When students go to study at universities abroad, they tend to face some problems. We will highlight the 5 biggest and most common challenges students encounter when they go for the first time to study abroad. And we will give you tips and strategies to help you enjoy your stay abroad and also maximize your benefit from studying abroad
Making new friends
When we reach this imposing campus in a foreign location, we find several unfamiliar faces of students from all over the world. This overwhelms students and they feel like they cannot make friends, that they are in a minority etc. But remember that all students are feeling the same way that you are. So, take the first step and reach out to your classmates. Now, where can you meet people –
- Most universities will organise orientations for international students at the beginning of the program. Take advantage of those to make friends.
- Involve yourself in clubs and cultural activities
- Team projects are another place where you can find like-minded people
- Playing a team sport is another great way of making friends. And if you are not the ‘sporty’ type… Plan a road trip and go on a hike with friends and camp overnight in a national park.
- Mealtimes are also times to catch up with people in the dining room or cafeteria
- Avoid the temptation of joining this clan of students from your own country. If you are Indian for instance, don’t go right into campus and enroll in the bhangra or garba club or the Indian food society. Yes, these sound interesting, but save them for later. Make sure that in the first two weeks you make 3 friends from the host country and 3 friends are other international students from other countries.
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone of sitting on your laptop in your dorm room. Make the extra effort to attend night time club meetings, film screenings, or international student reunions.
- Meet friends physically, don’t use the internet to make and stay connected with your friends. Pop by and share a cup of coffee before going to class and hang out casually on weekends.
And finally, all that said about making friends, there’s one thing to remember that your career and your future is not the same as your friends. Do not make just one or two close friends and try to do all the activities, classes and clubs together. Explore your individual preferences and don’t be afraid to take up activities alone. You might end up meeting someone interesting whom you wouldn’t have otherwise.
The biggest disappointment most students face is that when they study abroad, there is no ‘mom to the rescue’ for basic tasks of independent living.
There will be no gentle reminders for doing laundry regularly, paying phone or internet bills on time, buying groceries, cleaning dishes or dealing with landlords for housing rentals.
Unlike the school system, no one here will force you to attend classes or lectures either. Add to that the possible commute, unfamiliar weather patterns and daylight hours.
Our Top 5 Tips to help you live independently:
- Work on Checklists
- Create a weekly checklist: for tasks like laundry, groceries and set a reminder on your phone. Set aside 2 hours every Saturday morning to get these done. Also check your bank and credit card statement weekly for any charges, fraudulent transactions etc.
- Create a monthly checklist: for bill payments (rent, phone, credit card, internet/TV, etc.) As far as possible put these charges on auto-pay.
- Take up a local mobile phone plan. Call home using WhatsApp calling or messenger, skype or any such service.
- Take a good health insurance plan, usually the one most of your college students have taken up will work for you too.
- Be careful of your belongings, especially your passport, cash and I-20. Keep it in a locker at all times. Keep scanned copies of all documents
- Pack light and manage with fewer things. It makes it easy to keep everything away in case you are in a dorm and need to vacate the room in the summer, or if you are in an apartment and wish to sub-let it in your absence
Looking for Jobs
The best way to get a Return on your Investment while studying abroad is to find a job there after graduation. This may include internships during the summer and part time jobs during semester.
Most universities abroad do not take it as their responsibility to get you ‘placed’ at a company after your course. They may have a careers cell which can provide advice but it is left to you to secure a job in the country you chose to study in.
International students also have an extra step – they need to find employers who are willing to take on the visa complications of hiring a foreign worker.
Suggestions – where can you find jobs:
- Career Fairs at your college. Attend these, talk to representatives, show interest and leave a visiting card, follow up with them. Attend career fairs of other universities nearby if they are open to other students
- Networking events / Meet Ups – Meet company representatives to understand the kinds of coursework and internships they would like to see from freshers. Take up these courses and apply for these internships!
- Your professors are a major source of leads. Most of them have connects with industry and are perhaps working on consulting assignments with local firms already. Cultivate this connection as this is a wonderful resource.
- Networking with alumni is another way to find jobs. Alumni usually go out of their way to help students from their own alma mater
- Remember, any work experience with real responsibility (even on-campus work) will allow you to speak with authenticity during interviews – whether it is managing the cafeteria in your school, helping professors with research as a Research Assistant or writing for the college newspaper.
- Interviews for internships and jobs mainly focus on your thought process (critical thinking and reasoning) and strong communication skills.
- Apply for jobs early since each country has a cycle of recruitment
- Check your visa rules and make sure you get all the relevant stamps done e.g. OPT etc. when you begin working
Bridging the Academic gap
There is a gap between our Indian boards of education which focuses on breadth of content knowledge and what universities require – which is application of skills.
Tip #1 – go to class. Do not miss classes as you will find it impossible to cover up later. Chances are you are spending about USD 100 per class if you are paying full fee in a private school in the US, so attend your classes
Tip #2 – If you have not been to an IB board school, you will need to brush up your research and writing skills. You can improve your writing skills by learning the method of argumentative writing.
This easiest way to learn this is through a bridge course for university – like FreshmanBridge by Callido Learning. I came across this program recently and I was very impressed by the credentials of the founders, the large numbers of students that have done their programs and the quality of the program itself. So, the link is here as well as in the description box. You must check out their online learning platform which will also get you a certificate from an Ivy League faculty and help you become a superstar at the university that you are heading to
Personality Development and Cultural Integration
Remember you are going abroad for a specific purpose – to get a global perspective with an understanding of the diversity of the world. It is also a chance to develop yourself in new ways.
Tip #1 – Every semester, make a hitlist of the top 3 areas where you want to improve… …and purposely do one major thing in that area
I want to get better at starting conversations with new people in a social setting…join a social club activity on campus (e.g. debating or stand-up comedy)
I want to get familiar with the constant Western pop culture references… Watch local TV shows (e.g. Saturday Night Live in US)
Remember every experience is a good experience. Going canoeing is as much of an experience as doing a lab project. Embrace this opportunity to develop yourself into this well-rounded individual who has a perspective on the world.
Tip #3 – Find your passion. You may have left home to pursue mechanical engineering, but as far as possible take up a course in art history or music or a writing class which gives you a cultural immersion. Studying abroad, especially at an undergraduate level is more about a broad based education that helps shape your personality and preferences.