How do students who have moved away from home adapt to university life? What challenges do they face? A master’s student at St Petersburg University Polina Puzhlivaia talked about this at the 23d International Scientific Conference of students and young scientists ‘Psychology of the 21st century.’

Polina Puzhlivaia made a presentation entitled ‘Key aspects of adaptation to studying away from home and abroad.’ She presented the findings of her research conducted under the supervision of Piotr Krystian Trąbczyński, Assistant Professor of the Department of Medical Psychology and Psychophysiology at St Petersburg University.

In her research, Polina Puzhlivaia decided to compare key aspects of adaptation of students who came to St Petersburg from other regions of Russia (26 students) and international students who travelled to Russia or Austria for university studies (14 students).

In total, 40 students (aged 17–24) participated in this study, including 31 girls and 9 boys.

The research project had two stages. At first, the respondents completed a series of personality questionnaires and underwent interviews aimed at identifying their psychological state immediately after moving to a new city. At the second stage, six months later, the participants were interviewed again so that the researcher could record changes in their psychological states.

According to Polina Puzhlivaia, despite the existing differences in the dynamics of the adaptation, both groups of students undoubtedly encountered many challenges. They had to make much effort to successfully adapt to new realities in a new city or country.

International students more often noted challenges associated with bureaucracy and the language barrier. Participants from this representative sample seek independence, as evidenced by the fact that they have a lower need for parental support. They rate their emotional state and ability to cope with challenges higher. In general, students who move abroad are more adaptive. Emotionally they are in a better state. They tend to look for resources within themselves. Also, their level of self-control is higher compared to their counterparts who moved to a new city in their home country.

As for students who came from other regions of Russia, Polina Puzhlivaia notes that they are less optimistic in their assessment of their state and emotional comfort compared to the group of international students. Students from other regions of Russia are more likely to turn to parents for emotional support. They more often mention experiencing the following challenges: the city’s transport system; health reduction; and apathy. The latter can be associated with emotional stress.

Nonetheless, according to Polina Puzhlivaia, it would be inaccurate to say that international students adapt better than students from other regions of Russia. The adaptation of international students is more effective, rather than easier, but the price of this adjustment is higher.

For a successful adaptation to a foreign country, students have to mobilise their inner resources. In other words, they have no other options for overcoming the challenges they face, but to deal with them themselves. This is reflected in the number of memorable events that occurred since the relocation: unlike students from other regions in Russia, international students recall fewer such events, be it a Freshman Day, a walk around the city, or a concert.

Polina Puzhlivaia, a master’s student at St Petersburg University

In other words, the students who relocated to study abroad are so absorbed in dealing with challenges that they do not remember bright, emotionally significant events that happen in their life at the time.

The data gathered by the young researcher enable to complete the picture of the key aspects of adaptation and the psychological state of students in a new environment. This may assist in improving diagnostic tools that psychologists use in their work.

Psychological instability after moving away from home to study at university can become an obstacle to students’ success and adjustment to life in their new environments. This confirms the need for psychological guidance and support of students relocated from abroad and other regions of Russia.