My Study Abroad Experience: 6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling

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Studying abroad was the best decision that I ever made. My life has changed forever from simple and mundane, to exciting and inspiring! 

I was only 17 years old when I moved from Saudi Arabia to Canada to complete my bachelor’s degree. I thought I was fully prepared as I spent months researching the best options. 

However, you need to know that when planning your study abroad experience, it might look all perfect in your head, but once you are actually in the new destination, you’ll face things that weren’t expected!

This doesn’t have to sound scary; on the contrary, take this as an opportunity for you to challenge yourself and be ready to adapt.

Take a look at these tips and takeaways to know what I learned and avoid making the mistakes that I did!

#1) If possible, consider bringing extra money for unexpected expenses

As a young girl, this wasn’t a topic that concerned me at first. I was more intrigued by the less serious parts of this process, like visiting nice places, buying new clothes, and meeting people. 

But, after moving abroad, I realized that students need to sort out this aspect and think about ways to save money while studying abroad. 

Handling money abroad can be tricky! One of the first things that I did after settling down was visiting the local bank to get information about student plans and packages. I advise you to open both a chequing and saving account.

Plan out a monthly budget and put the money that you want to spend in the chequing account, and the rest all in the savings for emergencies. 

The bank account can also help track your spendings to cut back on buying unnecessary things.

Even though I luckily had financial support for the tuition fees from my parents, I had to find other ways to help with the costs of living like finding part-time jobs.

You can research part-time jobs near your location, write a professional resume, and apply for the jobs. 

The best online websites to find opportunities for students are Indeed and Careerbuilder

My first job was at a retail store. Not only did it help me with extra money, but also really developed my communication skills and boosted my confidence!

Here are the things that I wish I did more of while studying abroad:

  • Try to cook at home instead of buying meals outside every day. 
  • Use student discounts on bus cards and shopping deals
  • Plan the flights in advance to find cheaper ones. You can find affordable prices on Kayak.
  • Ask the locals for cheaper grocery store options as the prices may differ.
  • Explore the transportation system to figure out which is the cheapest way to go to university.
  • Also, research what you can do for fun without spending any money! Some museums offer free entrance on certain days.

If you are worried about funding your studies, check out the possibilities here

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#2) Don’t be shy to speak the language

When I came to Canada, my English was good but I had an accent. At first, I spent half of the time not answering questions in class or raising my hand because I was embarrassed about the way I sounded. 

But you know what?

This is a great conversation starter and an amazing opportunity to introduce your culture, language, and the country you’re from!

I didn’t stop there, I went out of my way to find fun methods to improve my English and learn phrases and slangs specific to the city I was in. That brought me closer to the culture and traditions in Canada. I highly advise that you do that too not to feel left out or disconnected from your environment. 

You might be busy with your classes, but make sure to dedicate at least one hour daily to learning to be able to make friends with the local people as well.
You don’t have to spend money to improve your language. Here are the 5 ways that I used to improve my speaking skills:

  • Watch movies in the language that you’re trying to learn without subtitles to challenge yourself!
  • Don’t be afraid to practice and have conversations with the locals
  • Read books and learn new vocabulary words every day 
  • Use free online websites like Youglish and apps like Duolingo 

#3) Expect the unexpected and be ready to adapt

As much as preparing for studying abroad is important, you have to keep in mind that not everything will go according to plan. 

Life has its ups and downs and just like how good things happen, bad things are bound to happen too, and that’s okay! 

During my first year studying abroad, the college that I graduated from went on a strike for five weeks. There were no more classes, no schedules, no exams, nothing at all! Everything just went on a pause during that time which frustrated many students and made them withdraw from their programs. 

While I had doubts on whether I should leave the college as well, I made the decision to stay. And honestly, I am so glad today that I was able to be patient as it is all worth it in the end!

Be ready to recognize that some changes are happening to your plans when you’re abroad.  

When it comes to safety, I wasn’t worried about that since Canada is one of the safest countries in the world. But here are some study abroad safety tips that I learned are essential during my trip:

  • Remember to always lock the door to keep intruders away, you can even set up house cameras to feel safer.
  • Be very mindful of where you are going and at what time; avoid walking alone at night.
  • Sure, you can have as many friends as you want, but don’t quickly trust anyone that you meet.
  • Store your expensive belongings somewhere safe and get tenant’s insurance if possible.

#4) Find a healthy balance between studies and entertainment

Before traveling, I imagined myself being at the new destination already, trying the food, hanging out with friends, and exploring the city. However, I missed an important part, which is thinking of my classes and studying time. 

The weekends were fun, but the majority of the weekdays were all spent at the library working on assignments and studying for exams. 

Having a balance between your studies and entertainment time is key to success. You can’t focus just on studying as this might isolate you and impact your mental health.

Make sure you create an agenda, avoid procrastination and distractions, and always aim for higher marks! 😉

A boy sitting in the library and writing down in his notebook

#5) Ask for help and socialize

Making friends abroad is not difficult if you are studying in a multicultural destination like Canada, the UK, or Australia. I met many other international students in my classes and through Facebook groups.

At the end of the day, this depends on your personality. If you’re an outgoing person, it should be easy for you to make friends. I personally took some time trying to find the right people, as I tend to be more of an introvert. 

But I really encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and socialize as you might feel lonely at first. You also will need a break from studying every once in a while!

It is normal that you might feel homesick like I did, so try to manage your time and keep in touch with your friends and family back home. 

Because I moved from Saudi Arabia to Canada, the rules about everything were completely different. For example, I parked my car somewhere where I shouldn’t. I got a parking ticket that I had to pay for. This could’ve easily been avoided if I did more research regarding restrictions. 

Be sure to understand the rules at the new destination to avoid issues like these.

A group of four people are holding books and smiling for the picture

#6) Take advantage of the services offered at your university

Remember to take advantage of the services offered at your institution. If you are in a country that allows international students to work, look for the career services office at your institution to get help finding a part-time job.

I worked on my resume alone by looking for help online, but I then figured out that my institution offered assistance with organizing resumes to make them attractive for employers. 

That made me regret not asking for help since it was something that I was struggling with. 

One important service that I’m glad I used is tutoring. I was struggling with a subject in one semester and was able to get help with that, with no additional cost! 

Lastly, and probably the most important, find out what the university health insurance plan includes. You might be eligible to get a free eyesight exam, dental appointments, and some institutions even offer massages! 

Moving to a new destination abroad is an accomplishment in itself. Be proud of yourself that you are willing to take this challenge and learn from it. 

Studying abroad did not just benefit me academically and professionally but also on a personal level. It is truly a life-changing experience!

Help your friends out and share this content with whoever is dreaming of studying abroad. 🤩

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