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Studying abroad For Australian students going overseas, living in a new culture as part of a Study Abroad or Exchange Program can be both exciting and frustrating, as well as provide opportunities and challenges. People go through various phases of adjustment when they move from one culture to another. This resource provides you with information and strategies to understand and manage your experience in a successful way. Mental preparation You may have mixed feelings about embarking on your new experience. On the one hand, you may feel apprehensive about leaving behind familiarity and stepping into the unknown, while on the other, you may feel excited about starting a new part of your life. You can prepare yourself for the experience by considering the following questions: Why have I decided to study overseas? What do I expect to gain from overseas study What are my goals? What are some of the difficulties I might face? Keeping in mind your goals and expectations of overseas study will be useful when you face challenges in your new environment. Practical matters In addition to the mental preparation, there are some important practical preparation you need to consider and complete before you leave. 1. Organise your study program and enrol prior to leaving Australia Talk with your Program Director to determine the criteria for your course choices. Talk to the UniSA International Exchanges Coordinator. Contact your host university to get information about courses and enrolment procedures. Give yourself plenty of time to organize this. Sometimes there are variations in the schedule and you may need to adjust your study program on arrival. 2. Arrive early in your host country Give yourself at least two weeks before study period starts so that you have time to settle in. Make sure you arrive in time to attend any orientation program provided by your host university. 3. Organize your passport, visa and tickets Plan your departure dates and book your flights. Check that your ticket includes departure tax. Your travel agent will be able to assist you. Remember that it can take many weeks to organize a visa so you need to begin this organization early (try not to arrive on a public holiday as it is difficult to find a taxi or public transport). Notify anyone meeting you when you will arrive. It is good idea to make copy of all your travel documents, including your passport, in case they are stolen or you lose them. 4. Check out weather conditions You will need to bring or plan to buy appropriate clothing. 5. Organise accommodation It is preferable to organise short-term accommodation before you leave so that you know where you are going to stay when you arrive. Check with your host university about accommodation options and how to organize it. Do not rush and rent the first place you find. Read the rental contract carefully. 6. Think about on-arrival transport Check whether your host university offers an on-arrival pick up service. If not, you will need to find out about the local transport and have local money to pay for it. 7. Check out how to get to get to your home campus Once you have arranged your accommodation, contact your host institution for details about transport options to and from your accommodation. Have an idea of how much a taxi drive will cost. Do not assume that public transport will be readily accessible – find out! 8. Check out customs and quarantine regulations Your travel agent may be able to provide the information you need or you can find it on the internet. 9. Estimate costs Apart from the fees associated with studying at your host institution you will need money for accommodation, food, entertainment, utilities, textbooks, insurance, travel, etc. Depending on your accommodation you may need to buy basic furniture and utensils (check for second-hand shops). Do not forget to check the exchange rates and cost of living in your host country so you have a realistic idea of how much money you will need. 10. Organise insurance Check what your host institution requires and make sure that the insurance you take out covers everything, including health and travel, otherwise you may have to take out more when you arrive. 11. Arrange health checkups Check ups with your doctor, dentist and optician may be necessary for your visa and may be cheaper in Australia. You should see a travel doctor at least a month before you leave Australia to get appropriate vaccinations. What to take Information on previous studies (if applying for status or credit) and/or academic transcripts A character reference from an official such as a lecturer or landlord (to help you apply for long-term accommodation) Identification such as a driving licence or credit card (to help you open a bank account) Local currency - have at least the local currency equivalent of AUD$2,000 available to you on arrival in your host country (approximately AUD$500 in cash and AUD$1,500 in travellers’ cheques or ATM access) Bank account statements (landlords or agents may want proof of your financial situation) Contact details of the Australian Embassy or High Commission in your host country Host institution's contact number - your host institution’s emergency contact number for international students, in case you need it after landing in your host country International driving licence if you want to drive in your host country Medical records - important medical records (eg: if you have an ongoing medical condition and /or disability) Medication - if you take medication for an illness or condition, you may need to bring a supply with you as it may not be readily available in your host country. You may need a certificate from your doctor stating that the drugs have been prescribed. Check with immigration authorities, as you may have to declare any medicines you take Spare spectacles/contact lenses Radio/CD player, camera, calculator Bilingual dictionary Appropriate clothing Travel arrangements Weight and size of baggage - the regulations can vary from country to country and by carrier. Check with your airline for specific regulations on the weight and size of suitcases, excess baggage, airfreight and costs. If you are not checking your baggage through to your ultimate destination be sure to ask what the baggage regulations are for your intermediate stops. Airport requirements - check your required time of arrival at the airport before departure. Arrange transportation for you and your luggage to the airport. Itinerary - leave your itinerary with family and/or friends. If possible leave behind a contact number in case of an emergency. Before you leave When leaving a country it is important to make appropriate arrangements concerning your accommodation and personal finances. The following checklist may help you to do this: 1. Bills All bills for household services rent, etc. Advise suppliers of the date you will be leaving. Arrange disconnection and final payments of services if appropriate e.g. gas, phone and electricity. 2. Accommodation Make the necessary arrangements for leaving your accommodation. This may include preparing your house/unit for an inspection by the landlord, arranging return of your keys and requesting the refund of your bond. 3. Mail Arrange for mail to be forwarded to you. 4. Tax If you have been working, you should lodge a tax return with the taxation office prior to your departure. 