Studying abroad is basically a right of passage for anyone in their 20s and I am so blessed that I got to do it twice in my life. Studying abroad is an amazing experience that teaches you so much and not just in the classroom, in life as well. Plus who can say no to traveling and experiencing a whole new country? This article is all about all the things you should know before and during your time abroad. I hope it helps someone out there gearing up for a great adventure abroad soon.
1. Choose your future city/town wisely: Most people don’t get to have much say in this option especially because their dream schools may just end up being in small towns with the student population being the town’s only source of life. Nothing against such towns such as New Haven in Connecticut, Leeds and Canterbury in the UK and various others, but I’m a city girl at heart. I was born and raised in a metropolitan city and having gone to a school outside of a big city before, I realized busy cities are where I thrive and feel most at home. To all of you planning to study abroad soon or later in life, where you end up going to school is very crucial to how those years abroad will turn out. Big cities, small cities, they all have their pros and cons so do your homework as you apply to several schools. Keep in mind that this new destination is not just a place you are visiting, it is a place you will call home for a good long period of time and maybe even longer depending on whether you want to start your professional life there after graduating.
2. Have your documents in order: I cannot say this enough… Do not ever put yourself at risk of deportation. A record like that can haunt you for life so to avoid that, always have your documents with you and make sure they are up to date. Those going to study in the U.S. should always have an updated I-20 form. Once your visa expires you are expected to get it renewed as soon as possible otherwise if you travel outside of the United States you cannot gain entry back with an expired visa no matter how recently it expired. If your visa expires and you remain in the country, you’ll be fine and can renew it whenever you can via your country’s consulate within the country. Try not to stay with an expired visa for too long though despite not traveling out of the country, just to avoid any security problems during your stay there as an international student. As for those like me in the UK, or coming here soon, have all your ORIGINAL documents with you. That includes your birth certificate, academic transcripts, the TB certificate (if coming from an African Country), the CAS number + form, admission letter, all the passports you have ever owned and of course, a student visa. The UK rules are much more stringent when it comes to studying here than the US so to avoid going through hell at Heathrow immigration, have every single document you had with you as you applied for your visa in your home country.
3. Bank Accounts: When moving to a new country finances are always at the top of everyone’s list. How much should you carry from home until you find some kind of part time job? Which bank should you open an account with that won’t charge ridiculous monthly fees? I can’t answer the question as to how much you should initially carry with you because everyone’s financial situation is different. But what I can comment on is the type of banks to join. Some student friendly banks in the US include Wells Fargo – I still bank with them to this day – that’s just how good they are. They offer great student packages especially for international students, and once you graduate you can easily transition to a normal bank account with the same perks and one thing I really love is the ability to use my debit card online and physically anywhere in the world without getting charged extra for it! Others include Chase Bank and Bank of America, also very good banks for students. In the UK, getting a bank account isn’t as easy for international students and takes quite a while considering the wait time for an appointment can be months at a time. But a bank such as NatWest appeals to students because the whole book an appointment to get a bank account thing is a not requirement with them. Quick and easy services and very good student packages. You can alternatively go my route and just join the bank you already bank with back at home if they have a UK branch such as Barclays. Barclays UK has excellent international student account packages and I can easily work with both my account here and the one in Kenya with ease and no extra charges.
4. Learn how to cook: You’ll thank me later for this small piece of advice. Trust me, learning how to cook while being so far away from home is the best thing you can do to ensure your survival and your health. You can’t get by on campus living off of fish and chips or Big Macs everyday. Plus you’ll soon find out that cooking is quite a fun skill to learn and can be very therapeutic too. Before going to undergrad, I barely cooked anything at home. Fast forward 5 years later, I can proudly call myself a very good cook and I’m excited to learn how to cook even more dishes while in London.
5. Subscribe to TimeOut: TimeOut has been my ultimate tour guide here in London. I don’t quite remember how I discovered it but I’m glad I did. It’s allowed me to tour London in a way I know I never would have done. TimeOut has a great newsletter that they send out almost every fortnight with fun activities to do in the city you are in, great deals on opera/broadway shows, great offers in amazing restaurants and spas, a list of all the happening clubs etc. So if you are looking to know your city a lot better and you haven’t made any local friends yet, TimeOut is a good way to start.
6. Get Involved: Join all the clubs you can join on campus. Anything that interests you and you know you’ll benefit from, sign up and get to connecting with people from all walks of life. Getting involved is the best way to make new friends, to network and connect with your school in other ways aside from academia. Plus it will help keep the homesickness at bay by keeping you busy… a good kind of busy of course.
That’s all I have for now. I focused a lot on the UK and the U.S because those are the two places I have studied abroad in so this list is not really privy to every single country. I would love to hear from those in other countries aside from these two; how is life as an international student there? What are things people should know before planning to go to say Malaysia? Sweden? Or China? Drop a comment below and lets get more people on board to study abroad!