G’day! I write to you with my Top 5 tips from Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, where the sun shines all day and the uni comes alive at night.
Why did I study abroad?
My decision to study abroad was impulsive and brilliant. Having dealt with social anxiety for years, I was concerned that I would not be able to fully embrace the journey. Of course, my intentions were to meet new people, explore new places, and embrace a different education system. Yet I must admit that I doubted myself at times. But, since the moment I landed on Australian soil, everyone I’ve met has overwhelmed me with kindness. My worries are out the window and my anxiety is no longer present.
Studying abroad is, undoubtedly and plainly stated, really freaking cool. There are so many words to describe the experience: exciting, thrilling, life-changing, amazing, awesome, fun, etc.
Studying abroad allows you to live and study in a foreign country. I mean, does it get much better than that?! I have used all of those words to describe my time abroad at one time or another. But hands down the absolute most marvelous aspect of studying abroad is the amount of growth it encourages you to make within yourself.
Everyone will learn their own lessons in their own ways; that’s true for life in general. But I’d like to share my top 5 tips from Newcastle for those of you who will soon embark on your study abroad adventure. I hope you find them useful.
My Top 5 Tips from Newcastle:
1. Don’t constantly judge your host country by how similar or different it is to the U.S.
Chances are, there are no Taco Bells where you are going. Drivers may drive on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right side of the car. Even if you and your classmates speak the same language, there’ll be a cultural barrier.
For your own sake, please, do not constantly compare everything to the way things are or the way things look in America. You are going to a foreign country for a reason. You will no longer be in the United States. Take the time and energy you would potentially spend on comparing and contrasting your home country to the country you are in and use it to admire the beauty of a different culture. During your time abroad, it is crucial to BE PRESENT.
2. When it comes to academics while abroad, don’t panic!
In Newy, academics are far more independent and relaxed than I experienced in the U.S. Although, I must admit that the curriculum has been more challenging than it is at my university in the U.S. My classes here consist of a lecture once a week and a lab or tutorial for the same course within the week as well.
It’s important to know that the education system where you are going will be different from what you’re used to. That is okay. You may struggle, you may not. But I can promise you that spending three full days stressing over an assignment while you are abroad is not worth it.
Instead of stressing, reach out to someone – a classmate, a professor, your on-site coordinator, your advisor back home, a friend, your parents, anyone. The worst thing you can do in that situation is to sit on it silently and stress alone.
You will get through the semester, I promise. Ask for help whenever you need it.
3. Prioritize visiting the places you want to see while abroad.
Plan ahead and budget for all of your travel because you don’t know when you’ll return to the country!
I spent my first year abroad in Australia just dreaming of going to New Zealand. I had traveled through a fair bit of Australia, but New Zealand was always number one on my list. I kept putting it off and telling myself I’d still have time. One day, I finally decided to just book my flight and go, because I have to return to the states soon and I’d regret if I did not get over there while I was abroad. So whatever you want to do, wherever you want to go, whatever you want to see – prioritize it in your travels! Get to where you want to be.
4. Stay true to your values.
When you’re abroad, you’ll be exposed to a different culture, experience traditions and social norms that you are not used to, and you’ll enjoy some (hopefully most) of them. Others, you may not. Remember to stick to your core values when you come across the things you are not fond of. Peer pressure is everywhere. I don’t think students in foreign countries intentionally single study abroad students out. But sometimes, you might feel uncomfortable. There are cultural differences, and sometimes things don’t go the way we would like them to. In those moments, it is so important that you stay true to yourself and put your safety and your rational judgment first.
5. Be aware. Be kind. Do not be judgemental.
You won’t be the only international student where you are going. Consider that there are others in your position and they may handle things differently than you. Also, don’t be afraid to make new friendships with people from all backgrounds. I point this out because, during my time in Australia, I have noticed how racist America is in comparison.
Before I came to study abroad, I had never left the continental U.S. And I hadn’t even seen much of the U.S. I hadn’t been exposed to much cultural diversity at all. Truthfully, in the U.S., I didn’t befriend international students unless they were white. I hate admitting that, but it is true. I was too scared otherwise.
Studying abroad and being an international student myself was more of a blessing in disguise for me than I ever could’ve imagined. I have fearlessly made friends with people of many ethnicities. One of my housemates is a 30-year-old from India. Today another housemate’s grandparents visited from China. I play on a diverse social basketball team on Wednesday nights. Our team consists of myself, another U.S. student, two Australians, someone from Pakistan, and someone from Kuwait. Being a part of this team is the time of my life. It pains me to say that if I met these same 5 people, my teammates, in America before I studied abroad, I would have only been comfortable befriending two (maybe three) of them. But I am so grateful that is not the case. It is incredible how living in a foreign country can change your perspective.
If you are considering studying abroad, I hope my words excite you. If you are already enrolled to study abroad, I hope my words encourage you as my advice reassures you. If you have already studied abroad, I hope you can resonate with my words. Safe travels to you all in this unpredictable life.
Inspired to head to Newcastle next term? Check out our Semester in Newcastle – University of Newcastle program.