There is a poem by an Islamic scholar that had inspired me since I was a little girl, here it is in Arabic:
تَغَرَّبْ عَن الأَوْطَانِ في طَلَبِ الْعُلى…وَسَافِرْ فَفِي الأَسْفَارِ خَمْسُ فَوَائِدِ: تَفَرُّجُ هَمٍّ، وَاكْتِسابُ مَعِيشَةٍ، وَعِلْمٌ، وَآدَابٌ، وَصُحْبَةُ مَاجِد
I am going to translate it literally here: “Thou must exile one’s country in seeking the higher aspirations, and thou needs to travel as it has 5 benefits: relief from worry, improving one’s living circumstance, Gaining knowledge, learning how to be courteous, and last but not least finding one’s soulmate or great friend” I cannot agree more with this poem and ever since I heard it, I became inspired and travelled immensely.
Studying abroad is a type of travel, as you are preparing for a journey of finding yourself through studying and gaining knowledge. Also, one is away from the comfort of one’s home and the closeness of mothers, fathers, family, and friends. Studying abroad enriches our lives in many ways, here is a list of these enrichments:
- We learn to be self-dependent, we clean, wash, cook, shop, pay bills, open bank accounts, find friends and most importantly study but all without family intervention. You are on your own, doing what one needs to do to live, you decide your meals, and you buy groceries yourself, or maybe you decide to eat out and neglect your health! I am saying maybe you will do that.
- Joining clubs and societies to learn new things or just be sporty. This endeavour is not hard, every university abroad has many clubs and societies, and if you want to establish one, you can do that too. The clubs and societies can be in sports, cultural, educational, leisure activities, and so on, here is a list of one university’s clubs and societies: Actuarial science, Amnesty, Arab society, Architecture society, Art society, Chess, Women in STEM society and so on, here is a link so you can learn more.
- Knowing your neighbours, this is of utter importance, as you may need that cup of sugar or a piece of bread, you might also visit the neighbour in case they are not feeling well and wash their dishes or look after their pets. I will let you on a little story of mine, I had a neighbour while studying abroad in the 80s, and during the first week of living in that compound I baked cakes for every person that lived in it, just to be hospitable, the only one that sent a note appreciating my cake was my closest neighbour, suffice it to say, I needed a reference letter from her for a project that I was doing, and because I had kept in contact for all those years, she sent the reference letter both to the people that required it and a copy to me. Now that proves the importance of knowing neighbours and staying in contact with them
- knowing your professors, of course, that is so important too, I do not mean here that you would want to know them because they might pass you in the exams, but because it is genuinely great that you can talk to them, maybe invite them for a cup of coffee or send them a gift in their celebrative occasions. I also have the same story in number 4 above applied to the professors, as well as needing one professor to read my thesis prior to submitting it.
- Visiting the sites, in every country, there are art places, museums, historical sites as well as parks and other places of interest. It is not sufficient to be in a place and know only its cafes, you have many coffee shops where you came from, but not many sights that could be as mind-boggling as that hot cup of coffee. Remember that means of transport are immense, you can walk, cycle, or use public transport, avoid spending your precious dollars on taxis as these will make a huge dent in your budget.
- Travelling to nearby countries (finding plane tickets that are cheap first of course), I am not sure if you had calculated the number of holidays you will have while studying, ok, let me blast it out for you, you will have at least 5 months of holidays!! Yes, five months or more. Some of these holidays come in two or three weeks, but the major ones can be a month or two. Thus, if you are studying in Australia, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, the UK, the USA, or any other country, you might need to save some money from your budgeted allowance and travel around. It’s of utmost importance to see other countries while you are already abroad, you merely need a visa and some of your fellow students and there you go. Once you decided which country you will go to on each holiday, research the places that need visiting and the sightseeing too. If you do not think you can afford that, then my advice to you is to do a study abroad year (more about this point below) so you can visit a country and study at the same time. That way you can save on your accommodation as you will be staying at the dormitory.
