By Justin Weinger
Going to school overseas is an incredible opportunity to explore another country, learn through another culture and shape yourself through adventure. It's also a great way to see another part of the world before you have to settle down and start a career. Some students choose to study abroad for just one semester while others live in a foreign country for their entire degree program. Whichever choice you choose, here are five tips for success that will help you choose the right school and cover all the essentials before you move.
Take Care of Health Insurance Before You Go
Most schools require students to purchase health insurance before they arrive or shortly after. Make sure you look into the logistics of this early on. There are plenty of nuances you have to address as an international student, like registering with the local authorities and renewing your student visa. Your school will probably offer some type of international student health insurance, so talk to them about any requirements you must have prior to arriving. If you're ever confused about what you have to do or what you need, reach out to student services. They're there to help make your transition as easy as possible.
Find Opportunities to Explore Local Culture
It can be easy for foreign students to settle into a bubble of friends who are also studying abroad. While it's always nice to speak with those who share your language and culture, don't miss out on the opportunity to completely immerse yourself in another way of life. Avoid sticking solely to tourist districts and only talking to other students. If your school offers a homestay program, consider living with a family for a semester or two. This can be the best way to gain exposure to a new language and way of life. As natives, they can also accompany you on trips to places you wouldn't otherwise be able to go due to a language barrier. And let's not forget the marvel of authentic home-cooked meals in a foreign country as even the best restaurants can't compare.
Figure Out Payment
Certain international schools do not accept FAFSA, and the currency conversion may mean that your federal student loans don't cover as much as you thought they would. Don't panic; paying for school abroad can be done in numerous ways, including the use of private student loans. With greater flexibility and higher principal amounts, private loans help pay for college on the student’s own terms, wherever they want to study. You'll also need to break down your estimated cost of living and travel expenses. How much money will you set aside per month for exploration and entertainment? It's highly advised that you settle in quickly and learn to cook for yourself rather than relying on expensive restaurants round-the-clock. If you're able to work a part-time job at the school, you might consider doing so to lower the cost of tuition. If you get approved for a decent loan amount, excess funds can be given directly to you to spend however you want.
Get Help When You Need It
There's a period of adjustment for every international student that usually involves stress and homesickness. After the initial awe of living in a foreign country wears off, you'll likely start missing friends and family and the comforts of home. Don't feel bad or guilty about being sad. It's a normal part of the adjustment process, and there are student counselors, RAs and mentors around to help you work through your feelings. You can always talk to teachers or supervisors about your mental health. You might find yourself experiencing more stress or depression, and that's okay. Rather than forcing yourself to act like everything is fine, be honest about what you're going through. It's all a part of your experience, and addressing it early will help you overcome it more quickly.
Make sure you understand what areas are safe for tourists (and if you're a female, safe for women). Certain parts of foreign countries are not closely monitored or well-protected. Be fully aware of where you're going at all times, and don't travel late at night or unaccompanied in a place that does not have any resources for international visitors. It's always safest to travel in groups, as you can even join some of the tours and student trips your school offers to have a fun and safe experience. Avoid carrying a lot on you, such as a huge back or bulky backpack. Keep some spare cash at home in case your wallet is ever stolen. Don't forget to notify your bank that you're moving so they don't freeze your account when you try to use your card overseas. Lastly, make sure you fully understand cultural norms so you don't accidentally offend any locals.