Whether only for a few weeks, for a semester or for a few years, studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that can broaden students’ horizons like few other experiences can. Most students, accordingly, look forward to going abroad with great anticipation, zealously counting the days until the date of their departure; many, however, also look forward to this special opportunity with great anxiety, in particular in regard to the language barriers that they know they are very likely to encounter. What can you, as a foreign student, do to ensure a successful stay abroad?
American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart was once quoted as saying that preparation is “two-thirds of any venture”. This will without a doubt also apply to your stay abroad. Once you have made the fundamental decisions of your stay – including your choice of academic program, institution and accommodation – a super starting point in your preparatory process is to access the website of the international students office of your chosen academic institution. Here, you should find a wealth of information on programs, admissions and student life. Perhaps, the site offers a virtual tour of the campus or an FAQ section that you could benefit from. And what about your knowledge of the country, itself, its language(s), social norms, etiquette and culture? Take the time to read about them and prepare yourself mentally for this new and exciting venture.
Brush Up on Your Language Skills In Advance
There are many ways that you can improve your language skills prior to your departure. Take a course, preferably in person; but, when an in-class course is, for whatever reason, not a possibility for you, sign up for an on-line course geared towards your needs. Ask other students, friends, teachers or professors to recommend good learning materials that you could also work with independently. There are books that deal specifically with language for academic purposes. Check the web for a list of them as they might truly be of value, especially for writing academic papers later. Watch TV programs and films in your target language. Make use of free resources on the internet, in particular newspapers, magazines and blogs. These offer a way to boost your language skills without costing you even a cent.
Create a Support Network for Yourself
Upon your arrival, make one of your first stops a visit to your university’s international students office. Most offer a variety of services – everything from counselling on topics such as visas, work permits and cultural adjustment to language and conversation classes. Be sure to take part in the latter even if your language skills are advanced. In language classes, you will have the chance to meet other foreign students who are in the same situation as you and, perhaps, the instructor will be somebody to whom you can go for advice or for proofreading when you need help with your essays and academic work. In short, the staff and services of your international students office will enable you to form a valuable support network for yourself.
Develop Exam Strategies
Oral or written, exams pose a ‘double challenge’ for non-native speakers. Not only do you have to know the material being tested but you also require the language skills to properly express that knowledge. Develop a strategy to help you deal with this double burden. Be sure to identify key exam questions and prepare (or even memorize) your ‘grammatically correct’ answers in advance. We all know that, while correct content is paramount, proper presentation of your knowledge is also of great advantage.
Embrace Your New World – with Confidence!
Most speakers of foreign languages tend to think that their language skills aren’t good enough and some, sadly, stay away from ‘potentially embarrassing’ situations in which they feel that they could embarrass themselves. However, to truly profit from your experience abroad, you have to overcome your shyness and go out into your new world. Participate in social events, take part in learning groups and don’t hesitate to contribute in lectures and tutorials. You will be surprised by what you can do if you just have the courage to try!