As a recap, in Part I of this article, we looked at communicating with the university about language requirements and living arrangements, preparing for possible homesickness, becoming and staying active socially, and motivational tips for when you are not feeling very motivated to continue your studies.
As I mentioned in the last article, the students who are prepared before they arrive or prepare themselves shortly after they arrive usually have an easier time in their new host country and university. Of course, you hope that your level of English is good enough, so you study to prepare your language skills. But what you also need to consider is how to prepare for other aspects of university life in an English-speaking country. Your success rate in class is reflected partially by your success rate in other areas of your college life.
In Part II of 10 Super Tips for University Students Wishing to Study Abroad in an English-Speaking Country, we talk about exploration, student budgeting, healthy living, using campus resources available and free to students, and staying on course as a university student and language learner in an English language medium university.
Tip #6: Explore Your Surroundings
I have conducted hundreds of one-on-one consultations with international students. I would be remiss to say that a larger percentage of them tend to travel when there is a winter, spring, or summer break. The only problem is that they travel back home. Please don’t get me wrong! I think it healthy for students to go back home and see family and friends, all the while taking a break from their host country and university. But to have a more well-rounded cultural experience, you might consider traveling within your host country, or at least your host state.
For instance, the university I worked at in the U.S. had a population of about 50,000. This included the university students. When I asked some ESL students if they had visited the nearest big city or even the next town over, I would hear “No” a lot of the time. This was after they had told me they were getting bored! Sometimes students forget to take care of their non-academic self, which is why it is my pleasure to say that this is an easy fix!
All you have to do is rent a car (if you have a license) or have a friend rent a car, take a bus, hitch a ride from another student on campus for a few dollars, etc., so you can experience the joy of exploring the world around you. Every town and city has its own feel, its own culture, its own food, its own…well, you get the idea.
In my own personal experiences of consulting with ESL students, I find that the students who take the time to investigate their surroundings are the ones who make friends quicker and do not seem as stressed out. Why? Because they know how to step away from class, homework, and the everyday student grind. Taking a break clears your mind and allows you to have a little fun. It is a great way to reward yourself for all the hard work you do studying.
Tip #7: Create a Budget
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen an international student arrive for their first semester of university with the hard-earned money that Mom and Dad gave them to live on for the next semester or year, blow all their money. Can we say fancy (i.e. very expensive) cars, (nearly) endless shopping sprees, expensive apartments, and more? Then they have very little or no money by the end of the semester/year, which inevitably leads to serious stress. This, in turn, leads to poor grades because we all know that many students under stress tend to work less and less on their academic work.
I have a one-word solution to this problem- budget. Don’t be scared! Budgeting is a beautiful thing. It is a great way to keep money in your pocket all semester/year long, while still allowing yourself some fun.
So, just where and how can a student start a budget? Well, here are a couple of great apps that are fairly simple and, even better, free!
You can also go to https://www.mint.com/
You can take a look at https://www.learnvest.com/
One final tip is to check out free on-campus financial help. There may be an organization or program specifically designed to help students manage their money, which would also most likely include student loans.
Tip #8: Stay Healthy
Most American students who start their first year of college know the expression “freshman fifteen”. What this expression is referring to is weight gain. When you are in high school, living at home, and surrounded by all your friends, life is good. Many students get home-cooked meals and play some kind of sport whether through the school or intermural, and are busy running around with their pals. When high school students leave home to go to college, everything changes. You have to study more, you don’t have Mom or Dad to regulate meals nor do you have your high school to regulate what programs/sports you join or not.
Because of this huge life change, a lot of students gain weight. I guess the typical amount is around 15 pounds. I will let you in on a little secret. I gained ten pounds my freshman year! I was lucky enough that my Mom pointed it out when I went home one weekend, which made me reflect on how I was living my life, while away at university, and ultimately change a few things to make a healthier me (and healthier grades).
First, when going to a new host country, it is so very easy to want to try all the new goodies that you see. I am so guilty of this. I love trying all the delicacies, from sweet to savory. You must find a balance of eating healthy to allowing yourself a treat every now and then.
I come back to first year international students and our one-on-one consultations. Before a meeting I would look up the student’s profile to prepare. The profile provides each student’s picture, which they take a week after arrival. I might see the student a few months after their arrival and the difference between the pictures and their physical self was sometimes shocking!
To touch on this point even further, some students I would see year after year continuously gain weight. Students would explain to me that the culprit of their weight gain was the following:
- They can’t cook
- That they eat too much fast food
- That they don’t exercise
My advice to these international students was almost always the same. I would ask them the questions listed below in order to guide them towards a healthier life, which by now you have probably guessed, a healthier academic life. It is proven that a student who treats their body well with good food and exercise has higher grades (Parker-Pope, 2010).
1) Did you know that, at least in the U.S., many universities include recreational fees in the tuition costs? This means that whether you want to or not, you are paying for the use of the on- (or off) campus gym or recreational center. Take a friend, go by yourself, join an exercise class, run around the track, just getting there and a small amount of activity will make you feel better about yourself.
