A realistic picture of an abroad study as an international student
A Brief About Myself
5am swimming, 8am school, 5pm swimming, 9pm homework and repeat. This was my schedule for over ten years of my life. That’s generally the life of any committed sports person. However one day came, I just completed my 8th standard, when this schedule had to be deliberately altered to switch my primary focus to academics. My achievements in extracurriculars were generally considered to be commendable, especially after achieving the status of a national medalist, while my basics in academics were clearly lacking. So there I was making my first big conscious move- an 8th pass day scholar student switching from CBSE to the IGCSE and IB syllabi at a boarding school in Bangalore to begin my academic journey more seriously than ever before. Going abroad was pretty much my top option when my family and I decided on this move. I wanted my extracurricular achievements to be recognized and I wanted a well rounded experience which led to the decision to study abroad.
Fast forward all the hard work put in in the four years of high school, I ended up at another cross road where I had to make a decision on where to apply for university (or college) and more importantly which college should I accept? Being the first person in my family to ever consider an abroad study, most support and advice came from teachers and mentors. Preparing for the SAT examination, writing essays for college applications and sending in my applications was a very tedious process overall. To make it a little easier on you, I’m sharing some of my experiences with you. I’ll also be telling you some things that I wish someone told me when I was going through the college application phase.
Breaking the Bubble
Being a 12th standard student who has to juggle through multiple tasks throughout that final year of school can be very stressful and draining both physically and mentally. Constantly having to meet deadlines, completing board exams successfully and mentally preparing for a new chapter are just some of the big things on the list. Just remind yourself constantly that you are not in this alone.
From my experience, a big thing to know about an abroad study is that it will break your bubble in every possible way. What this means is that you will completely stand out of your comfort zone and the next couple of years will be a big learning curve. The first emotional rush, which made me minorly realize the impact of my decision to move abroad for college, hit me when I was boarding my flight. I realized that I was leaving the place that I called home for my entire life, travelling to a place where I knew no body to build a life for myself by myself.
Sounds overwhelming? Just think about how great you’d feel if you make your dream a reality in the near future.
Making the Decision
It’s very important for one to make the right decision about the university (or college) one wants to attend and therefore, where one applies should also be planned in a structured manner. In my case, I first picked two academic fields of my interest, shortlisted a few countries and then picked universities to apply to in those respective countries. Staying realistic and being true to yourself is critical in the process of picking the right universities that you want to apply. Make sure you do your full research, attend some information sessions if possible and reach out to the admission officers with your questions through email. Ensure you take notes when you’re doing your research.
Some things to focus on while researching include:
- Admission requirements to get into the university i.e. GPA, SAT Score requirements (or other test scores as applicable depending on the country the university is located in), TOEFL requirements, Prerequisites for your chosen field of study, etc.
- Job Opportunities for undergraduates at the country and area of the University you are applying.
- Finances including average tuition fees, housing costs, meal plans, etc. You may also look into financial aid options by connecting with the respective university. Scholarships are offered at most universities at various amounts, some of which may even cover full tuition fees. The University of British Columbia in Vancouver (which I attended as an undergrad) offers great scholarships including International Leader of Tomorrow (ILOT), Outstanding International Student Awards and many more ranging from general university scholarships to faculty level scholarships. Please note that scholarships and financial aid procedures vary depending on the university. The university website and admissions office would be the best sources to get accurate information to plan your finances ahead of time. Also note that international tuition fees and domestic tuition fees are completely different. In most cases, an applicant that is not a Permanent Resident or Citizen of a certain country must pay international tuition fees. International tuition fees, on average in Canada, would range from $30,000 to $40,000 CAD. Specific to UBC, there have been recent increments made to international tuition fee. On the other hand, in USA, the average international tuition fees could range between $45,000 to $60,000 USD. Tuition fees could also vary depending on the university and on the faculty in a certain university.
- Alma Mater Societies. Make sure you look into the clubs and organizations present at the university.
- Safety of the place and news about the university campus.
- Night life.
The point of your research is to have a basic understanding about the general culture of the university and see how you ‘fit’ into that culture. The ‘fit’ is one of the most important aspects in shortlisting your universities. Believe me when I say this- the ‘fit’ is more important as the ranking of the university for your field. Remember that you will spend approximately four crucial years of your life at one of these universities.
The next thing to consider after researching your universities is making a list of those universities that are most applicable to your situation and shortlisting ones that you’ll end up applying to. When I was doing my research, there were easily over 25 universities that I researched. Out of these 25 I shortlisted about 11 universities to apply based on my grades, exam scores and extracurriculars. This is where being realistic and true to yourself plays a significant role. I divided these universities into three sets:
- Stretch: three were universities that would be a stretch to get into.
- Realistic: five of the universities seemed like ones that I could be accepted into.
- Confident: four of the universities which I thought I would most likely get into.
Some colleges offer early admission options too and usually it may be a good idea to use this option for one of the ‘stretch universities’ that you’re keen about. Make sure you do email the admission officers of the university asking them about this procedure before applying.
Although most of the running around ends once you’ve sent in your applications, the bigger part of the decision happens when you have to choose a university to attend from the ones that you’ve been accepted into. It’s now time to speak to someone you know from these universities or use facebook groups to get in touch with existing students. It’s also nice to refer back to the notes you’ve made while researching universities. Remember - you must accept one offer and it must happen before your deadline to accept passes.
