8 things I wish I knew before studying abroad/things I learnt along the way…

Elsa Li studied abroad at the University of Hong Kong as part of her Geography degree. Since her return to Queen Mary (Elsa is now completing her final year of studies with us), she reflects on some of the things she wishes she had known before studying abroad in the hope of helping you as you embark upon your own study abroad adventure.

  1. You have to adapt to the environment relatively quickly
    I would advise arriving at your destination a couple weeks before your term starts, if you can, to get used to the new environment. Although I had been to Hong Kong several times before to see my extended family, adapting to student life was completely different and definitely took some getting used to. Adapting to the environment and new lifestyle relatively quickly will also allow you to have more time to fully embrace and experience your time abroad especially if you’re only there for a couple of months.
  2. You actually have to study
    Most people see studying abroad as an opportunity to travel to nearby places, however as I went in my second year of study it meant that my credits and results abroad contributed towards my final degree grade – so there was added pressure! I had to take an extra module at HKU compared to if I had studied back home at QMUL. Marking standards and expectations were different and it was hard at times to know how assignments and exams would be graded. Luckily, I still got to explore Hong Kong and travel to nearby countries, but it did mean I had to be organised and plan ahead so that I wouldn’t fall behind with assignments.
  3. Being an international student
    Meeting lots of people from different countries and backgrounds was one of my highlights from studying abroad. You start to realise that you actually have more similarities than differences despite having different upbringings and backgrounds. Time zone differences will be a challenge especially when you return home and want to stay in touch with all the other study abroad students from various countries. The sad reality is that you may never see your study abroad friends altogether in the same place again especially when they’re from all across the world – so enjoy your time with them whilst you can!
  4. Pack minimal
    Pack light to your destination as you will end up bringing back a lot of goodies/random things! When you prepare to pack and return home you soon realise how much stuff you’ve actually accumulated over the 6 months. I would recommend bringing clothes that are easy to mix and match and to only bring the absolute essentials! None of the “maybe I’ll need this or that…” nonsense!
  5. You will most likely want to live abroad again
    When you return from your study abroad and settle back into home life, you’ll soon realise how much you miss being in a foreign environment with different cultures and lifestyles. There is something so rewarding and eye-opening about experiencing a city like a local rather than from a visitor’s perspective.
  6. #FOMO
    Life back home doesn’t pause, so you may feel out of the loop when you go back home. There were definitely moments I saw on social media where I wished I was back home with my friends experiencing the same thing BUT you’ve got to remember that you are creating amazing memories too – just elsewhere!
  7. Overestimate your spending costs
    Budgeting can be a lot harder when you are abroad especially when you’re not entirely sure how much things will cost – so definitely do your research! I recommend overestimating your spending costs slightly, especially if you may want to spontaneously travel to nearby countries when you see an offer or need extra cash if an emergency does arise (e.g. booking last minute or changing flights back home).
  8. Your experience is up to you
    Be open to opportunities, especially things you wouldn’t get to do back home (e.g. hiking in Hong Kong whilst overlooking the city’s skyline – definitely won’t get that in London)! Your experience abroad is what you make of it so why not push yourself out of your comfort zone and MAKE THE MOST OF IT! There may be challenges along the way but when you look back on it, you’ll realise how much you’ve grown as a person! Although you may only be there for a short amount of time, definitely try to get plugged in with a community!

Hope these few tips based off of my experience have helped you feel more prepared for your study abroad! Most importantly…have fun and enjoy yourself!

If you’d like to be put in touch with Global Opportunities Ambassador, Elsa Li, please contact Study Abroad Manager, Jess Tan (jessica.tan@qmul.ac.uk)!

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