Let me share with you my initial 2-year journey whilst studying abroad in the UK. In September 2017, I travelled 17 hours on a plane from Vietnam to the UK. This was the first time I had travelled abroad; the first time I had left my family and the first time I would be able to make my own decisions in life. I was extremely excited. Unlike many other students, I had to pay my own living fees and a part of my school fee. This financial commitment was also a promise I made to my family before travelling to the UK. This commitment was to motivate me to be independent, but it was also an enormous pressure. Therefore, my first thoughts once in the UK were to look for a job.
In my case, this financial commitment was where my self-doubt started. After 3 months of living in the UK, I ran out of money. As a result, my family had to get involved, souring the relationship between me and my family. This led me to feeling guilty, irresponsible, and useless. It was the first time in my life I heard my mum cry on the phone, the first time since moving I felt desperate and the first time, I knew… how useless I am? Another 3 months went by, and I was continuing to stress about money. This led me to accept the first job I could get as a means of paying my living fees – manageable but not ideal.
Whilst some of the financial pressure was off, I was neither satisfied nor enjoying my job. Whilst my job was benefitting me financially, I worked in a toxic environment that affected my physical and mental health, deepening self-doubt. Working for 20 hours every single week during term-time, and 10 to 12 hours every day during holidays affected my mental and physical health. My self-doubt intensified to the point that I would be affected by any negative words, which was discouraging. The feeling of uselessness and self-doubt affected my sleep as I thought about the work environment that I hated. After transferring to a new work location, work certainly picked up, but my mental health still did not improve.
Studying abroad was not a ‘rosy’ journey. I was lost and suffered with self-doubt for 2 years. That was until an important opportunity came my way – I got offered an internship at an international training company. Though I considered it a risk at the time, having to give up my stable job, I knew this could help me achieve my ambitions and accepted the internship. This was the turning point in my journey. On my first working day, I immediately realised why I was struggling for the past 2 years. It was not just about money; it was and continues to be about how those around me recognised my hard work and the support people gave me. It was not just about the job’s duties, but about my passion for what I was doing. Money is important but it is not everything. It felt great to do something I enjoyed and was good at it, allowing me to be the best version of myself. The internship helped me to improve my mental health and I become more confident – finally I started tackling my self-doubt demons!
After starting my internship, I decided to change my living environment. I move to a new accommodation, to live in a place I always wished I could have. For the first time throughout my journey in the UK I was smiling in front of the mirror, I had peace in my heart and was able to tell myself that it’s good that I came to the UK.
For about 1 and a half years I pursued money and did a job that I was not passionate about nor good at. I realised that money did not help with my confidence, improve my mental health nor did it cure my self-doubt. I also realised that I struggled to engage with anything that did not interest me and found myself under-performing. My mental health was shattered for the first 2 years of my journey to the UK. Therefore, from my experience, here is my advice for international students to ease financial pressure and make the move more enjoyable. If you’re concerned about money, look for scholarships from the government, businesses, or the university. Work hard and save up money before you move. It is much easier to earn money in the environment you know, like your home country rather than in a new environment you may not know that well and may have a language barrier deal with. If you want to gain an accomplishment and have a great study abroad journey, plan your finance now before buying your flight ticket and think… everything will be ok.
Strive for job satisfaction and to be happy. Whilst money is important, it is not everything. Speak with the people you trust most, including those at the university, representatives, your family, and friends. They might provide a different perspective!
For the international students who have already started your journey, good luck! For all of you starting soon… give it all your determination and energy, as your efforts will be worth it!
Looking back at this difficult time, my experience crafted the version of me writing to you today – and considering how happy I am now… I know it was all worth it!
I am Thu Tran. Graduate Business (Marketing) student at Birmingham City University. I just thought that this is a meaningful activity to share my story and encourage the other students who are on their way, going through these challenges.