Don’t just spend your time abroad studying – travel, engage, make friends and learn the language. Nimi Jayachandran shares tips on maximising an international study abroad experience
Studying abroad can be a rich and fulfilling experience when you know how to get the most of your stay. Whether required as part of your course requirements, or a decision taken out of interest – spending a semester abroad will definitely expand your horizons and introduce you to whole new world.
BEFORE YOU MOVE
Accommodation, travel and money
Make sure you do plenty of research with regards to the lifestyle you will be living. Familiarise yourself with the weather of the country you are moving to and pack clothes accordingly. With regards to housing, you will need to find out whether accommodation will be provided as part of the programme or if alternate arrangements at hostels or apartment complexes will have to be made. For your journey, travels and stay, make sure to find out what official documentation will be needed. Also ensure your passport is updated and you’ve applied for your visa well in advance.
Look into not just tuition and scholarships, but also daily living expenses. Getting an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) before you leave can help you save money on accommodations, transport and entertainment. Acquaint yourself with the currency and exchange rate to make things easier for you on arrival. If you are planning to use a credit card during your travels, be aware of the international fees.
Brace yourself for the culture shock
Regardless of how much you may have prepared mentally, expect to experience some culture shock and homesickness. Your homesickness will go away once you immerse yourself in day to day activities and involve yourself in getting to know new things around you. However, be prepared to face some prejudice. You are in a new place and sometimes that becomes more obvious than it should. Come what may, take it all in your stride.
ON FOREIGN SHORES
The sudden change in environment and lifestyle may make you want to run to the first familiar setting and stay there your entire course of stay; however that defeats the purpose of studying abroad in the first place! Grab a map of the locale and explore what the place has to offer you. Try the native cuisine or listen to a local band play. Read the local newspaper and try to find new activities that are available for you to do. If you’re a fan of sports, you can explore the sports scene of the area. Travel around to different parts of the city and explore the locality; make friends with the locals and try something you normally wouldn’t.
Be respectful of the native culture and practices. Be open-minded and allow yourself to experience the local traditions. You don’t want to be missing out on the opportunity to learn something new about a different culture. Act with respect and courtesy. Keep in mind there may be a certain set of rules you will be expected to prescribe to. Furthermore, there is a high chance you will get the chance to attend a local holiday celebration. International students in the US and Canada may have the chance to experience Thanksgiving, while students going to Italy could get the chance to be a part of the EuroChocolate festival.
Learn the language
Krista Abrams went to Paris for a semester during her 10th grade and gives the following advice regarding the local language, “try to learn a few basic phrases before leaving; you’ll find that when you attempt to speak to the locals to the best of your abilities, they will encourage your efforts and respond in a positive manner.” Some places offer an exchange tutoring programme as well. “When I was studying in Korea, I was a volunteer at a programme through which I had to help another student with their English, who in exchanged helped me with learning Korean,” says Andrew Cheng.
Take on extra-curricular activities
Finding things to do in your new home country will make your stay more fruitful. Within the first week of most programmes, you will be introduced to various extra-curricular activities, such as the campus sports teams, volunteer organisations, nature clubs and much more. Keep your eyes peeled for such activities.
Get a job
Many students take the opportunity abroad to work part time. It gives an exposure to the culture, a chance to practice/learn the language, as well as make some money on the side. If you do choose to take up a part time job, be sure to not let it conflict with your academic schedule.
Studying abroad for a semester can be a very rewarding experience if you open yourself up to the new country and play it safe. Keep all the points above in mind, go out there and prepare yourself to have an amazing time.
Volume 4 Issue 5