- Meeting friends for life, I cannot value anything more than the friendships that one makes during studying abroad. I still know those girls and boys that were studying with me and keep in contact with them. There are great things to be gained from having friends, as one never knows what could go wrong while we are abroad.
- Meeting with students from other cultures and getting to know them. Of course, this is not something new, as we all have neighbours and friends who come from different countries but being busy with school and family can prevent us from introducing ourselves to them; however whilst abroad we can do that during recess, group projects, at the university clubs and maybe at parties and gatherings. Of course, the students’ housing can also be a great opportunity to know about other cultures and keep an open mind to what everyone has to offer. The amount of learning and education we will acquire is so immense that it will affect the whole of our lives.
- Learn different languages, I am not going to dwell on this, we all know the importance of learning other languages; there is a saying that “a second language is another human being living inside of us”.
- Living within a budget (even if it’s small), is an important point to ponder upon. Unfortunately, not all of us are fortunate enough to have a great budget, we all need to fend for ourselves and live our lives according to our means. Let’s wait for the job that will make us buy that LV bag and Ferrari car, but for now, there are umpteen places that one can shop at within a budget. I mean the groceries, the clothes, and the books even. Your fruits and veggies can be obtained from the Sunday market, and even your books, as there are always sales of books in markets. Hunt for those markets as they can save you a fortune.
- To experience life out of your comfort zone, that is if you have a comfort zone. Life is so great that one can obtain happy memories wherever one goes. Try to be that person who is willing to make a change and takes the lead. We cannot say “oh that thing doesn’t suit me” everything can suit you if you are willing to try it out.
- Independence is a trait, and you must think about it all the time and try to attain it. You are on your own, there are no mummies and daddies that are going to save you if you get into mischief, you must own up to your independence and live a life that will make your parents trust you and be proud of you. Being on your own doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you fancy, but whatever all the situations lend themselves to. Independence is equal to responsibility and without being responsible for your life and the life of others, one cannot be independent.
- Intercultural communication, here is the crunch of being abroad, you will meet over 200 nationalities who are different in colour, race, religion, and habits. You need to communicate and learn from them and remember we are not being abroad to only engage with our own kind, we need to mix and learn from others. Otherwise, you are bound to be lonely and maybe suffer.
- Gain exposure, this is so important. One needs to expose his or her intelligence, creativity, artistic side, care, and maybe vulnerability. Show whatever inside you to the world, as you are on your own and you need to be very creative in exposing yourself to all the situations. Try to be known, so if in case you go missing, others will try to find you.
- Research with the professors; here is an important point, there are always paid and unpaid jobs at all the universities such as invigilating exams and tutoring; on top of that most of the professors are involved in research and you can help them with the statistical work or finding other research papers that match or contradict what they are writing about. Your involvement here is important and will gain you many benefits when you do your own thesis.
- Taking advantage of placement opportunities; all universities will receive requests from companies for certain projects, if you are clever and made yourself known in your field, you can be sent to those companies and that would gain you both experience and recognition. At times these placements are not paid, but many times they can have a return that will help you in your life.
- Study degrees that are not available in your home country, of course, you would have done a soul-searching exercise of what matches your abilities prior to studying abroad, and if you can find that major at home, why not? do it at home and do your master’s/PHD overseas. However, one needs to do majors that are not available at home so one can stand out.
- Learn a new skill, even though you are studying at a university, you can still learn a skill in the evening or the weekend or even during the semester breaks. One can do music, gardening, fine art, sculpturing, glass making, bread making, cake making, dressmaking, carpentry, electrical work etc. There are thousands of skills that one can learn abroad, this can be attained by joining the university societies or an evening/weekend school or by joining a specialised class in the community centre.
- Gain international friends; these friends can be found at your dorms, at your classrooms, in the market, while relaxing at the cafeteria or basically anywhere. When you have friends from different parts of the world, guess what is going to happen? You can visit their countries and learn from them their culture. It is not enough to travel for a degree! The peripheral of studying abroad is as important. A “four years” spent overseas can provide you with friends for life.
