Best Practices: A Quick Guide to Going Abroad

There are many things you have to consider before leaving to study abroad. Many things will be different from what you may be accustomed to at home. Hence, we have compiled a list of tips and tricks and what you have to think of in general when studying abroad. We also present some country specific issues. The list combines our own experiences, others' experiences (especially our student ambassadors), and useful information we have gathered online for you.

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Pre-departure Planning

Finding a good Master's programme is only the first step of many on what may be the most interesting journey of your life. Before leaving there are plenty of things you have to arrange for. We advise you to start with info gathering one year before you want to start your Master's abroad.Take your time to compile a list of all things you have to take care of. Here's a start:

After you've arrived at your new place of residence, you want to merge into the local life as quickly as possible. Here's some aspects you may want to think of beforehand or right after arriving:

Find Housing

Finding a suitable place to live often takes quite some time. Therefore we advise you to contact the education institution shortly after admission for information on accommodation possibilities. Often the administrative office will be able to guide you on this, and in some cases you are even guaranteed a place to live!

Try to contact student unions or clubs to see whether they can help you with housing or can provide contact information of private landlords. These students should also be able to inform you about normal accommodation costs, attractiveness of the area and other important information. If you can't find anything on short notice, don't give up; go live in a hostel for the first weeks. It's much easier to find some space to live when you're at the spot.

Fix your Finance

Before you embark upon your adventure of living abroad, take plenty of time to prepare for a totally different pattern of expenditures. Not only must you deal with different prices for food, travel, and housing, but also with expenses that you may not have to bother about right now. Think of tuition fees, insurances, cultural visits, travel towards neighboring countries, a local cell phone, etcetera.

Try to draw up a budget for the period you're going to stay abroad. Search for estimated costs of living on the web or ask for advice with the education institution. And don't forget to open a bank account upon arrival!

Many countries require proof of financial resources in the form of a bank statement to allow you a visa or entry to the country.

Arrange a Visa

Visas mainly apply to students travelling to a non-EU/EEA country, and non-EU students travelling to a EU country. However, other students are also likely to need a student visa. Visa rules are quite strict and processing your application may take some time. So be wise and arrange for it long before your departure. Your prospective university should be able to provide all information you need for your visa application.

Some frequently observed requirements for obtaining a visa are: providing a letter of acceptance from your prospective university, having accommodation in the country of destination, having financial means to support yourself, being entitled to health care in the country of destination, possessing financial means to travel back home or already having a return ticket.

Make sure that your passport is valid throughout your entire stay and longer. Some countries may not admit you or may not issue a visa if your passport isn't valid till after your visit. Check this with your prospective university or the embassy before applying for a visa.

Check your Health Insurance

In foreign countries costs of medical treatment can be much more expensive than at home. To avoid unpleasant surprises after seeing a general practitioner or after emergency treatment, check your insurance policy in your home country for coverage abroad. You may want to take a travel health insurance or a health insurance in your country of destination. Or maybe your current school offers health coverage for students going on exchange.

Compare offers from different insurance companies since the cover and costs can differ a lot. Even though it may seem cheap to arrange an insurance in your host country, you may miss out on cover for repatriation in case of serious injury. If you have the need for prescript medicines, either arrange for a full supply before leaving or get a translated doctors statement to help you get the medicines in your new country.

Beat the Culture Shock

Culture shock is something that applies to everyone that goes abroad. The impact might differ greatly from a slight feeling that things are a little different to major depressions with a canceled stay as a result. Generally there are five stages that you go through:

  1. The honeymoon phase, when you find everything new and exciting.
  2. The homesickness phase, where you're overwhelmed by all new impressions and just want to go home to.
  3. The adjustment phase, where you start to feel adjusted to your new environment. School is starting to make sense, you're making new friends and life is quite normal.
  4. The hidden problems phase, where all small and hidden problems surface. School might not go as well as expected, you might realize that your friends aren't suiting you or you might have to constantly find new housing.
  5. The naturalization phase, where you start to feel at home, your language flows naturally, school feels as exciting as at home and life is taking on a nice rhythm.

There are several techniques to help you adjust as quickly as possible. Go to a country where people speak a language you understand or can easily learn and where people have a similar culture as your own. Look for information on the country and culture to lessen the impact on your senses. Literature on managing cultural differences are also useful and a joy to read.

Be aware of the above cycle and remember that even if everything feels horrible right now, it will get better. Bring some books or other memorabilia to remind you of home and ease homesickness. With internet it's also simple to keep in touch with old friends and family as well as keeping track of events in your home country.

Head start: Sign up for Language Course

Your first days in a new country can be overwhelming. Especially if you try to start off at school immediately, find an apartment, and merge into the social life at the same time. Try to leave for your destination a few weeks ahead. Sign up for a language course that starts a few weeks before your studies will take off. It's a perfect way to meet people that are in the same situation as you are. This will also give you some time to settle and figure out where the closest supermarket and restaurants are.

Go to the school and see if you can find out about your schedule for your first week of studies. Have a look around at the campus, try to become familiar with the buildings and find out where the lecture halls are. When school actually starts you wont be too confused and can focus on the lectures and your fellow students.

Adopt the School's Culture

Studying in a foreign country could be very different than what you're used to from home. Pay close attention to what the lecturer and student advisors say. In some countries classes are mandatory and you might even get kicked out if missing too many, in other there even are students that take pride in never going to any classes at all.

In some countries teaching is very autocratic with a teacher preaching in front, in other countries the teachers actively promote discussion and free thoughts. After a while you'll see how the native students act and then it's generally OK to do the same. The same approach also applies for the society in general, adjust to the local customs.

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Make New Friends

Making friends is probably the most important process during your stay abroad. Without a social net to interact with, your stay is doomed to be boring and depressing. An unsatisfactory social life is probably the main reason why people give up and go home.

The fastest and easiest way to make friends is if there are other foreign students. They are in the same position as you and therefore probably extremely open to make contact. You also end up with good friends spread all around the world, giving you a perfect excuse to go and meet them.

The more difficult way is to try to break into the local social life and make native friends. Most foreign students find this very difficult because of the language and social barriers. However, there are a few tricks that can come in handy. Most universities have student clubs that organize drinks, parties, symposia, group discussions, etcetera. Join one or more of them! You will see that you have more in common than you thought. Other ways might be to sign up for non-students clubs like choirs, sports clubs, church, etcetera.


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