Studying in a Non-English speaking Country–The Do’s and the Don’ts

Non-English-Speaking Universities – The Application Process and Complexities thereof

Studying in a non-English speaking country permits many of us to advance our careers in a foreign country and also learn an unknown language at the same time. It also requires us to look at the do’s and the don’ts. Most of my friends submitted applications to study at universities across the world. They followed the traditional route and studied at English-speaking institutions. I assume the reasons relate to different opinions and reasons. In reality, studying remains stressful and one attempts to lower the risks as much as possible.

 What do I mean by risks? Well, in this case, I mean the possible experience of some kind of culture shock when studying abroad. The article below I dedicate to students who aim to follow the extreme and study in a non-English speaking country. In this article, I attempt to describe the do’s and the don’ts but also the intensity that relates to the experience.

1. Initial Study Application

As an anthropologist, I always loved distinct cultures, people and languages. Also generally anthropology classes comprise a mixture of students from various countries. Even if we study in our native country, the chances of us meeting individuals from foreign countries remain a possibility. The class groups allow us to learn from each other’s thinking and academic thoughts in unique ways.

Coming back to pursuing an academic career in a foreign country, I applied to join a postgraduate opening in Russia. I always carried a fascination with people who originate from the country and made some good friends.

While my local friends applied at Oxford, Cambridge and Leicester Universities, I jumped for an application at St. Petersburg University. So, my adventure started, and I experienced some interesting challenges.

2. Doing Things Differently in a Non-English Study Environment

I happily started my online application, specifically for foreign students, and filled in the general questions. Name, surname, address and country I eagerly completed hoping my new adventure will work out for the best. Suddenly the uniquely uncommon requests created a bit of a culture shock. They ask us to complete our patriarchal name and our father’s details in Cyrillic.

In this incident, I grappled with finding an appropriate way of answering the most simple question. Not because of the obvious request, but the Russian language requirement.

How do I change a German-surname to look Russian? So, luckily, my brother speaks Russian and became exposed to diverse cultural requirements. I therefore quickly transformed my name to suit my new study application environment and since then I became known as Jakovna.

Second, after I completed all the personal information, I needed to identify a course or department aligned with anthropology. In several countries, institutions offer either social, cultural or physical anthropology.

In most cases, as an anthropologist our flexible multidiscipline approaches allow us to join cultural, social or history-focused departments. The closest academic school that enabled me to proceed with my anthropology studies seemed like cultural history, and I nervously contacted them.

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3. Acceptance to Study

Within no time I received the following email indicating my acceptance to study at St. Petersburg University:

“Состояние Вашего заявления на официальном сайте для отбора иностранных граждан на обучение в Российской Федерации было изменено.

Новое состояние: Заявление принято.

Комментарий: You’ll be informed about the next steps.

The state of your application on the official website for foreign nationals enrollment for study in the Russian Federation has been changed.

New state: Application accepted.

Comment: You’ll be informed about the next steps”.

The communication developed a warm feeling in my heart and I could not wait to start my new academic career in Russia.4. Additional Requirements At a Non-English University

After my initial happy thoughts of excitement to live and study in Russia, I received an email from the university listing some do’s. They need my CV as part of a background check. I emailed my CV hoping my academic knowledge suits the Russian university requirements. After a few days, I received a positive response, and it made me feel a lot better. I always worry about the extreme and my brains work overtime thinking of bad things that may happen.

Unfortunately, the paperwork kept on coming from all divisions. I also received a request to translate all my first degrees into Russian before finalisation of my application. The administration department energetically explained a student may use an independent translator or a person available from the university. This service comes with a price tag of $20 per certificate.

After translation of the certificates, the next list of conditions arrives to formalise the study and application process:

“If you do not speak Russian, you can learn it within a year at the preparatory course before the main educational program where you will be taught the Russian language, 80 percent of the time studying Russian language and main subjects of your educational program.

