getting used to drastic weather differences, financial security, getting a job, making new friends and speaking in a language that you may not be fluent in.

Below, we share some examples and go through some advice on what students can do if they are struggling with social isolation. 

How students can deal with social isolation and loneliness

So, what can you do to conquer social isolation, loneliness and the train of obstacles that come with studying abroad?

Keep in touch with family and friends

One of the first things you can do as a student abroad who’s experiencing social isolation is to keep in touch with your family and friends back home. This could be as simple as using FaceTime or even WhatsApping your loved ones to quell your loneliness. So, use technology to your advantage — knowing that your parents are just a video call away can ease anxiety and stress.

Work on expanding your social circle

One of the best ways to tackle social isolation is by expanding your social circle, and you can do this by joining student clubs and societies at university. These fun student-led groups lead to interaction which then translates to possible long-lasting friendships.

Don’t forget your hobbies

What were some of the activities that you loved doing back home that you can continue to do as a student abroad? Whether it’s cooking, running or exploring bookstores, be sure to carve out some time to do the things you love. These are just some of the small things you can do to boost your mood. Alternatively, you can also pick up new hobbies like crocheting too.

Step out of your comfort zone

Friendships don’t materialise out of thin air — they require effort. So, even if you’re having virtual classes, try making an effort to connect with people online or face-to-face, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable to make the first step. The easiest way to do this is with your coursemates.

This could be something as simple as organising a small study group session at the university library, inviting a classmate out for coffee to go over your study materials, or asking if they’d like to try out a virtual game over Zoom after class.

Who knows, the other person might just be ecstatic that you made the first move by inviting them out for coffee!