• Ara Rodriguez •
After getting over the jet lag and adapting to the new time zone you’re now in, the first thing that will probably hit you is the realisation that you’re no longer ‘among your own.’ You’re alone now, in a strange land, surrounded by people whose customs and practices possibly differ dramatically from those you’re used to. Rather than feel completely lost and helpless about your situation, it helps to know what to expect.
Hostility towards foreigners, racism, discrimination and other forms of prejudice are not uncommon. While globalisation and education have helped eliminate such feelings somewhat, there will always be small-minded people everywhere you go, making you feel unwelcome and out of place in their country.
So what can you do to alleviate such problems if you encounter them? Remember the saying, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do?’ This is a good tactic to apply here.
Speak Like One Of ‘Em
If you are in a country where English is the language most commonly spoken, try to adopt the accent locals use, instead of the ‘Singapore accent,’ as it is not only not understood by some locals but also makes you stand out like a sore thumb in conversations. Watch your vocabulary too, as certain English words can mean entirely different things depending on the culture and context.
If you are required to learn a new language in order to communicate with people in your host country, try to use it at all times. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes; people understand that you try and are usually very amiable about that. Nothing beats picking up a language in its native land, and the locals will feel flattered that you are making an attempt to ‘talk their talk.’
Know Your Etiquette
Every country has its own unique set of dos and don’ts, and if you haven’t already found out what they are, make sure you do so quickly! It’s all too easy to do something that might seem like second nature to you but which the locals find offensive.
In Japan, for instance, it is considered rude to count your change after making a purchase. Food eaten anywhere other than a canteen or some other eating place is also generally considered to be unacceptable. In England, politeness, reserve, and restraint are qualities the British pride themselves on, therefore shouting or talking loudly in public and using excessive, demonstrative hand gestures while speaking are generally frowned upon.
To avoid saying or doing something that might result in you getting fiercely glared at, be observant and study locals’ behaviour and mannerisms carefully, and if in doubt, ask.
Don’t worry too much about the treatment you’ll get from locals though. Most people’s experiences abroad are largely pleasant, and many would testify that the majority of folks treat them well – better than how they treat other locals even! Make a conscious effort to blend in and be a part of the local community, and you should do just fine.
Surrounded by family and friends most of the time, it can be emotionally daunting to suddenly find yourself alone and in a foreign land. During stressful periods in particular, the sense of loneliness and isolation can become quite unbearable and start to take a toll on your mental and physical health.
So what can you do to cope?
Get To Know Everybody Around You
Having settled in comfortably to your new surroundings and environment, make use of every opportunity you have to talk to people you meet or encounter daily and get to know them better. Be it your professor or tutorial mate from school, the lunch lady, the convenience store assistant down the road, even the janitor! Find out more about them and make them your ‘regulars’ – people you interact with on a regular basis – even if it’s just to say ‘hi.’ This helps dispel the notion that you are alone, without friends, in a land full of strangers.
Of course, while there’s always your roommate (if you have one) as the most obvious person to befriend, he or she can’t always be there for you. Make sure you have at least several numbers in your phonebook to call, or a few places you can hang out where people know you and you can chat them up readily.
It is also quite likely that there are people, despite your best efforts, who make you lose confidence and your life miserable by their destructive criticisms and negative comments. Just stay away from them.
As a university student, many avenues are open to you to make meaningful use of the time on your hands. Go and participate in student organisations, community service programmes, recreation clubs, study groups and more. These activities involve other people, and are opportunities for you to make friends and socialise. In fact most oversea graduates find that these CCAs are the most memorable part of their university days.
While examinations are important, one should not be overly examination-conscious. What is more crucial is to develop a passion for the subject matter, think through issues, raise questions and discuss with your lecturers and coursemates.
Many of us have lived with our parents for most of our lives. Surviving abroad on your own takes guts, a lot of planning, and of course, hard work.
You now have to do your own laundry, cook your own meals (don’t even imagine you can survive several years on instant noodles alone!), budget your own spending, and pay your own bills! For those of you who have always been very dependent on others to do these things for you, the transition from zero responsibility to a hundred percent can be too much to handle.
Here are some things you can do before and during your overseas stay to make your life easier.
Bring All You Need
Before embarking on your journey overseas, double-check your luggage. Have you got all the things you need in there? What are the things you will use, from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night? Some essential gadgets I will list here are: laptop (with your program disks), portable harddisk, camera, travel adaptor and rice cooker. The latter can also be a multi-purpose cooker. And your mobile phone with all the necessary apps, do I need to mention?
Draw Up Schedules And Lists
With so many things to keep track of once you’ve settled in, it’s a good idea to be very organised. Things that need to be done can be placed on your ‘to do’ list, which can be sorted by category.
Devise ways and means, then, of systematically completing the tasks on your list so as not to waste time. For instance, while you’re waiting for the pasta to cook you could get some ironing done.
Budget Your Spending
With limited funds available, it is wise to keep track of your expenditure and devise a personal budget so as not to overspend and end up having to eat cup noodles for the rest of your stay abroad!
At the end of each day, record your expenses. Take note of expensive items and see if there is any way you can get them at a cheaper rate, if not avoid buying them at all.
Stock Up On Food
A hungry mind can never function, so be sure there’s always an emergency supply of food in your residence for times when you need a quick snack to perk yourself up or when you don’t have time to cook or eat out.
Biscuits, instant noodles and dried or preserved fruits can usually be kept for quite some time, so these are ideal if you don’t see yourself requiring a bite anytime soon. Frozen food and bread (which can be frozen too) can also last, though preparation may be slightly more of a hassle.
Know Your Neighbours
In a small country like Singapore with medical help just minutes away, you can well afford not to know your neighbour, as long as you have a phone.
In larger countries, the situation is different. Living in the outskirts of town or the suburbs, help could take a long time to arrive. And it is generally not a good idea to venture out alone at night, especially in urban cities, unless you feel like tempting crime. Get to know those who live near or around you, for in times of need, they’ll be the ones to turn to.
Studying overseas may sound like a huge challenge, but its rewards are plentiful. You not only get to spend the best years of your life in a new land, meeting new people, learning and having fun, you also come out of the experience a wiser, more mature and resilient individual.
Prepare yourself well for your stay abroad, and you’ll definitely remember it as one of the best times you’ve ever had!