Preparing for graduate studies abroad may be the most difficult part of the entire experience. Yes, there will be culture shock, the stress of living in a new town and acclimating to a new school and the occasional bouts of homesickness, but as a more mature student you have the skills to handle those challenges. Getting ready to live and study as an international graduate student requires a great deal of organization, but taking the time to put things in order will make your trip and your semester more enjoyable.
Research Your Location
Even extensive travel won’t prepare you for living in a different country for an extended period of time. As a traveler your interactions with local people are usually limited – typically confined to questions about directions, menu selections and local sites. Adequate knowledge of the customs and manners in your new home can save you money, time and social embarrassment. For example, the positive “thumbs–up” hand sign used in the U.S. is the equivalent of flipping the middle finger in Greece. That’s definitely the kind of information you’d want to know before giving a hearty thumbs up to an attractive man or woman at a local taverna!
If possible, subscribe to local newspapers and magazines from the area where you’ll be moving. Read books about the history and the major religions of the region and watch films made in and about the country. Find out what locals wear, what habits are considered rude and which are seen as friendly. This is one test you can’t over-prepare for. The more you know the easier the transition will be.
Organize Your Life
Does organizing your finances, personal papers and all the loose ends of your present life sound like an overwhelming task? Well just imagine the nightmare of trying to do all of that while living in a different country. Getting organized before you leave will give you more time to devote to study and enjoying your new surroundings.
Start with completing the most essential tasks, like getting passports and visas in order and securing financial aid and other finances. You may need proof of health insurance to be granted a student visa. If you don’t already have a comprehensive health insurance policy, explore international travel insurance for students. Travel insurance can be an affordable option for those who need temporary coverage. If you’re eligible for financial aid, be sure to apply early. It can take several weeks or months to complete the process. Open an online banking account so you can pay bills and keep track of your budget while living overseas. Let your credit card companies know about your change of location to prevent problems with making charges.
Once the most important organizational tasks are completed you can begin to think about packing or brushing up on your foreign language skills.
You’ve spent many hours preparing for a master’s degree, and studying abroad may be one of the most enriching academic experiences you’ll ever have. Proper preparation takes time, but just as undergraduate courses were necessary to prepare for graduate study, researching your new home and organizing your finances are necessary “courses” to ensure the best possible foreign study experience.