Today I have a special guest writing for A Globe Well Travelled!
I met Alex Parkes back in 2011 when Rob and I had just moved to Newcastle. We’ve now been friends for over 8 years and while we no longer live in the same city, we still catch up for a drink whenever our paths cross.
As an Australian citizen studying foreign languages and linguistics and an ambassador for Campus France, Alex just spent 5 months as an international student in the city of La Rochelle. He is sharing his top tips to survive studying abroad and make sure your time in another country is the best it can be.
There’s a reason students and universities rave about studying overseas.
These experiences are so amazing and life-changing that you come back as a new person, with new friends and memories to last you a lifetime. That being said, it can’t be denied that even considering studying abroad can be quite intimidating and for a lot of people there are a myriad of reasons we use to talk ourselves out of it.
So to get you by, whatever your situation, here are my 7 tried and true points to make all of those worries disappear and give you a valuable trip to remember.
1. Video Call A LOT
The greatest rejection to studying abroad that I have encountered is the fear of being away from loved ones. This is a valid point, and trust me, I know. I spent a semester away from my long-term partner, my two fur babies, my family and my best friends. BUT, surprisingly enough, that is a hurdle to easily overcome. We live in an era now where we can be connected to faraway places in a snap, and it’s never been so easy to live in another country.
By video calling your loved ones when you’re really feeling the brunt of the separation, even after 5 minutes you start to forget the distance. This is because you’re seeing and hearing them in real time, and after a few minutes you forget you ever left. Then after a few weeks it becomes normal. My advice is to develop a routine where you call home every day at a specific time. Added bonus, through the magic of 4G and Facebook Messenger, share your beautiful experiences with people over a group call and make it a family holiday. I’ll never forget the look in my nieces eyes when I gave her her own guided tour of a French castle.
2. Decorate your new home
A home is what you make it, so get some Blutack and put things on the walls! It doesn’t have to be expensive. Even the smallest things will do. I came prepared with a selection of photos to put on the walls, but you can get creative. I even used an old wine bottle as a vase and filled it with some native flowers I found on a morning walk. If you put your mark on the new space you’re living in you’ll feel infinitely more relaxed from the moment you walk in the door.
3. Eat lots of vegetables
This is a fantastic way to save money because meat can be very expensive in different countries, but the important thing I’m trying to express is that you need to take care of your health. The stress of balancing study and a social life is hard enough let alone when you’re doing it abroad, so for the sake of your mental health put yourself in the best position to feel good by treating your body right and by giving it the things it needs.
4. You don’t need a reason to go outside. Just do it.
I realised in the middle of my semester that I had gotten caught up in this idea that I had to have specific reasons to go outside; for practical things like going to uni or grocery shopping. I realised that I was spending too much time in my room, and it was driving me insane! Never forget that there is an immense reward in walking out your door to discover a new street you’ve never been down, or a park with birds you’ve never seen. It’ll do wonders for both your physical and mental health.
5. Prioritise meeting new people when you arrive
Do searches online, ask lecturers, message friends, do whatever you need to do. Meeting people will help turn this new place into a true home. It’ll also mean you’ll have friends to hang out with on the weekends, and by the time the exchange is done you might have friends in every continent (except Antarctica).
6. Take part in the culture
Wear the clothes, eat the food, do the things. You’ll start to feel a part of the culture and feel like less of an alien, and your identity will evolve into something complex, interesting and truly special. Do not go overseas just to do the same thing you would have done back home! Going overseas and eating Mi Goreng is not the new experience you signed up for. If you’re going to France, wear the stripes and the berets and be that stereotype. Not many people are lucky enough to do the same.
7. Eyes on the prize
Study! Take a break. Then study again! Ultimately it is the reason we do these trips in the first place, and while it’s a valuable opportunity for networking and making friends it would be a massive shame for you to have gone all that way just to learn not very much at all. If you’re learning another language, the added bonus is that you can socialise and study by speaking to somebody in your target language.