College students offer tips for studying abroad

Overseas-education | Beth Whitehouse 3 Dec 2019

From figuring out foreign phone service to taking care of your health to videotaping your experiences, these returning students have tips for you if you are going to study in a foreign university:

Befriend the study abroad office at your college. "I introduced myself and got to know them better," says Marie Saint-Cyr, who studied in Florence in 2016. "They would recommend scholarships I didn't know of, and they wrote me recommendations."

Save some extra money before you leave. Saint-Cyr says she worked extra shifts at her part-time jobs so she would have enough money to travel. Some students say they spend an additional US$1,000 (HK$7,800) to US$2,000 on travel while abroad.

Figure out your phone service in advance. "I definitely went in very unprepared when it came to phones," says Emma Rosenzweig, who studied in London. She recommends buying a SIM card in the country you are studying in to allow for calling there.

Download WhatsApp. As for talking to her family at home, "WhatsApp definitely saved my life," Rosenzweig says. "That was the only way I was able to communicate with anybody back home."

Document your stay. Rosenzweig suggests using an app called 1 Second Everyday: Video Diary to record yourself each day of your stay. At the end of the stay, the app compiles everything into one video.

Study the language of your host country before you leave. "I didn't know any Russian before I went to Kyrgyzstan," says Gurkamal Dadra. "I had to learn a whole new alphabet and a whole new language relatively quickly."

Consider your courses carefully. Alex Lu studied in South Korea. "The level of difficulty was high," she says of the courses she chose. "I wasn't able to travel around the country how I would have liked. I definitely would have taken easier classes so I could have more time to explore the country."

Accept that you might be homesick. "For me, it was a hard transition at first," says Jordyn Berlent, who studied in Florence. "The culture shock, the time difference, not being with my family." It took her a while to really feel at home in the new city, she says.

Understand your health care options. When Julia Piraino fell off a boulder and thought she'd broken her ankle while she was studying in Northern Ireland, she was relieved that she'd bought into the university's mandatory health insurance for the trip. "It was a lot of ease of mind," she says.

Expect things to go awry at times. "Things are going to go wrong on every single trip you take, so you can't let it freak you out," says Liz Whitcher, who studied abroad in Prague.

Know that foods will be different, as will mealtimes. When Helena Rhein studied in Granada, her breakfast was at 7am, lunch at 2pm and dinner at 10.30pm. Adam Schnitkin tried sea urchin in Tokyo. "It's slimy and has this weird texture. But it tasted good."

Reach out to locals. "You realize how nice people are and how much they want to talk to you and learn about you, too," Schnitkin says.

Organize your electronics. Outlets may be different in the country you're studying in and you may need converters, Rhein says. She also recommends bringing extra external batteries for your phone.

Set up a no-foreign-transaction-fees credit card. "You'll save money," says Drew Rosenzweig, who studied in Seville.

Set up tours in advance. Then you won't waste time waiting in lines. Rosenzweig says: "I was traveling to other countries every weekend. We had to be quick with what we were doing and efficient with time."

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