A Few Tips for Studying Abroad:
Apply for the Gilman Scholarship
Study abroad is not cheap! While it is possible to go overseas even if you come from a low-income family, you must understand how to delegate your finances once you start.
I am generally a frugal person, so when the bills started to pile up even before I left, I was thankful for the Gilman Scholarship, which is a federal grant that funds students with limited financial needs to study abroad.
The Gilman Scholarship paid for:
• My plane ticket ($800 for one-way, have yet to purchase return flight)
• My visa ($400)
• Mandatory Australian health insurances as required by my visa ($400)
• Mandatory SFSU travel insurances as required by the State of California ($300)
• Mandatory doctors appointments and x-rays not covered by my health insurances as instructed by my visa ($500)
• Food, public transit, essential household items, and much needed medicine ($1,100)
This of course didn’t take into account my rent for my apartment in Sydney, tickets to events, and general tourist souvenirs.
However, before I even left, I was already spending a lot of my own money and Gilman helped ease that stress, so I could focus on school once I got to my host country.
Come To Your Host Country Early
School has just finished up here in June and one thing I highly recommend is to come to your host country as early as you possible (granted, if you have the money to do so), because once school starts, you’ll be too busy to think or do anything else.
Find A Hobby
This seems like weird advise, but when you first get to your host country, you might not know anyone and it might take some time to make connections with people. So, it is best that when you have some down time, you should find a new hobby to explore, so you don’t feel so lonely or miss your family/friends so much.
I was lucky enough to have my host family; I even knew them before I arrived, so it wasn’t like I was meeting complete strangers. This of course, is not going to be the case for every host family (if you plan to have one).
But, during the weekdays, before school started, they had to work, so I had to find something to do in the area, since they lived an hour away from the city.
I would explore the suburban neighborhood; go on walkabouts [hiking] around the heavy bush areas and visit parks; when I was able to go to the city, I would walk around the Opera House, Darling Harbor, Cockatoo Island, the convict barracks, etc.
Some days I did just play video games or browsing the web, but I tried to make an effort to do something productive and explore or learn about the city at least five days a week. I didn’t even have to spend any money, just walk around and take in the sights!
Take Advantage of (Free) Services
If there are services available to help you adjust to life in your host country, take them; even if you don’t think you’ll need them now, take them anyway in case you do later.
Before school started, I made appointments with a counselor, the Special Needs Service, and contacted the International Office. This was all to make sure that I had every single support I could get, because once school started, I would have been on a waiting list for their services.
I met with a counselor just to talk about my transition to Australia and how I was adjusting to a different type of school environment, where getting an ‘A+’ was much harder and rarely accomplished in Australia than it is in the U.S.
I thought I wasn’t going to use any accommodations provided by the Special Needs Service, since I only used extended test times back at SFSU, but when I realized that sometimes I couldn’t understand the teachers with their accents (mixed with bad microphones), I was able to get a notetaker. (I still took my own notes, because you can’t rely on other people’s notes alone)
That way, when I was confused during a portion of the lecture, (which happen sometimes) I could go over the notetakers notes to see what I missed.
The Special Needs Service also provided me access to quiet study rooms—only available to a select group of students.
It had a small kitchen to make tea and have your lunch, computers, and reclining chairs. I used it during times when I wanted to get away from the noisy campus and study in peace.
There are of course things I wished I had done, but those are the things that I did do, that I’m glad I did.