Studying in a foreign land seems so great at first glance; it is almost like a grand adventure. You picture yourself hanging out with cool people, partying, going to places and learning new things, but perhaps studying abroad is not for everyone. Here are some of the issues you may want to consider before applying to any foreign university:
You have to re-build your mojo
I won`t lie to you: living alone in a foreign country is challenging – at first even scary. If you were street smart in SA, it does not guarantee that you will immediately be the same in a foreign environment. Abroad things are done differently; you have to figure out a lot of stuff for yourself, including which shops are the cheapest, how to get a SIM card and so on. You will probably buy a few foods you don`t like `cause they are gross or taste weird, until you figure out the different tastes and flavours of the given country. Getting around can also be a challenge at first, and while most European countries have an extensive public transport system, it also takes time to learn and understand the structure of the different transport networks. You will likely get lost a few times too, and then you won`t anymore. This whole process can be exhausting at times, but with a good support structure from your fellow local and international students, you can get your groove back fast.
The sussing game
Arriving in a foreign country, you will see that the faces change and feel …well, foreign. Expression, gestures, tone of voice, accent – they can all feel strange at first, and if you do not speak the local language, it can lead to misreading intentions.
And then there is the other side of the coin, where you will also seem different to the local people, and they will too observe you with the same curiosity as you observe them. I think that the meeting of different cultures usually begins with sussing the other person out, and that is super normal. However, I believe this aspect of living abroad has mellowed a lot because of global mobility and because people, cultures, faces have mingled so much over the past decades.
If you are generally freaked out by people approaching you, striking up a conversation and being interested in your culture, maybe even asking you stupid questions occasionally, then you might want to work on that before going abroad.
Weather or not.
Ahhh, the weather. Let`s be honest here: there are very few countries in the world that have better weather than South Africa. Period.
Now, with this in mind, you may need to consider that going abroad means adjusting to sometimes very different weather conditions. For example, if you are eyeing Hungary, you have to know, that there is no way that you can walk around outside in your T-shirt on a winter day, like in SA. No-way! Temperatures get COLD in winter, the air is fresh and crisp and there is a strong chance of snow every year. This is true for most of Europe. However, we have top notch insulation technology and amazing heating systems, so if you are not outdoors, you will never be cold. Most SA coats and winter boots will not cut it for Europe – don`t say you have not been warned. So, if you are sensitive to the weather it is also a point to ponder when looking for places to study abroad, as most countries have very different climatic features to SA.
Do you speak-uh my language?
Language. Hmmm….yes. Always comes up in the Q&A sessions. Can you get by in a foreign country if you do not speak the language? The answer: it depends. In some countries, like Hungary, the number of tourists, foreign workers and international students has brought about a big change in the local population and most city dwellers have now learned at least one foreign language to a basic level; usually English, German or French. Students of all ages are mostly fluent in at least one foreign language. This of course does not apply to small villages and towns, which are seldom frequented by non-Hungarians. You will find the same pattern throughout most of Europe, with some exception in the Nordic countries, which – in return for their brutally cold weather – have mastered English at an unbelievable rate throughout the entire population. With regards to the Hungarian language: it is difficult. Not kidding, it is! But you will see that even if you get by with English at the University and university towns in general, at some point you will encounter a local who does not speak a word of English. In their attempt to help, you will find a very illogical phenomena: they will start to speak to you louder in Hungarian, thinking that the volume of their speech kept you from understanding them (weird, right? I would like to hereby apologize for this behaviour in advance on behalf of all Hungarians that don`t speak English). But when all else fails, it is Activity or pantomime time, and believe me, Hungarians are game.
You will find, that even if you are hell bent on not learning Hungarian, words will just automatically stick: words for food, thanks, hi, and a bunch of cuss words too. That is just how it is, it creeps on you.
Miles from home
Last, but not least: I know there are people out there who just don`t function without their friends and family. It is an emotional thing, and I respect that. Being away from them can be hard, for some, even unbearable, but consider this: a phone card with cheap calling rates or mobile communication like Whatsapp and skype can make things that much easier. I have been living in SA for over 6 years now, and whenever I feel like I need to reach out to a friend or a family member, I pick up the phone and see their faces. However, we don’t get to hang out together. If that thought hurts like hell, and you feel that new experiences, travels and new friends cannot make up for it somewhat, then you have to think long and hard whether leaving is the best choice for you at the moment.
Go or stay - both OK
With all of the above, I would like to add a thought: you don’t know how strong you are until you test yourself! While you might feel that all these things that I have mentioned so far have now put you off from studying abroad in a faraway land, don’t forget that people change. Everyone has amazing resources and you only truly realize that when you are in the pushed into the deep end.
Still, it is a tough decision to make: go or stay.
Choose whichever is best for you at the moment.