The New Chapter Begins
Preparing for the university you’ve picked is another process of its own. Here is a brief list of things to look into:
- Selecting Courses: Once you’ve received your enrollment package, your university will communicate a course registration date with you. In my case, I received an email as well as a message on our university student portal which I can log into anytime. This portal is where all the information regarding my student account is visible. I would use this portal to learn about all courses offered, register in courses, get in touch with an enrolment service professional should I have any questions, check my credits and grades, and track my finances like tuition and housing fees, etc.
- Housing Options: Some universities provide housing for all four years while you’re studying there. Others provide guaranteed campus housing only for the first year. You’ll need to connect with the Student Housing department to learn about the housing options at the university that you’ve picked. If you choose to live off campus, facebook groups and craigslist are usually good sources to find housing for yourself. My advice would be to stay on campus at least for the first year so you familiarize yourself with the campus and make friends. Down the line, I would also recommend living off campus for at least for one year perhaps alone or with some friends.
- Health Insurance: Depending on the country that you’ll be studying at it’s a good idea to look into the medical plan options for international students. It was optional for us, at UBC, to apply for any form of health insurance. However, I highly recommend one.
- Orientations: Almost every university offers orientations for incoming students in their freshman year. Most universities also offer special orientations specifically for international students. It’s highly recommended to attend these orientations. They teach you about everything you need to know to start settling in. You learn about opening a local bank account, phone plans, health insurance plans and much more. At our university we had a two week long international student orientation called Jump Start just before university began in fall. It was a great way to set up all the basics before getting into the fast paced academic life. More importantly it was a great way to meet people and make friends.
The Learning Curve
Coming from India, I’ve always felt the support of my family members at every step of my life. I was brought up in a traditional middle class to upper middle class family who worked extremely hard to bring me up to where I am. I grew up knowing the importance of promises, values and roots. Moreover, having never stepped out of India before going to Canada for university, the change hit me a quite hard just a few months into university. The challenge I had ahead of me was initially overshadowed by the gush of excitement in the first two months but reality was not hidden for long. My first midterm marks turned out to be a complete disaster, I was missing the support of my family and I was constantly looking to find just any kind of clues or help to understand the strange mixture of feelings that I felt. However, the sports person in me never let me sink into these emotions or take any difficulty to seriously. I had already learnt, from my many years of training, to dust the difficulty off my shoulder and stand up again stronger. Moreover, UBC has many ways to support students through tutoring services, counselling services and mental health awareness initiatives to name a few.
I really believe that what I’d learnt beyond the classroom has primarily been what has stood by me. I realized that this was my time to experiment, make conscious mistakes and keep learning. They say that learning is a constant journey throughout life, but the amount I have experienced and learnt about life in general during my undergrad has made this journey immensely transformative. The years right after high school are often the moulding years of our lives, especially if you’re far away from home in an unknown place. Your values and morals are constantly being tested and some of them are strengthened as you learn to adapt into different circumstances.
The realistic picture is that as exciting as it may be to enter the path towards independence, the journey ahead holds lots of ups and downs. My first two years at university were a complete rollercoaster. Getting adjusted to the new system, making mistakes and learning to deal with the consequences of those mistakes, time management, making my own decisions, understanding different accents (yes it may be an issue for some people), working in teams, finding true friendship and most importantly discovering bit by bit about myself. I’ve had to break down walls and build my own path but I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful learning curve. In fact, over two years in, I was completely comfortable with the idea of learning things the hard way, dealing with uncertainty and accepting change.
To summarise my four years as a whole (be it academics or personal life) in a picture, the curve would look something like this:
Six Things You Will Walk Away With After Studying Abroad as an International Student
- Being true to yourself and comfortable with who you are. After all the experiences you go through, you’ll find that you’ve learnt a lot about yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. As I said earlier, it’s a journey of self discovery through academics, extracurricular involvements, relationships and various circumstances. You know that perfection does not exist and gracefully embrace imperfection.
- A belief that you’ve pretty much dealt with a lot already and are ready to face the world. Looking back, in your final year, at where you started will make you feel proud of your achievements.
- You know that no matter which crossroad comes on ahead of you, you’ve already lived through a very big one. You’ve made your own decisions, came out to be stronger than ever each time you fell and you’ve learnt to take up responsibility.
- You strongly associate with your values and make confident decisions keeping in mind the values that have stuck with you throughout your journey.
- You’re ready to deal with uncertainties that life offers. You know how to make lemonade when life give you lemons.
- You know people from various parts of the world and have built some long lasting relationships. You find yourself turning into a global citizen and the place where your university is located pretty much becomes home or your second home.
As an Alumnus
Looking back as an alumnus of the Sauder School of Business (Sauder) at the University of British Columbia, I can say that the four years of my undergrad have been incredible. I walked into this journey thinking getting a well rounded experience, balancing academics with extracurriculars, and being grateful to be a part of one of the best business schools in the world. I got through it learning that the most successful people are those that didn’t hesitate from learning the hard way, stayed determined despite hardship and believed in themselves even when no one else may have. I walked out of it knowing that I was at the beginning of another crossroad, feeling a little overwhelmed again, but confident that I’ll make something great out of my life ahead. It’s almost like the four years were perhaps a small scale reflection of what life ahead has to offer. So just keep moving on, keep learning and remember that not all days are the same but what matters is how you take them! I hope this information and my experience has been helpful! Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn for any advice. I’ll be happy to help in any way that I can.
Good Luck! Just enjoy the journey!