Most people are privileged to have the chance to study overseas for a while, whether for their entire university experience, for a semester on exchange or just over the summer. Having just returned from exchange in Montreal, I thought I would compile a list of tips for those preparing for their upcoming exchange programs or study experiences abroad!
21 Tips for Study Abroad
1) Write a packing list
The odds are, you’ll overpack, so just write the bare essentials and reduce it as you go along.
If you are going for winter, don’t pack too many types of scarves or hats. You’ll probably end up wearing the same few. In fact, you’re going to be so cold, it doesn’t really matter what you look like since you can only see your outer jacket anyway. Haha. Definitely go for practicality over looks if you’re about to face a harsh winter. Seriously, no one looks good when they are freezing cold and frostbitten, no matter how fashionably dressed you are.
2) Have an alternate weather outfit
This means dressier clothes for indoors and perhaps a formal outfit in case of presentations. Some alternate weather clothes would be good if you are planning to travel to countries with a different climate.
I brought dried mangoes because I like them (obviously) and you can’t easily find the good brands in Canada. Food is a great way to bring a part of home with you. A rather tasty piece if I may say so. I also brought some bak kut teh spices and herbal chicken spices so I could cook local food. When you are so far away, any small reminder is a good reminder.
Very important and self explanatory.
5) Notebooks and stationery.
Just one set, you can buy more there.
6) At least one book!
You’ll have lots of downtime in your hands and it’s way more fulfilling to read a book than to watch mindless videos. It’s also good for downtime when you are traveling and there’s no wifi.
7) Medicine/first aid (important!!)
This is important! Bring whatever you need… some essentials include carbon pills, panadol, plasters etc
8) An extra handcarry/backpack
For shorter travels
9) Hardcopies/photocopies of your passport, visa, school acceptance letter…
You’ll probably be asked to show this at the immigration checkpoint. It’s best to have photocopies of all your important documents. Keep them in a folder and carry it with you on the plane!
One small set should be enough, you can buy more there once you arrive
11) Bring your hobbies with you
I find it helpful to have a constant hobby that you can do anywhere in the world. It will take your mind off things if you feel homesick or stressed with no outlet. It will energize you when you are tired too! For me, I run and swim no matter where I am.
12) If you’re a Christian, bring your Bible!
Studying abroad is a great time to grow closer to God and read His word and discover what He wants for you. He is the only constant in your life and it’s very comforting to have His presence no matter where you are. If you don’t meet any of your exchange goals, I encourage you to prioritize working on your relationship with God while you are away. Life on Earth is temporary but life with God is eternal.
13) Don’t feel pressured to travel too much or to document what you’ve done to show that you’ve led an amazing exchange life.
You don’t necessarily have to document whatever you are doing on exchange to the world. Some experiences are better when it’s just in your memories without the fuss of trying to capture the best photos and videos. Be present in the moment. You can find better photos on Google.
I didn’t travel too much cause I prefer getting to know a country well. Being in a new country is an experience in itself. Many of my friends spent so much time traveling that they barely got to know their exchange country. I’m glad to say I know Montreal very well now haha. I don’t like sightseeing so I signed up for my own experiences alone. You don’t always have to go with the group. This is the best time to choose for yourself and what you are interested in.
14) Bring a stuffed toy that makes you feel at home!! 😛
Just don’t lose it, like I lost my precious bear in Hong Kong. (It’s a brown bear and has a red shirt with green prints… If you ever see it, it’s my bear! Haha) That was when I was 10 and I’ve never dared to bring any stuffed toys overseas because I’ve been scarred for life haha.
15) Have an open mind.
It will be different, and sometimes different can be scary. But I encourage you to embrace the change! Don’t be so scared, there are a lot of kind people who will help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be open to trying new things and meeting new people. Talk to strangers!! We discourage that in Singapore but I’ve done that a ton on buses and at train stations. Of course if they are dodgy then it’s best to stay away but otherwise you’ll meet and learn from really interesting people 🙂 you might even end up making lifelong friendships with some!
16) Be prepared to let go.
Be mentally prepared that although you will meet a ton of friends you will only keep a select few. But that doesn’t mean you should not bother meeting new people and gaining new experiences. Every person and every experience teaches you something… so while they may not always be with you, the lesson they taught you will always live in you.
I like to write down the things I’ve learnt and the people I’ve met on my travels. Before exchange, I also wrote down my goals for exchange, and at the end, I wrote down what I wanted to change when I returned home.
18) When you are home, try to stay positive!
You may feel post-exchange depression, but try not to complain to much and pick at everything you dislike about home. If you don’t like something, consider how you can change it or at least change the way you look at it. (Except the weather… you just have to bear with the heat haha).
19) Meet new people rather than sticking to your own friends
It won’t be easy to break away from the group, since people tend to think you’re rejecting them to mix with locals. But honestly, your study abroad experience will be a lot more meaningful if you make an effort to mix with people from different cultures rather than staying in your comfort zone. It wasn’t easy, but I looked for different ways to meet new people. You can sign up for a group trip with a bunch of local students, join a club or sport or sign up for language classes.
20) Be YOU.
Choose experiences based on what you are interested in and not who is going. It is hard to be independent and to follow your interests, especially when there is a whole group to consider. But at the most, you can just travel alone. Exchange is a good time for you to learn to be independent and to choose for yourself, not to just go with the group everywhere.
21) Just have fun!
I don’t want to give you a rose-tinted view of studying abroad. It is fun, especially if you meet nice people and travel to new places. But you will feel homesick at some point. That said, don’t waste your exchange experience letting the homesickness get to you and wishing you were home and then coming home and wishing you were abroad. Make full use of this opportunity!! Fill your schedule so you don’t have too much downtime to think about home and be sad. Design your own experience!
With that, safe travels and have a wonderful study abroad 😀