Starting Your Overseas Study: What (Not) To Do to Start Your Overseas Study

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Starting your overseas study have its challenges. Learn more about some issues faced by those who’ve studied overseas and how to cope with them.

I brought too much stuff. …, half of the stuff I brought from home were useless. – Kitty S. (UF (Gainesville, FL) student)

Ask full-time students about the expectations of the profs in classes. – Elvira G. (NTU (Singapore) ex-exchange student)

I would say that I do not explore my new environment that much. – Daniel W. S. (CMU (Pittsburgh, PA) student)

Not decorating it (the room) fast enough – IMO making it homely is quite important to ease your mind. – Aurelia J. (NTU (Singapore) student)

This is the second article on the Starting Your Overseas Study series, designed for you to start your overseas study in a great way. To find out about what some of us may think when we started studying overseas (and how to cope with them), click here.

After you’ve raced past the gauntlet of forms and (hopefully) departing without incurring excess luggage fee, I can say that to say that starting your overseas study in the wrong way wouldn’t be nice is a grave understatement. There are quite some of tips provided by many people, for example from your seniors, your relatives, or even someone (not so) random on the Internet. Therefore, as you may be confounded with the plethora of tips out there, I decided to pick some of the more common topics to ponder on for you:

  • Getting comfortable on campus (or too comfortable?)

We all want to get comfortable with our campus. I find this quite important especially since you’ll spend quite a bit of time there (so I expect you to probably have done some research on the university’s cultures). This factor is even more important if you decide to stay in campus like what Aurelia (and I) have done since you’ll get stuck within the campus environment, more so if the campus is slightly more isolated than expected. As a result, I find Aurelia’s suggestion to decorate rooms is a great idea, especially since you’ll get to do quite a bit of stuffs in your bedroom (fun fact: this column is made in my bedroom as well). Creating a productive space for you to thrive isn’t that tough, and especially with the moving in season still fresh in mind you still have the eagerness to buy stuffs you’ll need to make your bedroom great again.

 This is the place this column is made, so I’m making sure it’s a comfortable one.
This is the place this column is made, so I’m making sure it’s a comfortable one.

On the other hand, being too comfortable also has its challenges. When Daniel is studying at CMU, he thinks that he decides to follow routines more instead of exploring stuffs. While relying on routines may offer convenience, he noted that it resulted in him having “poor knowledge on other places or things.” Studying overseas, as I noted in my previous column, isn’t about making creature comfort, which is why it would be great to take a bit of free time to explore the environment around. Exploring around is a great way for you to get a feel about what are going on outside the cocoon, besides being a great way to manage homesickness.

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Not many of my colleagues know of this city to/from airport service, featuring some beautiful scenery they’ll miss if they take commuter train instead.
  • Turning your bedroom into a storeroom?

Packing is tough, but what’s tougher? Unpacking stuffs only to find out you have so many stuffs you can’t use at the moment (even though you can use it later on). To add to the issue, the shopping spree you have soon after your arrival may leave you with even more stuffs. Should you want to keep as much of those items as possible, you may end up with some savings, however there’s some chance your roommate may think of you as slightly messy (especially if you can’t hide your own stuffs properly). Another extreme on this case will be what Kitty decided to do, which was dumping quite a bit of items she packed for her move to the US. Sad, indeed, but understand that you can only handle so much stuff at any given time.

One solution I have in mind for this issue will be knowing when you’ll use the item. Since some items are quite seasonal, I find storage services to be a great way to keep your belongings, especially those with few space available. Got a wardrobe full of sweater on spring? Get a storage service to keep them for you, at least until start of fall season. How about your belongings you don’t want to bring back home for holiday (to minimize excess luggage fee)? Let someone keep your stuffs until you’re back.

Another thing I can suggest to you is checking compatibility of your belongings after arrival. I mentioned earlier that we should check the compatibility of things we want to bring for departure, but circumstances can change overnight as well. This may not necessarily be with the standards within the country or campus such as plug design, but even a simple thing such as roommate preferences can count. One example: from routinely having myself eating at the bedroom, now I almost cannot eat at my bedroom due to my roommate’s restrictions. What’s affected? Among them, my packs of instant noodle. That way, I got to learn (the hard way) on how not to underestimate roommate(s)’ preferences since my habits need to comply with his preferences as well.

