You are about to embark on the most exciting adventure of your life in choosing to study abroad. The first moment you are driven through the gates of your school is one that you will remember for years to come.
However, there are also a lot of expectations placed upon you, both from yourself and those you know. Throughout your first year you will feel lost and adrift. You will feel intimidated by the smallest everyday activities like asking for directions. Or you will want to improve yourself, yet without the support system you once had all your life, beginning any task seems monumental.
All first-year university students feel this way. As an alumnus of AISVN (Class of 2014), I had felt prepared for my life abroad, yet there were obstacles I would not have known to prepare for and could only learn from encountering them. The following are some tips that will prove helpful to you in your first-year studying in university abroad.
1. Independence Should Be Experimented With, Responsibly
Your time at university is a time of trying new things, both academically and socially. Academically, you will be trying out courses to determine which major and career path to pursue. Socially, you will be at an age where you can finally experiment with more “grown up” things like drinking alcohol, traveling long distances with friends or partying in the weekend without the supervision of any adult, because you are an adult. You should experiment and experience new things with this newfound personal freedom because it helps you grow as an individual, letting you know what you like and don’t like. Doing so responsibly ensures that every new experience is enlightening without incurring negative consequences.
After all, you are an international student risking much to study abroad. Your immigration status, if your decision is to stay abroad, is dependent on you living responsibly. Beware of anything that can jeopardize your status as a student or besmudge your record as a possible greencard holder. For instance, you can try out working part-time in a way that avoids missing school or violating regional employment laws. Or hanging-out on the weekend without overdoing it so that your health is affected.
It may seem like common sense, but for many students becoming independent for the first time and experimenting without moderations, consequences can range from failing classes to worst case scenario of being deported from their host country. Most students will never face this issue, but it is reassuring to set rules for yourself and hold your own actions accountable. It will help you to be more confident next time you try something new, because you know you will get the best out of the experience.
2. A New Learning Experience
Expect a totally different learning environment. Lectures you attend can be attended by more than 100 students and the instructors can be difficult to reach after class for answers. No one will be there to remind you of deadlines or assignment due dates.
For every course you take, the course syllabus is your best friend. Pay attention to deadlines and put them into your schedule. Always try your best to get to know your professor and what they expect from your assignments and avoid getting bad marks. Creating a good relationship with your instructors can be very helpful. When they need students for research or part-time work, you may be first in line.
In fact, the name of the game in university is creating networks. No longer is your learning confined in the classroom. Making good relationships with your dorm mates or club members can lead to future employment prospects.
Utilize all the possible resources available to you like computer labs, counselors, research centers and libraries, because it’s all included in the price tag of your higher education. If you’re paying for all that, you might as well take advantage of it.
3. Time Flies, So Manage It Wisely
We’re all accustomed to the image of a full-time university student buried in their course work and never having time for anything else. In actuality, if you are not working part-time while going to school, most of the time you will have more free time than you know what to do with. Much of this is due to the flexible schedule of university classes.
You can definitely let loose, but take advantage of this free time to work or join extra-curricular activities. Learn a new skill and participate in local community initiatives like cultural festivals, salvation army volunteering or shoreline cleanup. Make the most of your free time with meaningful endeavors and create connections, as well as building up your community work for your job CV or resume. It’s a good opportunity to use this time to further immerse yourself in the culture and activities of your current home country.
4. Go Beyond the Comfort of Familiar Communities
These days, you would be hard pressed to study anywhere abroad without meeting sizable Asian or Vietnamese communities. Especially if you go to school in big cities. It can be more comforting to stay in those communities than having to venture out to meet people from cultures that are unfamiliar. But, this is the point of studying abroad
Be courageous and excited in making friends from other cultures, especially on the first day. You’ll realize that they are as new as you to studying abroad and that many would be glad to have someone to talk to. Knowing friends from different cultures will not only help you to understand where your peers are coming from and learn more about the world, but it will also help to be more confident. I have never met anyone who was not interested to know about Vietnam whenever I told them where I was from and in return I was interested to learn about their own country, culture, language, food, etc. I have seen friends who would consistently stick with their own cultural clique. Especially if you are trying to improve your English or any language of the country you are residing in. In my opinion, only hanging out with people from your own culture makes your growth stagnant and defeats the purpose of going to university in the first place.
Some of the best ways to meet new people are through joining philanthropic organizations, student government organizations, attending events and clubs that interest you. These will exist aplenty in your university or local community. You are bound to meet new and diverse friends and can establish strong bonds though working together to help a cause or immerse in activities that interest you both.
These tips are, of course, not the only advice for any burgeoning academics going abroad for the first time after high school. Nevertheless, I hope these will give any students choosing to go abroad and pursue higher education an awareness of their own ability to make the best of their university experience.