6 Things to Consider before Studying Abroad
By Melainne Chiew
Looking for a change in environment while you take your education to the next level? Studying abroad can be your answer to a frightening new experience or a freeway to an exciting new world. Before you jump on the overseas education bandwagon, here are some things to consider:
1. Are you ready to leave?
The most common sentiment about being thousands of miles away from home would be loneliness and feeling homesick. Naturally, being alone in a foreign land for long stretches at a time can make one’s thoughts linger in what one knows best – home.
Before you make your proverbial voyage across the world, make sure you’re mentally prepared and ready to go. Tie up all loose ends, say your goodbyes, and make plans for keeping in touch. Don’t get too beaten up by feelings of displacement that are initially overwhelming; those can simply be a predecessor to an exciting new world you have yet to explore. Indeed, a vast world makes little excuse to stay in a familiar place for the most of your life.
2. Don’t be fooled by poetic romanticisms
Especially if you’ve never once or rarely ever travelled, it is unwise to impetuously drop everything and go. If your foreign land of choice has been inspired simply by novels or movies, then reader, beware. Do plenty of research and certainly do not expect Mr Darcy or Mary Poppins to be singin’ in the rain.
Check out relevant websites for useful information on accommodation, living expenses and cultural expectations. Read travellers’ blogs or quiz acquaintances and friends on their experiences in that country and their advices to share. Better still, take a prolonged trip to the country and experience life there for a couple of weeks. As the common saying goes: the best lessons are learnt outside the classroom!
3. Can you really afford to go?
Studying overseas is like buying a house: it’s a huge investment. Many Singaporean parents tend to fall into the trap of selling their apartments to pay for hefty university fees, and that’s not all. Cost of living varies amongst cities, and considering the volatile economy, one should think twice before moving abroad and simultaneously wiping out your parents’ entire life savings, especially without the support of a scholarship. In the case where you responsibly decide to take up a personal bank loan, be warned of the vicious cycle many fresh graduates fall into: with exorbitant interest rates, study loans can sometimes take up to a lifetime to pay back.
4. Be street smart
Fresh-faced tourists and immigrants are favourite targets of petty crimes and con artists alike, so make sure you don’t come across as ignorant or weak. In any case where the latter is unavoidable then be sure to seek safety in numbers, and avoid secluded or shady areas. Never leave your belongings unattended even if it is for two seconds. In crowded places, watch out for people who stand too close or keep “bumping” into you. They might just be trying to nick that wallet sticking out of your trenchcoat pocket.
5. Be cautious but not anti-social
Since you’re likely to be all alone when you first move overseas, be duly cautious of every person you meet but refrain from exaggerated, anti-social behaviour. While you can never be too sure of someone else’s intentions, the lone sheep is always an easy victim for the savage wolf, so the key is to make new friends! Go out and meet new people at social events, be friendly and genuinely keen to connect with them, and you’ll soon have your own circle of close friends to rely on.
6. Get familiar with the culture! Do not be an alien spawn.
The greatest social faux pas would be a total seclusion of oneself. While the initial “culture shock” can take some getting used to, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go out and experience life overseas to the fullest. So go pick up a new language, familiarise yourself with the colloquial slang and hang out with the locals. Before long, you’ll find yourself feeling right at home in your new surroundings.