Tips for Settling into University as an International Student

Making the transition from high school to university can be challenging enough, but doing so abroad introduces additional hurdles, even for those who have experience learning abroad, say in international schools in China, for example. Scared witless you won’t settle in well, won’t make new friends, and will suffer through the pits of newbie-hell? Don’t. Settling into university as an international student is relatively easy – at least it can be if you know what to expect and do all the right things.

Here are some insightful tips that’ll help you do just that.

Research before you move!

If you’re an avid traveler, you will know that Google Map can be your best friend in an unfamiliar place, although most people tend to use it once they are already at their destination. Moving to a university abroad as an international student? Use Google Maps before you ever leave home, and your ‘new’ destination will feel a lot more familiar when you finally arrive. Ditch the map for the street view and satellite versions, and you can get a real feel for the university grounds and all its surrounding areas. Check out the nearest block of shops and pin things like cafés, supermarkets or whatever else takes your fancy.

Get there a little earlier

You may not want to arrive the day before classes start, right? It reasons that if you give yourself plenty of time to settle into a new life abroad before your university course even starts, it’ll make your transition much, much easier.

Don’t assume you ‘know’ a place just because you’ve visited!

Plenty of international students choose universities abroad in cities or countries they have visited as tourists and liked. These are also the same students who do little research on things like culture, history, and lifestyle because they hold the erroneous notion that they ‘know’ the place. But they don’t, not really. Visiting a city or country as a tourist is a totally different ballgame than moving there to study and live. If your chosen university is in a place you have visited, don’t make the same mistake: think of it and research it as if it’s a mystery to you because, in many ways, it will be.

Arrive with open eyes, mind, and taste buds!

If you’re researching tips on how to settle into university as an international student, you’re probably an intrepid go-getter. So don’t forget that! Go out on your own, discover everything about your new home, tick off all the tourist attractions, visit all museums, and eat all the amazing food. There’s a unique level of freedom gained by traveling alone – all of a sudden, you’re doing only what you want, and that can be immensely freeing (and heavenly enjoyable).

Utilize the university’s social planner

No, it’s not dorky to join social clubs at university, especially if you’re coming from abroad! This is, in fact, about the best way to make new friends fast. Organized social groups tend to bring together all students who aren’t locals with locals who specifically wish to help them settle in. It’s a win-win!

Join special-interest groups

Most people will advise you to join every sport and interest group out there when trying to settle into university as an international student, but it may be wiser to stick to special interest groups that, well, interest you. This has two advantages – first, you won’t be stuck doing something you secretly hate just to make friends, and second, you will meet new friends with whom you’ll automatically have something in common. Like that special interest. 

Say ‘yes’ to every invite

This may seem contradictory to the above but here we’re talking about coffee meet-ups, days out hiking, or any other such ‘group’ activity that isn’t necessarily done through an established social group. As an international student who’s brand new to the university, you may just be lucky enough to receive some lovely attention – other students, neighbors, etc will extend hospitality by inviting you to join them for a meal out or an excursion. Always say yes. It’s not just the polite thing to do but also a genial way to meet more people, faster. 

It’ ok to create a ‘home bubble’, at least for a little while

Maybe you’ve never gotten homesick when traveling before, perhaps you think you won’t need those sweet little mementos your mother’s set aside for you to bring. But you most likely will, at least initially. Homesickness is a real plight for an international student trying to settle into a university abroad, so tackle that head-on and you might just avoid it altogether. Bring little pieces of home with you, set aside time for zoom dates with friends and family on the first couple of weekends and you’ll have a much easier time easing into your new life. Next, give yourself a break, at least initially. Settling in will likely take a few months so ease into it and, eventually, you’ll find yourself postponing your zoom calls because you have something exciting planned with new friends. Great!

Once university starts, set about creating a new routine

You probably already realize that having a routine is pretty vital. Not just when it comes to your studies but in general. A life without some kind of routine can quickly become a life without direction so get a diary, pin in your classes, time for exercise, and everything else you need to do and it’ll take the stress out of trying to fit it all in willy-nilly.

Volunteer or find a suitable job

Volunteering abroad is an amazing opportunity to immerse yourself in your new home. Plus, it’ll give you something meaningful to do while you wait for your social calendar to fill up and allow you to meet wonderful new people. If you’d like or need to round off your piggy bank then look for suitable student jobs near or at the university. The extra cash and confidence boost will help you settle in even faster.

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