Preparing your learners for university study abroad

Pearson Languages
A young woman taking notes in a lecture theatre, she is sat by other young people.

Whether your learners are going for a single semester, academic year or an entire university course, studying abroad is an excellent opportunity for them. They’ll have the chance to discover a new culture, develop new skills and make new friends.

University study in another country also poses several challenges. But as a teacher, you can equip them for this experience and prepare them for future academic success.

Why study abroad?

Most people think that studying at university is hard enough, without the added difficulty of doing it overseas. But that doesn’t stop hundreds of thousands of university students from leaving the support of family and friends and relocating to a foreign country.

People apply to study in another country for a range of reasons. A university program abroad might offer the student better tuition and a greater promise of future employment or simply represent better value for money. And in the case of very specialist university courses, studying abroad may be the only option.

Whatever the reason, the decision to study in a foreign country is likely to involve a high level of proficiency in another language – and more often than not, that language is English.

A move towards English language in higher education

There has been a significant shift in higher education in the last ten years, as many European institutions look to internationalize their programs. As a result, across Europe, we have seen a sharp growth in the number of university courses taught in English. English-taught bachelor’s programs offered by universities in the European Higher Education Area have multiplied dramatically over the last decade. 

What challenges do learners face?

Academic skills

There are a whole range of academic skills that students are expected to know when they start university. From research and evaluation, to note-making and referencing, many learners will enter higher education lacking many of the essential skills they require.

Studying in a foreign language

Not only will they have to master new skills, but they may need to do them in a second language. What’s more, even everyday things that fluent speakers may take for granted, such as understanding lectures, reading academic papers, writing essays and even socializing with new friends, will take a lot more effort if English isn’t your first language.

Administrative issues

There are many potential pitfalls for a student in a new academic setting. From the administrative process and campus regulations to the types of lessons and assessments, there may be a lot of differences to deal with. Even understanding the etiquette of addressing and interacting with professors can be daunting.

Problems integrating

Another challenge is integrating into another culture. Even if the host country is culturally similar, adapting to new surroundings is not always straightforward. There can also be a certain amount of ghettoization, where international students might stick together and remain isolated from the local student population.


Feeling homesick can be difficult for international students to deal with. Depending on how far they travel to study, your learners may be unable to return home easily, visit their families and alleviate their homesickness.

Mental health

Moving abroad and living in a completely new place can be very stressful and overwhelming, and many factors can exacerbate/cause mental health issues. Making it harder to do day-to-day tasks, socialize and study. 

Money worries

Without a grant or a scholarship, studying abroad can be very expensive. If your learners currently live at home with their parents, the cost of accommodation may be formidable. The higher cost of living could mean they have to look for a part-time job to supplement their income. Understanding a country's taxes can also be confusing and hard to calculate into their budget.

What can you do to get your students ready?

All of the challenges mentioned above have one thing in common. If a student cannot communicate effectively, these situations can be exacerbated. Language is key, whether it’s accessing support, communicating with professors or getting to grips with a new culture.

Here are some things you can do to help your learners prepare for university life:

1) Put them in touch with past students

It’s important that your learners have a clear idea of what university study abroad entails. Creating a chance for them to speak to other students who have already gone through that experience can be extremely valuable.

Students who have returned from studying abroad can help with your learners' doubts and put their minds at rest. They might be able to provide essential advice about a specific country or university or simply tell their story. Either way, it’s a great way to reassure and encourage your learners.

2) Use appropriate authentic content

In preparation for your learner’s time abroad, the language course that you teach should align with their future linguistic needs. One of the main aims should be to develop the language skills required to perform successfully and confidently in their new context.

3) Teach them academic study skills

Think back to when you were at university and what you struggled with. Group work, presentations, critical thinking and exam skills are all things which your learners will need to be proficient in, so the more you practice them in class the better.

4) Promote autonomous learning

Success at university is deeply rooted in a student’s ability to work independently and develop practical self-study skills. Giving your learners more choice in the language learning process is one way to encourage autonomy.

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