Overcoming Challenges as an International Student

There're difficult times for all students. Akabueze Daniel shares he managed to overcome them.

Overcoming Challenges as an International Student

© НИУ ВШЭ — Санкт-Петербург

There are uncertain times or difficult moments for many international students. And the level of these difficult times can vary to different degrees. The financial status of a student, whether he or she is from a middle class or working class family, can shape some of the difficulties he or she encounters. Nationality can play a role as well. The country a student comes from can shape some of the experience of that student. The experience of a student of International Economics, who is from the United States, cannot be the same with a student of International Economics who is from Yemen or Libya or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The world works in hierarchy. The factions and the levels of sociopolitical inequalities that shape our world, also have a thing to say about our experience. A male student of Political Science and World Politics from Nigeria, can as well have a different experience with a female Political Science and World Politics student from Nigeria. The same country, the same skin color, maybe, the same financial condition, but the differences in their gender has put them differently.

So, this article is entirely my experience and how I overcame some of the challenges I encountered. But I believe in the universality of human stories, and I hope, that perhaps, you might find something useful and comforting in my experience; how I overcame some moments that I considered difficult, and that may encourage you to discover how to overcome yours.

One of the biggest decisions I have made was leaving home to come to Russia and study. Before I left Nigeria, I told myself that this was a stage to real adulthood. That I am not going to ask my family for financial support. To an extent, I willingly and very deliberately imposed some levels of hardship on myself. The challenges I had, which will be enunciated, are on finance, interpersonal relationships both at the dorm and at the university, understanding the big country and bad grades.


I entered the Russian Federation through Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow. After the warm smile of the passport control officer, my passport was stamped, and I went to take my luggage. The Ethiopian Airlines that I boarded had spoiled my bag. That immediately changed my countenance but I decided to cheer up and stay ebullient. I cannot afford unhappiness immediately. So, I made the decision to stay happy. And I will encourage you that at some point in your life, as an international student, moments will come when you have the option to make a decision of whether to be happy or not. Please, choose happiness. Do not justify your unhappiness, it will cloud your other nice experiences.

When my Nigerian friend, MaryAnn, a Masters student at HSE University Moscow, came to the Airport to take me, she complained that her phone had a network problem. So we were unable to order a Yandex Taxi. The man she later negotiated with, told us that from the Airport to the Train Station is 1500 Rubles. We entered and left. It was when we got to the Train station, that the man said that our money is 6000 rubles. He said Uber has automatic calculation. “But you told us 1500 rubles?” MaryAnn said, obviously annoyed. It was a big thing.

The man does not speak English and neither MaryAnn nor I could speak Russian. We were communicating with a google translator. We had to call the buddy assigned to me by the HSE University, a lady I have not seen again, after she had received me at the train station in Saint Petersburg and helped me order a Yandex taxi that took me to the dormitory. It was this buddy who then spoke with this taxi driver and the money ended in 4500 rubles. I was hurt. It was later that MaryAnn felt that it was not the initial man that told us 1500 rubles that we later used. The additional 3000 rubles has shortened my money by a massive percentage. At that point, it began to dawn on me how difficult my experience might be in Russia. How did I overcome this? I simply told myself that I came to this country as a result of my desire to get a better education and that will be my focus. So, focusing on the long-term dream of getting good education helped me.

I will encourage you that at some point in your life, as an international student, moments will come when you have the option to make a decision of whether to be happy or not. Please, choose happiness. Do not justify your unhappiness, it will cloud your other nice experiences.

Dear international student, there are bumps on the way. Bumps so unexpected that will come and alter your grand plans. Be positive and keep your dream very close to you. Like many of my friends will tell me, remember where you are coming from and where you are going. Three Thousand Rubles is surely not a big thing to some people, but it might be for you, as it was for me. Just allow each of your experiences to teach you a better way to do it.


I was discussing with one of my classmates and we were comparing our weekly expenses. He was surprised that I had enough with so little. I joke sometimes that my thrifty skills will save Nigeria from borrowing while doing so much with the little available to us as a country. I told my classmate that the money he spended weekly could sustain me for more than three months. And I wasn’t joking about it. It wasn’t long when I read an article written by another student where she wrote about financial challenges that international students were likely to face.

