Sina is currently pursuing his Master's degree in Molecular Biology at the University of Bergen, Norway. He found this programme and enrolled via StudyPortals. We asked Sina about his experience of searching and applying to a university abroad.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your name? How old are you? Where are you from?
Im Sina Rostami, I am twenty-five year-old Persian (Iranian).
Where are/were you studying and what programme? What degree and how long is your programme?I studied B.Sc. Cell and Molecular Biology at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad in Mashhad, Iran. It was a four-year programme. Currently I am enrolled in a Masters programme in molecular biology at the University of Bergen, in Norway. Its a two-year programme and I have been a Masters student in Norway since August 2014.
Why did you want to study abroad?I consider it essential for every person to spend at least part of her/his life abroad. In order to be productive and to have more interactions with people, it is better that the stay is accompanied by working or studying in that country. This is a different experience from visiting a country as a tourist. My personal interaction with professors in my home country has shown that those who have spent part of their lives in another country, whether being a student or as a research scientist, have better ideas and are better at interacting with others. Its not only about the knowledge, its more about the insights that you get. Having said that, I dont mean that it is essential to stay abroad, but it can open your mind to a broader extent than just staying home. In addition, the problems you face as a new student in a foreign country can make you a better person by understanding the feelings of others. This understanding can only be gained when we ourselves have faced the same problems or at least are aware of the importance of others feelings.
Deciding for a university
What were your main priorities when choosing your university and your programme (e.g. academics, accommodation, university services & facilities, personal & professional development, city & culture, cost & funding, practicalities, social life)?It was important for me to choose a university or department that is quite well-known. I dont judge a university just based on their rankings, I take into account a combination of world ranking, published articles and the research areas of the professors.
Student accommodation matters, as well. Norway offers student accommodation to all full-time international students at a reasonable price. Of course, the cost of living is very high in Norway. I wouldnt have expected such high prices for groceries, but Im now quite used to it and try to buy items mostly based on their prices rather than my own preferences!Although the cost of living is very high in Norway, the good point is that you dont need to pay tuition fees, no matter which country you are from. This was also very important for me, as the tuition fees can be very high in particular countries, especially when you are not from Europe.
Was this your first study choice? What other universities did you consider? What was the main reason for your final choice?
I applied to three universities in Norway and I got admitted to all programs. They were Tromso, NTNU and the University of Bergen. At the time of sending applications, I was not able to apply to the University of Oslo as I did not have my Bachelors degree yet (this was not a requirement for other universities). When it came to my final choice, I decided to choose the University of Bergen mostly because of the great surrounding nature and moderate temperature (although too much rain is not very interesting!).
In terms of the quality of research, they seemed all OK to me. I also applied to the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and got admitted, but the tuition fee for non-Europeans was very high, so I didnt consider it further.
Did you know from the start that you wanted to study in that particular country and city? Why did you choose this particular location?Not really. Even I can say I didnt actually choose to study abroad from the beginning. I normally try to consider several options, so that I can decide easier as time passes by. When I applied abroad, I also prepared for the entrance exam to universities in Iran and I got admitted to the Masters programme Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Tehran.
It comes down to a combination of factors when choosing a particular location. It can be the quality of education (I consider both my previous university in Iran and the current university in Norway as having a good quality of education and research), financial reasons (not paying tuition fees) or the previous interaction with people from that country (I had personal interactions with some Norwegian people and professors).
How did StudyPortals help you in your decision process?I gathered information from many websites and people. StudyPortals is nice in the way it gathers information from different academic programmes, so its great to start from StudyPortals and, when interested, follow the links to check the university website. If one wants to only search on the individual university websites, it can take a lot of time from the beginning and can be demanding, as you may open several pages and get lost in them.
Did you take a language test (e.g. TOEFL, IELTS) when applying for the programme? If yes, which one did you choose, why and how was your experience with it?
I took academic IELTS and got the overall band score of 7.5. Both IELTS and TOEFL tests are offered in Iran, but IELTS is more popular. I liked the way IELTS was held. Everything was well organised and I was aware of everything before encountering a problem. We should thank the international and the national organisers of the exam for keeping everything as organised as possible.
What would be your advice for students from your country that consider studying abroad?
I strongly advise all students to study abroad at least for one year. It can definitely open minds. It is very important that we talk to the students and professors, as well as gather information from their websites. Both are necessary.
How did you finance your stay abroad and what financial advice would you give to future students?
Im a self-financed student (of course, I dont pay tuition fees). Please consider that getting a part-time job can be demanding if you cant speak Norwegian.
Why would you (not) recommend this particular city / university? How would you rate your experience on a scale from zero to ten (0 It was a total disaster, 10 I had the time of my life)?
The cost of living is very high. Interaction with people can be at first difficult as they seem to be different from others. Nevertheless, they are very polite and patient and never push when they want to enter public transport system! I rate it 8 now based on the department Im doing my Masters thesis in.
Is there anything that you would do differently if you could do it over again?
I dont think so.
What was the biggest surprise in your study abroad adventure?In the first months, it was very difficult for me to communicate with people here. Especially when it came to saying hello! I used to say hi all whenever I encountered a group of students, but I found that they find it strange. Hopefully, these issues are now somehow solved as I am doing my thesis in a department in which a great proportion of students and professors are international and all behave pretty much the same. I still cant understand the whole culture very easily! But I know something from the bottom of my heart: no matter how different we may seem at first sight, we are all the same. I encourage Iranian students to go study abroad for a while and also students from Western countries take courses in Iran (currently, some Western students are taking courses in Iran, but the number is still limited). We can easily appreciate the fact that we are all the same regardless of where we have grown up.