What’s the point of having a sizable stock of food only to be unable to eat it?
What’s the point of having a sizable stock of food only to be unable to eat it?
  • Not knowing about classes you’re taking (or you want to take)

When you got the chance to study overseas (mainly in most universities and courses), you’re given the opportunity to build your own schedules. This gets interesting as even though it may simply look like cramming as many classes into a 5 (or 4)-days of class per teaching week, there’s a finer art on choosing classes.

Elvira, one of my colleagues on a coursework project, told me that she felt she should have asked others (especially full-time students as she was an exchange student in NTU) about the classes. That’s a great point to take note for full-time students as well because despite having the same amount of academic units (or weightage towards GPA), different classes may have different grading percentages. Let’s take a peek on the grading schemes for some of my classes for this semester:

Course code AUs Coursework project Coursework others Final exam
CZ3004 4 100% 0% 0%
CZ4032 3 50% 0% 50%
CE3005 3 0% 30% 70%
CZ4003 3 0% 40% 60%

Confused with the course codes? Here are where the coursework marks coming from for each course:

  • CZ3004: Working in a group of around 8 to make a robot system that can explore, find the fastest route, and conduct the fastest run in a maze in a closed environment.
  • CZ4032: Working in a group of up to 6 to perform KDD (knowledge discovery from data) using real-world data and tools such as Matlab / Weka.
  • CE3005: Finish a series of lab deliverable on computer networks, which should be able to be done within the lab session.
  • CZ4003: Finish two lab projects on image processing using Matlab, to be done in free time (no dedicated lab time) and delivered at the end of semester.

With such variances in terms of workload during the semester, it’s important that you get to know more about what will you do for your classes. Having too many heavy projects at any given time may be a bit of challenge for some of us, and so does having electives you barely have any interest in, too many exam-heavy courses, or too many exams on a short period of time, so choose your classes carefully. Let’s just say it’s a bit of art for now.

Now that I’ll have 5 final exams in a week, it’s not the best time to faint.
Now that I’ll have 5 final exams in a week, it’s not the best time to faint.
  • Burning pocket to enjoy a lot of stuffs vs living a boring life to save stipend: which one you’ll pick?

For most of us, chances are we have a finite amount of stipend we can use to sustain ourselves overseas. There are a lot of expensive yet seemingly fun stuffs we can get such as clubbing accompanied with many rounds of Krug or spending days on theme parks (supposedly the most fun way to part with our stipend, I guess) 💸, while there are also some cheap, boring stuffs we sometimes have to endure such as having our daily commute on cramped (but already paid for with our tuition fee) internal shuttle buses instead of taxi. Which one should we choose?

There are actually a lot of things we can actually do to make overseas study less burdening yet still not missing too much of fun. Sure, those rounds of Krug are better enjoyed sober after you’ve reached a quite important moment, but there are things that are also nice to do without the hefty tab. From the orchestra ticket for students in London and Brighton starting from £4 / US$5.5 (or from S$10.5 / US$8 in Singapore; info on £4 ticket courtesy of Josefhine from her article on living cheap in London), free (or reasonably priced) tickets to museums, or even a simple picnic (meal not included) at the park, there’s less reason for you to stay bored due to financial constraints.

Why bother exchanging this with a glass of Krug when it can serve as our lifeline for several days (or even weeks) overseas?
Why bother exchanging this with a glass of Krug when it can serve as our lifeline for several days (or even weeks) overseas?

Bonus: A lot of us want to live overseas on a budget, and I’m hearing your thoughts. I’ve made an article just for you to help you stay in the black till your next stipend arrives. Check it out here.

Now that you’re armed with (hopefully) a lot of tips on how to and not to start your overseas study, enjoy your overseas study experience! Remember: you only die once. 😜

 

I can’t read minds, but at least I can recommend some great articles for you:
  • Scared of being homesick (or even already start feeling homesick)? Find out how to manage your homesickness here: http://bit.ly/29QLMyK
  • What should I do after I’ve arrived? Josefhine made a great list on post-arrival activities in UK (but should be pretty common elsewhere as well): http://bit.ly/2bNCXb3

Featured image is taken from here.

All other photos are taken by me and are free to use by attributing the author except otherwise stated.

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Eric Valega Prawirodidjojo
Hailing from Madiun, Eric is currently a third year computer science student at Nanyang Technological University on an internship at a leading semiconductor company. His interests on community service brings him to be an English teacher on winter 2014 in Cambodia as well as a certified first aider in Singapore. When he doesn't work on his coursework or community service, he works on his personal project on applying machine learning, travels around Singapore as well as overseas, listens to classical choral musics, and reads on personal development as well as on airports and airlines. He can be contacted at ericvalegap@gmail.com