Moving to a new country for a study abroad experience can certainly provide its challenges.
A new language to get to grips with is just the start, since you’ll need to sort out important issues like study abroad insurance, write a personal statement, and become familiar with laws and cultural customs of the country you’re moving to.
This guide will serve as a reminder of everything you’ll want to know before you head off on your study abroad term.
Make sure you go through the checklist and work through each item on it so that you can relax. when you arrive at your study abroad destination and fully enjoy all that it has to offer!
Write your study abroad personal statement
The application for some study abroad programmes will require that you write a study abroad personal statement.
This statement should be your answer to the question: why study abroad?
Just like when you’re applying for a job and trying to convince an employer to take you on, you should see this as your chance to sell yourself, and sell the reasons as to why a term studying abroad will benefit you and your studies.
In this personal statement you should write about how travelling abroad and studying at a foreign university will aid you with your current studies in your home country, and how it can help you develop both personally and professionally.
This is a great opportunity to bring up all the extracurricular activities that you have done which show your desire to thrive in different settings aside from the academic, as well as how well you can function as an individual.
Initiative is a buzzword which captures the essence of what a year studying abroad is about. You should be constantly taking the initiative while in your new country, in order to further your language skills, get the most from your education, and extract as much from the experience as humanly possible.
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Sort out your paperwork
The first thing you should address, and the least enjoyable aspect of studying abroad, is the paperwork.
Moving to a new country inevitably comes with some administration.
However, luckily for you, a lot of the paperwork you’ll need to do is relatively straightforward, and shouldn’t take you too long to take care of.
Check your passport validity
Before you do anything else, you’re going to want to check that your passport hasn’t expired, or else you won’t be leaving your current country.
If for some reason you don’t have one, you can apply online through the UK government website for a passport. This process has a small fee, and it will take around 6 weeks for your passport to arrive. As such, it’s important to do this as soon as possible if you have any plans to study abroad in the future.
There are also a few ways to apply for an urgent passport, in case you’ve left it to the last minute to apply for one. These can also be found on the government website, but will cost you more money.
If you already have a passport, but it has expired, you will need to follow a different process.
To renew a passport, you will again need to go to the UK government website, where you can find out the steps you need to take.
This process costs a fair sum of money and can be done either by post or online.
Get a visa (if necessary)
While this won’t apply to you if you apply to a European country, if you’re planning on going further afield, you may need to sort yourself out with a visa before you go. Your university and country choice will therefore affect your paperwork requirements.
The process of acquiring said visa will depend on the country. As a general rule though, you will need a valid passport, passport photos, an acceptance letter from the university you’ll be studying at, proof of funds to cover your stay (financial help is often provided), and full medical insurance.
Study abroad insurance
The last form of paperwork you’ll need to have in order before you go is some study abroad insurance, to cover medical expenses should you have any health problems while you’re living abroad.
You should spend some time shopping around to find the best deals on travel insurance so that you stay within your budget, and you’re comfortable with everything offered by the insurance policy.
There are websites such as yearabroadinsurance which provide insurance for UK students studying abroad.
Again, the most important thing to consider when purchasing insurance is the cost, and what the policy covers.
You will also qualify for the European Health Insurance Card free of charge, or EHIC, this will cover medical expenses provided you are from one of the EEA countries, of which the United Kingdom is currently one.
Check enrollment in courses
Now for some digital paperwork.
Before you book your flight and pack your bags, make sure everything is in order with your university course.
Have you checked that you are enrolled in their online system to see your classes and timetable? Do you know which courses you will be taking, and when?
These are the sorts of questions you should ask yourself before you get ahead of yourself with planning the trip.
At the end of the day, studying abroad is primarily about receiving an education from a foreign university, so it would be wise to make sure you are fully prepared for all that might entail.
It’s also important to check the credits you take at the foreign university will be accepted by your home university. The credits you take will typically need to be related to your field of study, unless you are studying a foreign language, in which you might be afforded more leniency in what you can study.
Finally, when choosing credits and courses, take some time to think it over carefully. The last thing you want is to get there and realise a course isn’t interesting to you, or won’t provide anything of value for your academic career.
Things I wish I'd known before studying abroad
Aside from the more obvious information we’ve covered, I’d like to present some of the things I wish I’d known before studying abroad, since they may be of use to you.
- Budget Carefully
We haven’t really discussed money in this article, but it’s really important that you know how to budget before heading into this experience.
At university there are those who learn good spending and saving habits early on, and those that see student loans and grants as free money to splash out on tablets and trips.
Make sure you don’t make the mistake of the latter while abroad, since the temptation to spend all of your money eating out and travelling can prove very strong at times.
Go into the experience knowing how much money you have, and how much financial assistance you will receive, and then budget accordingly. That way you won’t end up stranded in a foreign country without a penny to your name.
If possible, try and save up a good amount of money before. you embark on the study abroad adventure, either by working part-time or cutting back on your current expenses.
- Don’t squander the opportunity to develop language skills
Studying abroad was eye-opening for me when it came to the language.
It’s one thing to study from a textbook and drill grammar, but quite another to be in a bar with a room full of native speakers of that language who you struggle to hear over the music.
My top tip for developing your language skills while abroad would without a shadow of a doubt, would be to hang out with native speakers as much as possible.
The allure of the erasmus student bubble is strong, and oftentimes you will find yourself craving the company of English native speakers, but you should try not to get sucked into this community too much.
Sure, make some new English-speaking friends, but don’t limit yourself to just hanging out with people who want to speak your language.
Try to integrate into the local community through sports, clubs, or even your classes at university.
This way you will not only have the opportunity to improve your language fluency, but also to experience a much more authentic side of the country with the locals.
- Study as if you were at your home university
The last piece of advice I would like to share, is the importance of putting the work in with regards to studying.
I remember being sucked in by the laid back nature of the students around me, some of whom would actually send one of their group of friends to class to take notes while the rest of them would stay at home.
It’s easy to think because you’re in a different setting that your studies don’t matter, and that the only reason you’re abroad is for character-building purposes, but that isn’t the case.
If you’re struggling to keep up in class, or not understanding some of the content due to the language barrier, then make sure to reach out to your teachers and get the assistance you need.