5. Health Cover Finalise any outstanding medical claims. 6. Friends Call and visit friends before you leave. Arriving in your host country The emotion associated with leaving home and the initial excitement of travelling can be exhausting. As you may be tired and everything is new, your initial impressions of your surroundings may be confusing. Even if you are shown around by someone who knows the area, you are likely to forget the details. It will take some time for you to become familiar with your new environment. This is normal. If you have arranged only short term accommodation before you arrived, you will need to look for longer-term accommodation within a few weeks of your arrival. Find out what accommodation services are provided by your host institution. It is important that you arrive at the university in time for any orientation program run by your host institution. This is an opportunity to meet other new and current students, become familiar with the institution and be given advice on how to do certain things, like managing your budget and using public transport. Finding out about your new environment Attend the orientation program Talk to other people about what they have done to feel at home. New and current students and staff will be very happy to offer advice. Most local people will be happy to help you with directions as well. Ask lots of questions! Explore the city - try out the public transport. Ask someone how the ticketing system works. Walk around during the day to see where things are. Don’t be afraid to ask a fellow student to go with you Eat well and get enough sleep Adjusting to a new environment As the excitement of setting out on this new adventure wears off and you are faced with the constant challenges of daily living and studying in a new culture, you may find that you become more aware of the differences from your home country and miss the familiarity of home. The initial excitement can turn to frustration and anxiety as you struggle to adjust to your new environment. You may be experiencing what is often referred to as ‘culture shock’. Culture shock does not always happen quickly or have one single cause. It usually accumulates gradually from a series of events and experiences that constantly challenge your basic values and beliefs about what is ‘right’. Many things in your home environment that you took for granted may be different. Sights, sounds and smells are no longer familiar. The food tastes different and it can be a challenge to find food that you enjoy eating. There are cultural differences in the way people interact and spend their time. You may be uncertain about how to deal with some everyday situations, because you do not understand what is expected of you. You may have difficulty understanding the language because people’s accents are unfamiliar and they speak too quickly. Study may be challenging because the expectations are different and you may not feel comfortable talking with your lecturers in the way that other students do. Your family and friends are far away and it may not be easy to contact them when you need to. You may not know who else you can talk to. Coping with these changes can be exhausting. It is important to deal with both the underlying causes and the effects of this culture shock. You can address the underlying causes of the culture shock by using the following strategies. Strategies for adjusting to a new culture Adjusting to a new culture takes time and you will need to have patience. The following strategies can help you to adjust to the new culture: Keep in touch with family and friends by writing email, letters or talking on the phone Keep a diary or journal of your experiences - write down what you think and feel about what is happening to you. You can use this to demonstrate your progress and to reflect upon your experiences and learn from them Get plenty of exercise Give yourself time before making any decisions See the positive side of your new experience Look for similarities between your culture and the new culture Do some familiar activities, especially those you like Get involved in an activity that will help you meet people and to make new friends – your student association or guild may be able to help by giving information about the clubs, societies and other social activities available Join an association/club of your interest Keep in contact with the people you meet during orientation Use the local language as much as possible; read the local newspaper and watch television; the more you use the language the more you will improve Find out what the support services at the host institution can do for you and use them Make sure you set small goals that you can achieve every day Observe what others do in the same situation and reflect on why they do it that way; talk to them so you can improve your understanding Ask questions when you are unsure what to do or what is expected of you Try not to make judgements about others when they do things differently from what you are used to; remember they are only different, not right or wrong As time passes you will become more familiar with your new culture and find it easier to interpret the subtle cultural cues. You will feel more confident, develop new friends and manage social and professional interactions more comfortably. Your study will be more effective and you will gain a sense of really benefiting from the experience. Some students get to this phase quite quickly but for some it takes longer. If you continue to experience physical or emotional responses which are difficult to manage you may be experiencing 'culture shock'. It is then important for you to see a health practitioner or seek advice from support services within the host institution. Find out what the host institution provides for international students and how to access these services. One of the particular effects of culture shock is homesickness. Remember that most people go through a phase of feeling homesick and that these feelings will pass. Homesickness may occur soon after you arrive or it may take you by surprise later in the study period . Continuing to use the strategies above will help you to become more familiar with your new environment and to develop new friends. The happier you are in your new culture, the less you will think about home and the feelings of homesickness will gradually ease. Returning home As your Study Abroad or Exchange experience draws to a close it will be important to prepare yourself for the transition back into your home culture. Use your experience to reflect on the cultural, social, language and educational adjustments you will need to make as you pick up the threads of your life in Australia. Remember that Australia may now seem a strange place to you. There are many practical issues to deal with before you join your return flight, such as: Paying any monies due to the host institution so that your transcript can be released Organising several copies of your academic transcript Returning all library books and host institution equipment, including keys Best wishes with your Study Abroad or Exchange experience! If you require further assistance, please make an appointment with a counsellor in the Learning and Teaching Unit on your campus.
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