Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a first generation student. The process starts when you decide you want to study abroad and there are a whole heap of new experiences that come with your decision to study in another country. You’ll be around a bunch of new people, you’ll want to travel in your new country, you will adjust to a new school system, and despite being in an exciting, new place, you will miss home at some point. Below are five tips for making the most of your experience that I learned in my time abroad.
1. Roommates and the Neighbors
Many first generation college students start off living on campus away from their family for the first time and may never have had to live with any roommates before. When you study abroad you have a new chance to live with other people that may or may not be like you and a chance to make new friends. When you first get to your college abroad, your flatmates are usually the first people you will interact with, and they will be the people you are with for the duration of your time abroad. Your neighbors are also a big influence on your time spent abroad. Other than your flatmates, they will probably be the people you see the most, whether it be a BBQ with them or just a night out playing mini-golf. Some of these people may end up being your best friends. Take the time to get to know the people you will be spending most of your time with!
2. How to Afford to Travel While Abroad
Many people will want to be able to travel the country they are in and will have to plan to make time for trips while maintaining responsibilities at school. When I planned trips while abroad, I made sure they were weekends I didn’t have major assignments or exams. When it came to actually planning the trips, here are a few tips I learned:
- In certain countries, rental cars are your friends, but be sure to compare companies to see who has the best deals
- Travel by train or bus if possible to save money
- Stay in hostels as opposed to hotels
- Join a club that travels (ex. New Zealand universities have a tramping club students can join)
- If possible, try camping on your trip
- Bring your own food (don’t rely on going out to dinner with your friends every night)
- Plan your trips with friends and make memories that will last forever!
3. Another New School
School systems are different in every country and they have their own rules and customs. You have taken the time to adjust to your home school and you know how it works, but now it’s time to learn about a new one. When I came to New Zealand, I learned a whole new system, such as how classes are scheduled and how final exams work when it comes time. Take the time to get to know your new professors and classmates, as they are usually excited to meet new students from other countries. Use your resources around you, such as your IFSA-Butler program advisor and the resident offices abroad. There are people who are around you that want to help you succeed while abroad!
4. Feeling Homesick?
At some point in your time abroad you will miss home. Whether it is the food, your family, or your pet, you will miss them and may want to go home. One of the things that has helped me when I got homesick was seeing my family and friends. I brought photos of them to decorate my room and whenever I missed them more, Skype and Facebook Messenger were a great resource. Another thing that helped me were care boxes from my friends and family. The country you are in may not have what you are familiar with at home. For example, New Zealand doesn’t have Pop Tarts or cookie butter, so my family mailed me stuff from home that I wasn’t able to get from here which was a big comfort.
5. Ready to Go Home Now?
It’s come time to get ready to go home. Now you are thinking ‘where have I been?’ ‘What have I done?’ and you may think you’re not ready to leave, but then part of you is ready to go home and see everyone and everything you missed. It may be hard for some people to leave a country that they know they may never come back to again, and to leave friends that they may never see again. Before you leave, be sure to think of all of the fantastic things you have done in your time abroad. Take the time you need to adjust to going back home, since it will be a different place when you get back and you’ll be different as well. When I return home from being abroad I plan on looking through my journals I kept while I was here, starting a scrapbook for all the memories I made, and keeping in touch with my new friends via letters.
Jennifer Castro is an exercise and sports science major at Oregon State University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Otago in Spring 2017. She is a First Generation Scholar for IFSA-Butler through the First Generation Scholarship Program.