When applying for training at the preparatory faculty, you must specify in your application (paragraph 27 of your application-training at the preparatory faculty)

To submit an application and get admission from a Russian University you need to attach

  1. passport copy (Passport must be valid for at least 18 months)
  2. The last certificate of education or diploma translated into Russian

List of Universities

Please note that the list of universities should be on the priority (the first-the most wanted.

You then apply by paying the service Fee ($500-for visa countries), after which we will review your application and send it to universities to get admission.

Service fee payment (email received from institution 5 September 2019)”.

5. Non-English Country Study Visa Application

Next step focuses on verification of Study Visa documents and additional compliance requirements.

“For the reception and processing of applications for training under contracts for the provision of paid educational services (paid training under the contract), a service fee is charged.

The service includes:

  • verification of candidate’s documents for compliance with University requirements;
  • preparation (together with the candidate) of the motivation letter (if provided by the requirements of universities);
  • submission of application and documents to universities for review and response (up to 6 universities);
  • organization of participation of the candidate in remote entrance tests (if provided by the requirements of the University);
  • guarantee of enrollment in the educational program of the preparatory faculty (department);
  • transfer of visa invitation;
  • consultations on filling in the questionnaire and registration of documents;
  • consultations on visa issues” (email received from institution 5 September 2019).

6. Research Funding

Most postgraduate students rely on research funding and a formal process exists to help the prospective candidate to start their foreign studies. The options vary between foreign students who apply for research funding from the Russian Foreign Student Department or their home countries. This depends on the institution’s research needs and requirements. In my experience study fields related to the hard-core sciences, for example, biology, maths, medical etc receive preference.

During some instances, existing institutional relations between several countries allow for funding to become available and support specific research opportunities. If the host and home countries consist of an agreement to research specific fields, funds become easier available.

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7. Do’s and Dont’s to Look Out For

To study abroad, it requires students to take part in detailed research and understand the do’s and don’ts. Also, know the host countries cultural practices in terms of clothing and general behaviours. I say this because students may spend many years living in a foreign country and surrounded by unfamiliar language or cultural practices. For this reason, several do’s and don’ts exist.

  • Understand the host countries ethics and appreciate their native language.
  • Expect some unique cultural expectations which may not necessarily correspond with our home environments.
  • Attempt to display an understanding and patience during the processing of the study application.
  • Similar to travelling for work or fun, ensure formalisation of all necessary Visa applications.
  • Do not show any disrespect when living in the host country. Always attempt to show appreciation for their culture and ways of doing things.
  • Host countries expect foreign students to know the basics of their national language when registering at the institution or enrol for a language course.
  • Do not use a study Visa for work purposes, except if approved by the relevant authorities.
  • Enjoy a non-English country study experience and learn as much as possible.


In summary, this article explains the do’s and don’ts when attempting to study in a non-English country. Diverse complexities exist, but keep in mind that we want to learn to do things differently.

So, enjoy the cultural shocks, the foreign language and wonderful people we meet when studying abroad. Studying in a non-English country allows us to learn unfamiliar languages but also to experience a rich diversity of unique cultures.

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Studying in a Non-English speaking Country–The Do’s and the Don’ts


Fun Fact

Can you study abroad if you dont speak the language?

If you are studying a foreign language, you may choose to study abroad in a country where you can practice your language skills. However, you can still study abroad in a country even if you have no prior knowledge of that country’s language or cultural norms.

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Elize Becker
Elize Becker
I am an Archaeologist and Anthropologist with 14 years of experience working with international and locally-based institutions, organisations, companies and public entities. I gained experiences in resettlement and community displacement projects, small business development, cultural-heritage impact assessments and archaeological excavations. Also, I worked as a Project Manager responsible to develop project plans and drive tasks accordingly. Besides my consultancy career, I participated in academic research with a focus on community displacement using an Anthropological approach. Most of my on-site work experiences I gained while working in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Namibia. I also joined global sustainable management teams contributing to projects in Cameroon, Mozambique and Bahrain. I enjoy travelling and exploring the world, working with different communities and cultures. I use my writing career to tell and share my stories I experienced when exploring different parts of the world.


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