- Learn how to do things on your own; you need to know some things prior to travelling abroad, like making your morning breakfast and maybe cooking your rice. But there are other things that you need to know. Spend your last year of school with your mother and father and learn from them. Cooking, buying groceries, repairing a faulty light, paying the bills, opening and managing a bank account are only some of the things that one needs to learn before one embarks on his or her journey; find out all the details. I need to let you on a little story here, I spent an hour explaining to my son (who was studying in New Zealand) how to make white rice on the phone!! Guess how expensive that rice was.
- Learn how to cook, there is a saying by the Americans that I really like “a girl got to eat” and eating we must do, but we do not need to be dependent on the university cafeteria, as we all miss home-cooked food (at least I do), plus it is way cheaper to make your own food and somehow it’s more satisfying to do that. Cooking your basic meals is not hard, and who knows? You could be having two professions when you return home.
- Manage your own finance, always have a spreadsheet of how much your budget is and what your expenses are going to be for the month. You do not need to deprive yourself of that pretty cake that you see at your local café, but if you are going to have it, then you need to forfeit something else. Also, you do not need to avoid going shopping, set yourself a monthly budget for clothes and so on, but have most of your shopping done during the sales time (mainly on boxing day or after Easter)
- Do the laundry; I cannot force this point enough. You can find yourself without those important socks or pairs of jeans. Do this religiously, it’s as important as going to your lectures, without them you can miss out on the lectures or go out with your friends.
- Networking, I do not mean talking or chitchatting with your friends and fellow students, I mean going to other departments and listening to talks and lectures as well as staying afterwards to speak with the students or the professors of those departments. There are always important events happening around the university, and you can benefit from attending them in both knowledge and networking.
- Internships can be a university requirement or can be something that you would do just for the experience, or it can be to satisfy a class requirement. Most of the time the internship is unpaid, however, sometimes one can receive a lump sum at the end of the internship and maybe travel and food allowance. One can find these internships on the university websites or ask the various departments if they are offering them.
- Volunteering is also as crucial as studying; it keeps you busy, it provides you with a support system that you need as you are on your own, and at the same time you are helping. Imagine that CV of yours when you say that you had gone to China to help the handicapped or you went to Africa to teach the children? Your value is going to jump up many notches. Remember that whatever you do is going to help you first and then will help others, it will ground you and make you appreciate your life. The privileges that we have can be paid back to the community by just a few hours of looking after an old age woman or a man.
- Be your country’s ambassador; remember that the first question you will be asked when you are abroad is “where are you from?” you can say where you are from, but you need to ponder on the question. “I am going to prove that I deserve to be from that country by being honest, sincere, hardworking, intelligent, fun to be with, non-discriminative and so on”.
- Joining a study abroad programme, these programmes are offered in every university but sometimes the university must have a list of associated universities abroad, so if you do not think you can afford to travel during your holidays, then my advice to you is to do a study abroad year; you can visit a country and study at the same time. That way you can save on your accommodation as you will be staying at the dormitory. Remember that you will pay the fees of your original university and can go to a very expensive university for the study abroad year.
- Training in your field of study; is applied to every study major you are into. It doesn’t matter where you work, it’s so important that you train in your field in that country and gain that little bit of experience prior to heading back home. The good thing is, you will have that training on your CV, and no employer will have the opportunity to say that you are not trained in your field and hence cannot accept you.
- Finding a job, apart from the training you can also try to find a job in that country, as that will help provide you with a huge bonus when the time comes and you decide to return home and settle, you might find a job straight away as you have already done the training, internship and or the placement. Maybe even the same company you had trained in will take you if a job opens. Remember that you can earn more money if you decide to work abroad as well as receive more experience. Also, if you are in the medical field, a job at a hospital will bring you closer to your specialisation.
The above list is not meant to be mutually exclusive, there might be many other reasons which I had missed mentioning here, but you can do so by commenting on this post.