Healthy Eating Seminars/Workshops
2) Did you realize that universities offer healthy eating seminars for free to students? The sessions are given by experts, usually fitness and nutrition professors on campus, on a regular basis throughout the year. Take a friend, go by yourself, just getting there and being surrounded by other individuals who have the same goals as you is inspiring and motivating.
Relaxation Classes/Impromptu Gatherings
3) Have you heard that there are free yoga/meditation gatherings on campus for students? What a great way to start/end your day than to relax your body and your mind! Take a friend or go by yourself. Getting there is the hard part, but once you do, you will feel lighter in body and mind for the relaxation you allow yourself to have.
Tip #9: Take Advantage of the Resources at Your University
When international students arrive at their new university, they may feel like they are now alone in the world. A bit of an exaggeration, yes, but their new environment is like a new world to them. It is a shame that they feel this way because any respectable university has a plethora of resources (this includes helpful advisors, professor, etc.) available to new students, some especially designed with international students in mind.
Students who ask for access to these resources make their lives at university much more enjoyable, not to mention they really begin to understand the cultural norms around them.
Let me give you just a taste of what you could be missing out on if you don’t search for and utilize your university’s resources:
- Student Legal Advice: I have seen students need legal advice for speeding tickets, car accidents, apartment leases/contracts with landlords, public intoxication tickets, and more. This service is usually free for students because a normal visit to a lawyer would cost an arm and a leg.
- Student Health Care: Students usually get discounted health care when at university. Know where and what kind of care is offered on campus and off for emergencies and sickness
- Sororities / Fraternities: You make friends and connections for life - think support with finding a new job especially
- Community Service: Local food pantry, Sheltered Men/Women/Children, Keep our Community Tidy, Visit Senior Citizens in Nursing Homes…
- Academic Organizations: Entrepreneurs Network, Honors Society, Psychology Club, Business Club, Leadership Club…
- Academic / English Tutoring: It’s surprising how many international students don’t realize that there is free tutoring on campus for major courses and sometimes for students who are studying English before taking major classes. Seek out help if you are struggling. Tutors are there because they want to help you succeed!
There are endless amounts of resources offered. I wish I had the time and space to list all of them, but it would be as long a book. Not to sound like a broken record, but getting involved and knowing how the university and community culture function around you helps you integrate, experience, and enjoy your studies abroad to the fullest extent.
Tip #10: Don’t Forget the Reason You Left Your Home Country
The previous nine tips encourage students to join, experience, explore, and get involved, but I haven’t mentioned anything to those students who have no problem doing this. You are the people who thrive off of interaction with others. Here is a little friendly advice for you, too.
Don’t allow your outgoing nature to take over your life when studying abroad. It is easy to get caught up going out many days per week to party and socialize leaving your studies in the dust. In other words, not paying enough attention to your academic responsibilities as a student. Two things usually happen as a result- your English- speaking skills improve, sometimes drastically, and your English-writing and reading skills start to slip or at least do not improve.
This is the point where a student would come to my office, worried about their grades, unsure of how they got into this situation, and also unsure of how they can fix this not-so-great situation.
I think international students sometimes get so caught up in the newness of living and studying in a different country that they forget the main reason they decided to study abroad in the first place, which is usually to have a better chance of advancing in their field of study and inevitably to get a better job back home (or abroad).
Periodically reflecting on reasons why you have come to study in an English-speaking country and the consequences of failing quite possibly could be enough to keep you on track and remember that you have a job to do. Study!
Here are a few motivational sentences to remind yourself of if you find yourself getting off track:
- I am here to earn a Bachelor’s degree, not to party.
- I am here to better my chances at finding a great job back home.
- I am here to network for pleasure, but more so for academic advancement.
- Will I be proud of myself if I neglect my studies?
- How will my parents react when I tell them that the university has me to leave on account of poor grades?
- Even though socializing and joining clubs on campus is awesome, am I stretching myself too thin? Should I focus a little more on my studies by dropping one of my clubs?
Balance is key. Socializing is natural and inviting. It helps you relax, which allows you to focus more keenly on your studies, but knowing when to take a step back and focus more on studies will get much further than you might imagine.
Seeking out various venues of assistance from your university while studying abroad in an English-speaking country grants English language learners and students studying their major courses the chance to discover the surrounding towns and cities, keep track of spending habits, eat and exercise for a healthy college life, and take advantage of all of the organizations for social and academic advancement. Additionally, reflecting on the purpose of your big adventure in a completely different country encourages you to maintain a balance of socializing and academic studies. All 10 Super Tips for University Students Wishing to Study Abroad in an English-speaking country are meant to help students prepare for and succeed during university life abroad.
Parker-Pope, T. “Vigorous Exercise Linked with Better Grades.” New York Times 3 Jun. 2010: N.pag. Well. Web. 16 Dec. 2017.