How do family relationships impact on international students?

Blog for members
27 February 2019
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The fifth and final part of our wellbeing series takes a look at Sheffield Hallam University and Stand Alone’s exploration into family relationships and what impact distance has on international students. 


Having noted that previous research about family had focused on UK students’ retention and success, Jacqueline Stevenson (Head of Research, Sheffield Institute of Education at Sheffield Hallam) and Becca Bland (CEO, Stand Alone) wanted to explore the impact of family relationships on international students. 

Their research reiterated that family relationships can be particularly complex for international students; distance from family can have both positive and negative impacts. Some students feel burdened because of the financial contribution from their families; others are still emotionally supporting their families from a distance. The following snapshot features some of the findings but the research is extremely informative. If you want to gain an insight into the real-life experiences of students who leave their families to study in the UK it is well worth making time to read the full report. 

Financial worries
Students with a close connection to family often wanted less financial support from their family than they were receiving and talked about feeling guilty spending family money on items or experiences they perceived to be ‘frivolous’ like meals out with friends.

 “They have given me so much already how can I ask for more? I would rather just do without than ask for more.”

Financial stress was the main driver of estranged students withdrawing from their current course, followed by health issues and wellbeing. This is useful for us all to be aware of. Make sure that you’re signposting to any financial support your institution or students’ union offers, as well as information about working and your careers service. Don’t forget we have lots of information written for students that you can link to from your website or newsletters. This includes content about unexpected financial hardship and working in the UK

Pressure to succeed

“I feel a sense of expectation; that they so want me to succeed and that can make me feel very stressed at times. I can’t fail.”

Some students reported feeling pressured to carve out a more prosperous future for the whole of their family by succeeding in their international studies. Remembering this added pressure is important, it may be something that students had not anticipated and contribute to feelings of culture shock.

Providing emotional support
Some students shared that family members who remain at home rely on them heavily for emotional support, despite the distance. One research participant said they had to become more (emotionally) distant so they could focus on their studies.

“It was important to me to become slightly more distant from my family during my undergrads and now PhD. Family problems can be a bit heavy on me especially when I know I can’t do anything since I live far away from home.”

Read the full report and recommendations for best practice across your institution at