Preparing for Studying Abroad
Studying abroad is an amazing and sometimes life-changing experience that you're guaranteed to remember for the rest of your life. You can immerse yourself in culture, meet interesting people and perhaps learn a new language. However, there are also things you should know before you go, and how to prepare for them.
Every university or college is different in their application process, but pretty much all will require you to fill out several forms, provide passport photographs and perhaps pay a fee. The best advice would be to get this done as quickly and efficiently as possible to secure your place in the foreign school. Keep in touch with university staff via email, phone or in person to ensure that they'll be able to answer any questions, and make sure you're giving the right information.
Double check all the forms before you hand them in - even check that you spelt your name right and put the correct birthday! It's always possible to make small mistakes like these, and it's better to catch them early and avoid any problems later on.
Make sure you know which school you want to go to, if you have a choice. Some universities won't let you choose, but will send you to a partner school that's relevant to your major. If you do have a choice, however, research the schools you may go to, weighing up what's important to you. Do you want to live in a big city with a subway system like Tokyo? Would you prefer to live in a more rural area? What modules/classes does the university offer? Take your time and choose wisely. You'll be there for up to a year, so make sure your decision is a good one.
And, importantly, remember to renew your passport! Or buy one if you don't have one. The passport process doesn't take too long, but it can be expensive and take up to a few weeks, and it's something you definitely don't want to leave until the last minute.
Luckily, you don't need any vaccinations to study in countries like Japan or the USA. However, your doctor might ask you if you plan to visit any neighbouring countries whilst you're there, such as in the school's break. If you hope to visit any other countries, make sure you research vaccinations before you leave your home country.
Japan only: sometimes, the Japanese officials will insist that you get a chest X-Ray and provide them with the results before they'll let you into the country. You have to pay for this yourself. However, if you're in the UK, you can generally claim back the money from Student Finance.
One of the more exciting parts of studying abroad is booking your flights. To ensure the best deal, start researching early for tickets, using travel comparison websites like Skyscanner and Travelsupermarket.
Do you know anybody who works at an airport? See if they can provide you with a standby ticket - it's much cheaper, usually around 50% the regular price, but you can only get on the plane if there are spare seats. It's up to you what you ultimately do, but getting a standby ticket (if you can) will save you a lot of money.
Most importantly - do not buy two single tickets! A lot of people studying abroad for a year made the mistake of booking a single and then booking another single back, which ended up being incredibly expensive. Buy a return ticket, even if the return date is too early. Changing it a few months before you go back home is much, much cheaper than buying a whole new ticket.
There's no way you can fit a year's worth of stuff into one suitcase (possibly two cases, depending on who you fly with). Check on the airline's website for your baggage allowance, and decide how much you're willing to pay for extra weight or an extra bag.
Ideas for what to pack
- Plug adapters, if necessary.
- Things you know you'll miss - if you can't live without your Kindle, Playstation 3 or laptop, take it with you. A year is a long time to go without.
- But, pack as little as possible! Ask yourself honestly: do I need this? If the answer is no, or you can easily replace it whilst abroad, leave it behind.
What NOT to pack
- Clothes for every season - you can easily buy extra clothes once you're there. Take several outfits, but leave behind what you don't immediately need.
- Shampoos, deodarants and other toileteries - you'll be able to buy these almost as soon as you land (however, stick to your favourite brands if you'd feel more comfortable doing so).
- Stationery - again, you can buy pencils, pens, notebooks etc easily once you're there.
Bear in mind that you will most likely come home with more things than you went with, so try to stay as under the weight limit as you possibly can.
Preparing your money is extremely important. As soon as you know you'll be studying abroad, it's important to keep in mind that your income might not be as much as it is now, if you're working. Here's some tips on saving money before you go.
- Put aside your flight money early - and a little extra. Keep your 'travel' budget separate from your 'spending money' budget.
- Save, save, save! Get together as much cash as you can before you go. You can never have enough.
- Research what kind of scholarships and bursaries are available. See if your university, loan company (such as Student Finance England), or the International Office at the Japanese university offer any kind of help for students, and take advantage of it.
- Ask friends and relatives for help. Will your parents give you some goodbye money? Any generous aunts or uncles who might offer their bit? Grandma keeping anything aside for you? Ask around - it's worth it.
- Research the exchange rate. Is the exchange rate strong right now, or might you need a little extra cash? How expensive is it for rent, food etc in the country you're going to? It's important to get a good idea of what to expect to spend before you go.
- Does your bank offer an interest-free overdraft? Some banks, such as Santander, sometimes offer an interest-free overdraft for student accounts. It's an excellent idea to keep this as emergency money, and to know you have a safety net if you run into financial trouble.
- Can you work where you're going? Does your student visa allow you to work part-time? If so, you could see about tutoring or teaching English whilst you're there for some extra cash.
Preparing for studying abroad can be boring and time-consuming, but effective and thorough preparation can (and will) make your life a lot easier in the long-run. Taking care of your money, getting applications and paperwork in order, and knowing what to expect in the new country will leave less time for stress and more time for enjoying yourself. Studying abroad is a fantastic experience, so make the most of it.