The prospect of flying half-way round the world to study in a foreign land and culture can feel daunting, and adjusting to life in a new country and university is a challenge, but it doesn't have to be stressful or scary. After all, one of the reasons studying abroad is such an amazing experience is that it takes us out of our comfort zones. Just follow these six tips to take the stress out of studying abroad.
1. Spend wisely and save money
Let's get this one done and dusted first. Money is often a major stress-factor for students and studying abroad is expensive. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to sell you something...expensive. But that doesn't mean that you have to empty your savings or pile up debt to have a great experience. Here are couple tips for smart spending and saving money while you're abroad:
- Resist temptation
Don't buy everything you see when you first arrive, no matter how cool things seem. Stick to necessities and save the souvenirs for the end of your visit. And remember – anything you buy you'll want to take back with you, so consider your luggage allowance before buying a didgeridoo in Australia or a set of steel drums while studying in Jamaica.
- Do like the locals
One of the best ways to save money while studying abroad is to live like a local. Cook local foods, or better yet, get a local to teach you how to cook their favorite food. And while you're at it, ask them what locals do for fun – you'll get a much better sense of the culture, and you'll make new friends in the process.
2. Use the money you saved to travel.
Souvenirs are great, but memories are even better. Use the money you saved by eating local grub (maybe literally in Peru) to travel and see the country and surrounding areas. Your camera and your journal will capture your time a lot better than a t-shirt or a snow globe.
3. Eat healthy food on a budget.
We've already pointed out that eating local can help save money, but it can also help you stay healthy. Burgers and sweets or the go-to college foods (noodles and frozen pizza) might seem easy, but your waistline and your health will take the toll and no one needs that kind of stress. Before you even leave home, take some time to learn a few basic and healthy dishes. Soups, stews, and casseroles are easy and budget-friendly, and they don't require a lot of complicated kitchen equipment. Learn the ins and outs of a chicken – one decent sized bird can feed a poor student for at least a week if you know what you're doing with a knife and some basic ingredients. Once you've arrived, check out campus and community centers to see if there are any cooking courses offered for beginners or students. We've already suggested asking a local for cooking tips, but as an international student you probably have the combined culinary expertise of the United Nations at your doorstep. Why not organize an international food night and ask all your new friends to cook and bring their favourite food from home.
4. Become a local-transport expert.
It's tempting to hop into cabs when you're in a new place, but if you can master the train, underground, or bus system, you'll save yourself a bundle of money and time. Or better yet, start walking! While this may not be feasible all the time (especially if you live in a big city or a rural location) but you'd be surprised at how walking can often be the quickest, most enjoyable means of transportation. Plus, you'll see lots of interesting sights and get good exercise along the way!
5. Prepare in advance
You've probably already sussed out the cost of accommodations and transport, but have you considered mobile phone plans? Prescription drugs? Bank charges? All these things can add up, and it pays to plan ahead and know what to expect. Some things, like prescriptions, might be cheaper (or free) in your home country so something simple like talking to your doctor and getting a few months in advance could save you a lot of money and stress. Check with your bank before leaving and make sure you won't wrack up charges by using your cards abroad. Your mobile phone might be permanently attached to your thumbs, but using it abroad could be a major money pit. Switch to a local SIM when you arrive, or just get a cheap pay-as-you-go phone for the duration of your studies.
6. Make friends and have fun!
Landing in a foreign country will be a shock no matter what, so give yourself time to adjust but don't just hide away in your room. Get to know your flatmates, classmates, and other people on campus. And don't just stick with the other international students. If you're having trouble meeting people, check out your school's student associations and join a club or group that shares your interests. Sign up for excursions and get involved in on-campus activities. Go out and mingle with locals – take a dance class or volunteer. Whatever you do, relax. So many students worry so much about making their time abroad a memorable experience that they actually forget to experience anything – so have fun and live! Bon voyage!