In a particular week last semester, I was almost out of cash; having both in cash and in the bank just 17 rubles. So I decided to work. I went to this workplace where I spent 12 hours working. I missed a test. If I had attended the class and written the test, I wouldn't be able to do anything meaningful that week, feeding myself and buying anything academic. It was at work that I lost one of the lenses of my spectacles. While trying to solve a problem, I created a bigger one. How will I be able to see in class? How will I be able to do my assignment? I was almost dismayed. But I warmed myself up thinking that I would find a way through this. I actually did, gracefully. But this would not have happened if I had enough money with me.

Later, the week after the test, the course teacher gave those that missed the test the privilege to retake it. However, according to a somewhat constitution of the University, where I discovered that HSE University doesn’t grant permission for missing an event or test because of work. I understand the rule, but I felt that administrators should look at scenarios most times, because rules are made for the people and not the people for the rules. But I encouraged myself, because the constraints had developed me evenly, and taught me financial management in a practical way, using little to do more. Maybe, I will serve as my country’s Finance Minister. Well, that is a joke. I am not good at math. Or any form of calculation.

If you’re experiencing financial constraints or challenges and you do not want to call home, or you are expected to support home and not to ask for support, I will charge you to look at the bigger picture. Look for a job that won’t affect your studies. Although it is difficult to find a job for most international students. You may be lucky to find it. I have some people from my country that are working here. Endeavor to separate your academic responsibility from your monetary constraints. Because happiness is doing your best despite having financial challenges. And what we become later in life is determined by the positive decisions we made during the hard moments of our lives.


This is not so much a challenge. HSE University gave me a family in the form of roommates. My roommates - Quang, Sergey and Vladislav, are the best roommates you’ll ever imagine. I love them. We share happy moments together. And talk about challenging moments. Sergey, being the most outspoken, and an extrovert, has a way of making us laugh. So, my dorm room is more like my family house. But because I am not just with my roommates, I have flat mates, some who could be annoying and try picking on you. I have had an experience where someone made a derogatory comment about my food. But in a flat with people from different parts of the world, you’ll have people who will always believe that they’re better than the rest of the world. And it is critical for you not to judge an entire people because of one person. The students that pick on some international students do that because he or she is ill-equipped to understand that the world isn’t just about their thoughts and opinions. So, do not allow a particular individual to make you bitter. Sometimes, it can be difficult to thrive successfully in an environment where you have an individual or group of individuals who thinks so low of you, but as a proverb said, “You cannot prevent a bird from flying over your head, but you can prevent it from making a nest on your head.” What I am saying in essence is use the beautiful training HSE University is giving to discard some individual misconceptions of you.

You cannot prevent a bird from flying over your head, but you can prevent it from making a nest on your head.


One of international students told me once that he had lost motivation to study after getting four in a subject which he, according to him, worked really hard for. The truth is that having a B- threw me off balance. Dear student, since a bad grade has happened, the only option is to work hard and avoid it from happening again. Another way in which I console myself is focusing on the knowledge I have gained in a particular course. I am Nigerian. And during the First Semester, Nigeria is in the process of electing a President. The political discourse, especially from my favorite candidate, Mr. Peter Gregory Obi, of the Labour Party, also made me engage with my courses in understanding the contents more intimately so that I could be able to use it in solving real life challenges. So, try and focus on your course, as a means of problem solving and not just amassing grades.


Finally, family is important. I speak with my family often. Although I don’t discuss my challenges with my family. Knowing what is happening at home, and knowing that no matter what, I still have a home to return to, and people that love me, energizes me. And I will encourage you not to forget your family. And family doesn’t have to be biological or nuclear, but it can be that circle of people or group of people, who know you and are willing to allow you to be yourself, and to own yourself fully; both your successes and your failures without judging you. At the end of everything, you’ll be surprised about how transformed and fortified you have become because of what you passed through and survived. Don’t give up hope. Don’t allow dismay. It is just for a moment. Be courageous. I wish you well, and I wish you peace.

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Daniel Akabueze