At first thought, the task of preparing to begin life away from home can seem daunting, if not overwhelming. Being surrounded by an unfamiliar culture, environment and social norms, while being away from family and friends, is something which more and more Chinese students experience in the quest to gain a western education.
With school courses drawing to a close, many students find themselves in the midst of preparing for further study abroad. As a foreign teacher, I often found myself being turned to for answers to help demystify the process and add moral support in many student decisions to journey overseas. Therefore, based on my experience, the following five steps may prove useful in assisting prospective overseas students in their preparations to study overseas.
Get to know your new home before you land in it
There is no substitute for good preparation. Arm yourself with background knowledge by researching information about the country you are going to. Learning about the history, culture, tradition, language and even details such as food, music, transport, weather and social activities of your new host country are all important. Thanks to the Internet, most of this can be found at the click of a button.
If you are fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of a foreign native (from the country you wish to study in), be sure to ask them as many questions as possible on things such as good places to live, the cost of transport or important celebrations during the year. The information they provide would most likely not be published in any textbooks or tourist magazines.
Attitude is everything.
Don’t underestimate the power of the mind in determining how events turn out. Decide how to approach any situation, before you are placed in it. Positive thoughts about your new circumstances and a positive attitude toward your new home and hosts will bring positive results.
Alternately, many people set themselves up for failure simply by talking themselves out of success. Don’t sabotage your chances at being happy and successful in your future study and new life before they have even started. Maintain focus on one or two major goals (not too many) and work steadily and gradually towards these.
Pack using your head and your heart.
It’s not easy being practical when deciding what to pack and there is always that temptation to bring cherished personal belongings such as books, letters or fluffy toys. Whatever you bring, make sure that is will be something that you think might help your chances of succeeding.
This includes practical items such as study materials, old class notes, favorite textbooks or pens and even the contact details of previous teachers. It might also include some small luxuries such as study music or well-packaged snack foods. Items of sentimental value such as a flipbook with photographs of family and friends or a favorite item of clothing can help you feel closer to home.
Remember your roots.
Contact people you care about before and after. You are a person with feelings and relocating overseas is a big event. Talk to your close friends and family about your thoughts, dreams and fears for your new venture before you leave and make sure you keep in regular contact after you arrive and during your time away. Sharing the experience always halves any burdens and doubles the excitement of any achievements. Besides, with the ease and convenience of communicating via the Internet nowadays, there is no excuse not to keep in touch!
It is important to realize that while new and exciting things may be happening to you in your new environment, things and people back at home will also be changing. It is possible to feel isolated and experience “reverse culture shock” when you return home for a visit after an extended period of time away. The extent of this can be determined by such things as how involved you become in your new culture and how involved you stay in your original culture. Remember your roots, they are an important part of who you are.
Take opportunities as they come.
Learn from all experiences. Value both your achievements and disappointments as learning experiences that can be applied to future situations in life. Value all positive outcomes and more importantly, don’t take negative outcomes at face value. Instead, try to see the lessons in mistakes and turn them into opportunities for future improvement. Opportunities are present all the time, but often they go by unnoticed. Recognizing opportunities is a skill which anyone can learn through practice and patience.
In summary, travelling overseas is an amazing opportunity for personal growth, which not everyone has the chance, or the inclination to take part in. By no means should my advice be taken as the only way to do things. The beauty of learning through experience is that it proves that there is no right and wrong way, instead preparing you for the best personal way in which you can deal with issues as they arise. Still, I hope my suggestions will be of assistance to students (including previous ones of my own) who will study abroad from 2004 onward and I wish all the very best of success.