This article was submitted by Shuang Zhang, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment.


Studying abroad is like starting a new life. There were a few challenges I faced in the beginning, such as homesickness, pressure of studies and tiredness. Since it was the first time being away from home for me, homesickness would strike very hard. I could not sleep until midnight during the first week. However, thanks to modern means of communication, I could stay connected with my relatives and friends over the internet by WeChat.

Furthermore, as a student, I found studies to be much harder than before, and had to focus on practicing English well rather than just getting a good score in the final exam. After four hours of studying, I was beat by the time I got home, and revising my report over and over again really sapped my energy and made me feel worn out.

You know, tired people don’t come across as driven or motivated. If I’m always complaining about how beat I am, people could start to think I am an uninspired person. It can be a bit anti-social if you are always feeling tired when you are with other people.

For me, the most useful way to overcome difficulties like speaking English fluently is just to practice it in your daily life. In the beginning, speaking a foreign language is really fun since you can see your progress: you go from not knowing how to say anything, to being able to have basic conversations. But when you hit the intermediate level, that’s usually when you hit a little bit of a plateau.

For instance, I took some introductory classes and learned some basic phrases and grammar, but have had very little chance to use them in a speech or essay. You know, the grammatical order and pronunciation habits of a new language are different from Chinese, so you may forget the right way to organize a full sentence. What’s more, the position and shape of the tongue can vary from language to language. I noticed that I haven’t had much spoken practice yet, but I could hold a basic conversation or understand a moderately complex conversation. So I just communicate with my best friends in English and make new friends with local people.

For example, thanks to my interest in films, I am willing to share my view of movies I recently saw, which helps me to meet some other movie fans from different places. That is my way to expand the circle and practice English in my daily life. Now, I have significantly improved my skills in speaking.

A day off or a holiday is always a welcome treat. I have had many such breaks from study, but a memorable experience was during my first year studying abroad, and I think it is the best part of the last three weeks.

It was during the summer in Australia right after my graduation, and I was studying the EAP courses with new classmates. We were rewarded with an excursion for all of our hard work. This was a rather unexpected surprise, but definitely a pleasant one. It was last Wednesday, and I had a very fantastic day.

I woke up twenty minutes later than I usually do on weekdays, and spent the morning driving to a faraway chocolate factory for with free tasting. Later in the afternoon, we lazed around the most famous chateau in the Hunter Valley and bought bottles of wine as a gift. In the evening, I went to meet my best friend Echo, and we had a long conversation with delicious food and cold drinks. I then returned to my student share house at around 8 o’clock at night and drifted into a deep and comfortable sleep.

Overall, it was a relaxing day because it came as a reward after a lot of hard work. I really enjoyed that group trip for several reasons. To begin with, it was a great chance for me to see a foreign country’s culture from a very different angle, as an excursion with my lovely classmates and teacher. Furthermore, this was a great opportunity for me and my friends to enjoy each other’s company and exchange stories along the way from our daily lives. Finally, this trip also helped me to refresh my mind by just leaving all my worries behind.

Naturally, I felt good about it and wish for more such days to keep coming up on my calendar.

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