Studying abroad is more than just getting to travel country and sight-seeing, although if you have time then of course you can do that. There is more to it, mainly being that there is a hell of a lot of work you will have to do for your course and you’ll be hindered by your lack of knowledge of the place. That is only mainly for the first few weeks until you get used to everything around you, the rest of your time should be smooth-ish sailing.
But, with the help of a friend who is currently studying in Sweden at the University of Uppsala, we have put together a list of tips and advice on how to conquer your time abroad and have you having the best time of your life.
1. Finding Friends
Talk to people, which sounds like the most straightforward and obvious piece of advice ever, but one that is actually scary as hell to do.
There are normally groups for international students to join at the university where you can find others like you, that have no idea what they’re doing or where they are going. The beauty of this is that you can go out exploring and getting lost together, the best kind of bonding experiences right?
You aren’t limited to people at your university, obviously. You can talk to anyone, anywhere, within reason… try not to get kidnapped. But talking to people at cafes or bars will get you finding more friends, try and find people at events that you know will have you both sharing an interest. Like book festivals or food markets being held.
The more people you interact with, the better. It will get you over the hurdle of feeling alone in a city you don’t know. The more people you know the more at home you will feel. Just be sure to get their WhatsApp or Facebook so you can carry on talking to them!
2. Language Barrier
If you are lucky you will be in a country that can speak your language rather well, hence my friend in Sweden being lucky that a lot of people there speak English. It helps you with finding your feet to begin with.
You will need to learn the key phrases for that language, for your own sake. Learn how to say ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘thank you’, ‘please’ because everyone should be polite, as well as their numbers. Pick up some other phrases along the way. Obviously as long as you have data you can use google translate for any trickier sentences, but google isn’t always that reliable.
It is best if you enrol into a language course that starts teaching you that language of the country you’re in because it will make your life so much easier being able to converse properly with the locals. Immersion is key to learning the language quickly so the more you go out and force yourself to be in the new language the quicker you will learn it.
3. Home Sickness
This one is unavoidable I’d imagine, everyone will feel homesick whether for their friends, family or their favourite Chinese takeaway. But the longer you are in the country the more you will be able to handle.
But rather than wallowing in your room about how much you want to go home, realise you’re only there for a short time anyway. It will only be a few months/weeks until you’re flying back over for the christmas holiday or just because your time there is up. So embrace the time you have for everything you have.
Forcing yourself to go outside, breathing fresh air and seeing the beauty of where you are will help in easing your homesickness. You may not miss home or your friends any less but you will start to love where you are for what it has to offer.
Obviously you can FaceTime you friends and family as often as you like which will help ease the homesickness. But try not to spend every second talking to them otherwise you are missing out on where you are, limit yourself to one call a day if you really need that can last for an hour. As time goes on you may feel like you don’t need that crutch anymore and can limit to once every 2-3 days.
Also reach out to your friends that you have made in the country as well, those international students will be feeling the same way you do so you can understand each others pain. Bonding experience as well as acting like a therapy session. Win-win.
The part that you think would be fun. Unfortunately figuring out the exchange rate on everything normally leaves you disappointed at how expensive it all is. Or at least that is my friends experience in Sweden.
Navigating the shops can get confusing, finding out where everything is will take a few minutes so expect your first few shopping trips to the supermarket to take a while. But if in doubt, just ask a store assistant or even other shoppers, someone will eventually know where the eggs are.
I read a story once that a Chinese man who didn’t know the word for chicken, pointed at an egg and asked ‘where is mother?’. Funny to us, but possibly an experience that you will have to go through yourself to find the items you want.
And as you shop you will learn the words for each produce so after a few trips you’ll know the word for milk, egg, bread, tomatoes etc. It all just takes time.
My friend recommends joining Facebook groups related to your course, international students groups as well as local-to-your-area groups as these will post about up coming events that will give you chances to go out and party/converse. And obviously attend the parties that your university are throwing as you know there will be plenty of other students there for you to bond with.
It’s hard to put yourself out there but as long as you are willing to have fun you will get on great withe everyone you meet. Not all parties are going to be drunken things, some are just sitting around and having a nice chat. It turns out some countries don’t party like the freshers of England or America, but the new experiences will be good for you.
6. The Course
Obviously this is dependent on what course you are studying and where, but expect there to be a lot of work. More than what you are used to here, apparently we are quite light in comparison, my friend is having to read a 400 page research paper for the following seminar to discuss in detail. Good luck to her.
She suggests you set yourself a working schedule so you don’t let it consume your life and make you miserable, because we all love our subjects that we’ve chosen to study but if you are in a foreign country you want to be out there experiencing it all.
So try treating it like an office job, only work from 9-5, or if you prefer a bit more of a lie-in 10 until 6 or 7. Obviously give yourself a break but if you can get all your work done in that time frame you can relax in the evenings and do what you like.
Also if you are struggling with anything related to your course, your professors are always happy to help no matter what country you are in. They’re being paid to care and they all want to see you succeed, so send through any questions and you’ll receive some help.
As well as your professors, you have your fellow students on your course. The ones that will be doing the same work as you and probably finding it just as difficult as you do. So chat with them, see how they are finding it, it is better to suffer together then to suffer alone.
Check Facebook groups and student housing services to make sure where you are trying to rent is a reliable place because you hear of many scams going on. Check out the place before hand if you can to make sure you are getting what you think you are, this is hard if you can’t afford to keep flying out to wherever it is, but it will ease some anxiety about moving out there if you have seen what you are getting yourself into beforehand.
Also, once you are established you can try asking your friends if they know anyone that is looking for a roommate or know of any places to rent that are good. It pays to know people at this point.
8. Useful Sites
There are plenty of great sites out there that give you tips on studying abroad, and on how to travel safely. Your university or the countries government may even have a site set up that gives you information on how to adjust to the country, budgeting, housing and making friends etc.
Also try going on Youtube and watching travellers and others that have studied abroad in your country to find out more tips and local knowledge that will give you the best experience possible.
9. Know Your Country
Research beforehand! Try to have a basic understanding of the place, its’ culture and how it works there as this will be vital to when you move out there. The more you know, the better prepared you are.
For example, another friend travelled to Romania and found out that if you get pulled over you need to bribe the cops to let you go, some useful information that would have been good to know before arriving. Rather than after a few hours of driving on the roads there.