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International students use tech to replicate home



From keeping a seat at the table for virtual family dinners to staying up to date on the lives of friends, research by HSBC shows the majority of international students are using technology like video calls, Instagram, WeChat and WhatsApp (97%) to connect with friends and family – but this doesn’t stop them from missing home.

Ninety-two percent of international students say that they miss the familiarities of home while studying overseas, with almost six in 10 (57%) saying it’s the sensory experience they miss most and three quarters (74%) specifically missing the sounds of their hometown. International students identified the sound of people talking in their native language (50%), the hustle and bustle of local markets (26%), the rumble of public transport (25%) and birds, insects or native animals (20%) as the sounds they are most likely to miss.

According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, there are nearly 1 million students studying in the US from abroad. To help these international students, as well as those studying in other parts of the globe, achieve their goals and feel connected to home, HSBC has released Sounds of Home, a series of global soundscapes, crowd-sourced and created by international influencers. The tracks feature sounds such as a traditional clapping exercise in Taiwan, India’s Temple Bhajan, a durian seller in Singapore and the waves of Malaysia’s Pantai beach. Each will be available on YouTube here and on all major music streaming channels (e.g. Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal). HSBC also captured the process behind recording and compiling these evocative sounds.

While moving overseas is an exciting adventure for students, which they say has a positive, lasting impact (99%), it can take some time to adjust. Two in five (43%) international students feel homesick at least once a week or more. Nearly half (49%) believe missing family and friends has impacted their academic performance, and two in five (40%) say being away from home has affected their ability to get a good night’s sleep. Homesickness is particularly prominent late at night from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m.

Baroness Susan Greenfield, former fellow at The University of Oxford and CEO of Nero-Bio Ltd said: “International students were born into a connected, digital era, but the majority still miss their familiar lifestyles in the real world. Whilst it’s reassuring that this young generation is not living in a cyber-parallel universe, the challenge is how to off-set the absence of family, friends, location and language in tangible new ways.

“Sounds and smells are – more than the other three senses – the most pervasive and the least contextual. Perhaps sounds are so important in homesickness because they are hard to encapsulate in a specific, single memory, and play a bigger role in our on-going consciousness. Sound also allows room for imagination, conjuring up in your mind a personal scenario. This means sound can be used to good effect to induce a sense of personal well-being.”

Despite facing a range of challenges, including setting up a bank account in their country of study (35%) and setting aside enough money to be able to travel home (40%), independence and new experiences are most commonly seen as benefits of studying abroad (60%). Eighty-four percent of international students believe they have not only gained new skills, but have also become stronger people.

Paul Mullins, HSBC’s Regional Head of International for North America, said: “There are many benefits to studying abroad – new adventures, new skills and independence – but that doesn’t stop you from missing the familiarity of home. As someone from the UK who has lived and worked abroad, including now in the United States, I know what it’s like to feel homesick.

“Sounds of Home helps international students feel closer to the people and places they love. These soundscapes were created to complement the financial guidance and support we provide as a leading bank for international students all over the world. It’s another way in which HSBC is a reassuring presence for students who are away from home, helping them to navigate the fulfilling and challenging world of international study.”

For more information about HSBC’s International Services visit: