Don’t slip into the same familiar routine when you study abroad. Become a better international student, and push yourself to make the most of this incredible experience…
1. Embrace new cultures
These days, it’s easy to avoid integrating with local cultures when studying abroad. Smartphones mean you can chat to your friends back home in seconds, while all of your favourite TV shows, magazines and movies (you name it!) are just a click away online. So as an international student, it’s tempting to stay in your room and relax in your familiar cultural bubble. But it’s important not to! You’ll have lots of great opportunities when studying abroad, so make sure you make the most of it.
You can start by waving a fond farewell to your typical international student hangouts. Delve deeper into your new neighbourhood and find yourself a genuine secret gem, somewhere only locals go to relax. Downloading the Great Little Place app should be your first step (particularly if you’re studying in London), as it’s the self-confessed ‘guide to Planet Earth’s charming spots’ and all the advice comes from local people. Foursquare is great if you’re studying in the US, as it’ll immediately give you access to a wealth of user-generated tips. When you’re surrounded by local people, you’ll find it much easier to soak up native customs, expressions and quirks, and you might meet a few people you wouldn’t normally get the chance to talk to.
2. Join groups and classes
Joining the groups and classes offered by your university is a great way to develop new hobbies and get a better insight into local culture at the same time. There are lots of options out there, from sports teams to subject-specific clubs and societies. Meeting locals and making new friends will be easier, as conversations will come more naturally when you’re part of a group. You’ll also get the chance to develop as an international student in other ways, whether you learn local slang through the comedy society or boost your confidence by acting with the performing arts club.
Cooking classes are also a great way to integrate, not least because everyone loves food! Learn more about what people eat in your new country, and then try your hand at making it yourself. Your home favourites could be expensive to cook as the ingredients might be hard to find, so check out what’s on the menu in your new neighbourhood and save money while you learn from locals. You can still whip out a few favourite recipes when you’re missing home, but use this as an opportunity to cook for native students and share what you love – they’re probably just as curious to learn about your home culture as you are about theirs.
3. Get work experience
Despite what you might think, it is possible to work alongside your university classes when you’re studying abroad. As well as giving you a (probably much appreciated) cash injection, a part-time job can also help you on your way to becoming a better international student. On weekdays, you can master studying in your new country and find out everything there is to know about local student culture. On weekends and during holidays, you can go one step further by getting an insight into an international workplace. Need something to boost your CV? Look no further.
There are lots of avenues to explore when you’re looking for some work experience. Some universities offer internships with local companies as part of their courses, and others will encourage you to do summer placements. You could also get involved with your students’ union by running as a sabbatical officer – this will give you a whole year out from your studies to get valuable paid work experience. But voluntary and unpaid work experience is just as impressive to employers (especially if it relates to your field of study), and it’s also usually easier to get. Check out websites like Do-It in the UK for vacancies, or Volunteer Australia if you’re based in Oz.
4. Improve your language skills
We can’t say this often enough – learning a new language when you’re studying abroad is a really worthwhile thing to do. Not only will it improve your concentration and give you a whole host of other benefits, it’ll also boost your employability once you’re back home because the world is increasingly interconnected. Learning the local language will also help you on your way to becoming a better international student, as you’ll get more out of your time in a new country if you can properly talk to locals.
There are lots of ways you can learn a new language. Attending language classes on the side is an obvious option, and is great for building a solid foundation of proper grammar and syntax. If you’re studying in the UK, you can search English UK for full lists of accredited English language centres, while those studying in Oz should check out Study In Australia. But what about if you just want to hold a decent conversation? You could learn slang and native expressions by watching movies and listening to radio stations in your spare time. Download apps to study on the move – Duolingo is great if you want to have fun as you learn, while Sounds is among the best if pronunciation is something you struggle with. Learning a new language certainly isn’t limited to what you can do in a classroom…
When you’re studying abroad, it’s likely you’ve travelled quite a long way to get there. So why spend all your time cooped up in your room hunched over your laptop? After all, you can do that back home! Step out your front door and head off to explore your incredible new home. Start by delving deeper into your neighbourhood – check out some of the area guides on Student.com to get a good grounding. Once you’ve learned the ins and outs of what’s in your backyard, it’ll be time to pluck up the courage to go on an even bigger adventure.
If you’re studying in New Zealand, you’ll have one of the world’s top destinations for road trips at your feet. Drive north along palm-fringed roads and you’ll hit the Bay of Islands, where you’ll find gorgeous white sand beaches and marine wildlife reserves, or go south for the breathtaking scenery of the Mount Cook National Park and Kaikoura’s native whales, dolphins and seals. The US is equally ripe for exploring on four wheels. If you’re studying in New York, you’ll see that both Boston and Philadelphia aren’t too far away – and both feature in our top five student cities for 2016. Travelling is a great way to learn valuable people skills, learn what you’re capable of and see how different parts of the world work, so get out there and explore!