To visit a foreign university and study abroad in a far-away country is high on the list for a lot of people. If that’s you, and you start turning your plans into reality, you’ll sooner or later find yourself up against a whole lot of obstacles. There’s just a whole bunch of crap you have to sift through before you can even think about the exciting stuff like flight bookings and accommodation.
You have to find a uni abroad, be accepted into it, work out tuition fees and other obligations, make sure your home uni knows that you’re gone, check the requirements for having your classes done abroad accepted as credits when you return… In short, there’s a whole bureaucratic mess that threatens to suffocate you, and at times it can feel like you’ll never see the end of it.
I have been through this myself, and let me tell you, there will be an end. And it’s such a fantastic one, it’s make all the trouble worth it. So let me give you some tips on how to best get through the whole process without losing your sanity.
Choosing a destination and a university
Maybe you already know where you want to go, maybe you are divided between several options. Things like language skills, culture, costs of living, and visa requirements may all come into play here, as well as a whole bunch of other factors.
Even once you’ve picked a country, you still need to figure out which university you want to go to. You can look at the classes offered and other perks, and see what fits. But it’s not only a matter of suitability. You still have to be accepted into the uni, and pay the tuitions.
If your home uni has any partnerships with universities abroad, that’s a good way to start. Usually you need to apply for these partnership programs, as there are limited spots. But if you succeed, you may only have to pay minimal tuition fees. I went abroad to a partner university in Australia, and I only had to pay my tuition fees at home, and none for the Sydney uni. (In case you don’t know, my home country Germany has ridiculously low tuition fees if you compare it with other countries, so that was a win.)
Financing your trip
If your uni doesn’t have any international partnerships, or at least not in the place where you want to go, there are other ways of getting financial help. Try applying for a scholarship. Some universities offer these to international students. Besides that there are plenty of organisations willing to sponsor students going abroad. A simple online search can show you which ones are available in your country. Sometimes they have specific requirements, like being only open for students of certain subjects, or they are church-sponsored and thus only for the religious. There are so many different ones though, if you search through the offers there’s a good chance you can find something right for you.
The application process may be more ardent as if you just applied to the foreign uni, but it’s worth the effort. Start looking early enough, so you won’t have to rush to get all your papers in order.
Juggling the bureaucracy
Starting early is generally good advice. Know the deadlines when you need to apply to the university and/or your chosen sponsorship program. Then figure out all the other stuff you need to organise: Make sure everything is settled with your home uni. Get an appropriate visa. Health insurance. Flights. Accommodation. Figure out everything you’ll need for uni and how to sign up for your classes. There’ll probably be many more little things that come up. No wonder it can get overwhelming so quickly.
What always helps me in these situations is taking it one task at a time. Instead of thinking of everything that needs to be done and going crazy in the process, I try to think only of the next step. And then the next. Until, suddenly, I find it’s all done and I’m ready to go.
And once you’re there?
This is when the fun begins. Which is not to say that there won’t still be things you need to work out once you arrive at your destination. Chose your classes, finding your way around, figuring out how everything works here. But you’ve come so far already, this will be a piece of cake. And mostly, you don’t need to do it alone.
See if your university offers introduction events for international students. Mine did, and they were great not only for orientation, but also to meet some other international students who struggled with the same things. We could help each other out along the way.
There may also be a general beginning-of-term event where student societies present themselves and new students – whether international or not – are presented with all the opportunities waiting for them. Go to these events. Even as a crowd-shunning introvert. It will be worth it for the invaluable information you can gather here and the people you meet. Maybe you can join some student groups that strike your interest. And often, there’s free food. Study abroad rule number one: never pass on free food! You want to spend your money on sightseeing, not groceries.
Do you have any other questions about studying abroad? Don’t hesitate to ask. Or share your own experiences in the comments!