Study Abroad Snags

Being far from home

Although many of us will have left home for university, studying abroad represents a different and more independent kind of venture away from home. Once away, regular visits home may very well become a luxury whilst for others, expensive plane tickets mean it is not an option at all. We are fortunate to live in a digital world that makes communication across the world instantaneous and stress-free, however that doesn’t guarantee an experience void of a hankering for home. Even if you are someone that does not struggle with being far from family and friends, studying abroad can present you with a number of little snags and I hope that this article will help you to overcome them; my experience has taught me that there is often a lot of overlap thus dealing with one challenge will simultaneously help you overcome others.

Jetlag

Crossing time zones and dealing with subsequent time differences is a difficult and inescapable part of travelling (especially long haul). Your first time experiencing jetlag can be paralyzing…but alas…there are ways make the process of adjusting to the local time zone quicker.

Jetlagged on a bus

Jonathan and I on the train from Sydney Airport to Newcastle…severely Jetlagged!

How to deal with it:

Outdoor exercise is the best way to get some natural endorphins and eradicate the post-flight lethargy. Eating light meals will also help to escape feeling sluggish. Most importantly, where possible it is best to avoid caffeine and naps in order to keep your body as close to a natural rhythm as you can. Getting stuck into local routine is the best way to do this and it will help you to forget about your exhaustion whilst transitioning yourself into your new environment. It helps to plan your journey ahead of time; if you know what time of day you arrive at your destination, you can plan how you attack the journey e.g. if you arrive at night time, stay up during the journey if possible so that you are able to sleep when you get there.

First Breakfast in Sydney

Our first breakfast in Newcastle. We kept it light while our bodies adjusted to the jetlag.

What I did:

Because of the fact that we were due to arrive in Sydney in the afternoon, we decided to try to stay up for as much of the first 13 hour leg as possible and then sleep for the last 8 hours so that we could be somewhat fresh faced on arrival. After over 30 hours of travelling we finally arrived in Sydney but still had to get ourselves through a 3-hour train to Newcastle! We managed to drag our bags (and ourselves) to the hostel and fought through the urge to go straight to sleep by going for a walk to get our bearings. We avoided caffeine and had a nice healthy brunch at a café we found and decided to keep active all afternoon so we could get an early night and be up for the next full day. For about a week I was up and about from 6am…this is normal and don’t be alarmed if this lasts a little longer; I embraced it by going on morning runs or walks along the beach before breakfast! Unfortunately, a severe case of tonsillitis meant that it took my friend Jonathan much longer than I to recover from the jetlag.

Place lag

‘Place lag’ is defined, by the 747 pilot (and author of ‘Skyfaring: a Journey with a Pilot’) Mark Vanhoenacker, as our inability to keep up with the pace of aeroplanes; resulting in a surreal and often disorientating experience starting your day in one place (e.g. Ireland) and ending it somewhere completely new and different (e.g. Japan). I have found that this is not necessarily an obstacle to overcome; it can be quite an enjoyable experience to actively compare and contrast the differences between places…that is of course why we travel in the first place – to get a wider and more worldly perspective. Nevertheless, adjusting to foreign stimuli whilst trying to overcome jetlag is exhausting and can be very strange.

Vineyard

We indulged in history by visiting a vineyard to learn about the production of local wines and beers.

How to deal with it:

The methods for overcoming jet- and place-lag are not dissimilar, however I will add that being as open as you can from the offset is of particular importance and seems to help a lot with place-lag specifically – it will help you get into the swing of things much faster and lessen the blow of ‘culture shock’.

How I dealt with it:

Jonathan and I decided to get our bearings by walking around the town as soon as we dropped our stuff at the hostel. It was nice to see the beaches, shops, restaurants where we would be spending the next year. I also picked up as many leaflets as possible to get a feel for what Newcastle and the surrounding areas had to offer us.

Cabaret-Bar

We happened upon a local cabaret-style bar and restaurant called Lizottes, to see what Newcastle had to offer us in the evenings.

Culture shocks

This leads very nicely onto examples of culture shocks and how best to deal with them. Culture shock examples can range from different foods and clothing regulations to language barriers and bathroom etiquette.

How to deal with it:

Indulge in the history of your new environment. This will help you understand cultural disparities whilst making it easier to remind yourself about what constitutes acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour.

Morning-Walks

My 6 am morning walks and runs were not too much of a struggle with this view!

How I dealt with it:

Australians start and end their day much earlier than most – probably as a consequence of the early sunrises and sunsets. It can be hard – especially with initial jetlag – to follow this routine, but I can say that after 6 months living here, I much prefer getting up earlier to seize the day. In order to acclimatise to this new routine I resisted the urge to nap during the day and sleep in. I used job hunting as an excuse to structure my day, getting up early to drop my CV into various cafés and restaurants around the city.

Drinking culture is very different across Australia. NSW – where we are – for example has very seriously enforced lock out laws meaning that nights out are cut short much earlier than we are used to in Leeds (rather than leaving the house at 11/12 for a club night, we are home by 12/1 here)! The most obvious implication of this is that it is harder to entertain yourself in the evenings; restaurants stop serving dinner much earlier than I am used to in the UK and if I finish work and want to meet friends for a drink there is often a shortage of chilled out bars that are still open.

Workplace-Restaurant

Rustica, the beachfront restaurant I currently work at! Not a bad way to earn my money at all!

Feeling like an outsider

There is nothing worse than moving away from home and struggling to find and settle in with a solid group of friends. This is a sure-fire way to intensifying homesickness and doubt about your decision to do something extraordinary.

How to deal with it:

I cannot stress enough how important getting a job abroad is. Whether you need the money or not, it is one of the best ways to meet new people, find out about the area, increase your confidence and keep you busy outside of university life. A bonus to getting a job abroad is that it encourages you to set up a local bank account; forcing you to work with new currency and get used to managing your money (a valuable life lesson wherever in the world you are).

Another equally satisfying approach to branching out is joining a society or club at university as it helps you meet like-minded people. You can also use it to break out of your comfort zone and try something you’ve always wanted to!

Morning-Hikes

Keeping active with morning hikes up Mount Tomaree just outside of town. Not a bad way to welcome the day…

How I dealt with it:

3 weeks into receiving no responses to my relentless CV dropping, phone and email applications I was about to give up, until I finally got an interview for a beautiful Mediterranean restaurant called Rustica on the beach. Working has most definitely made my year out here in Australia the experience I wanted. All of my closest friends are Australians from work which is great because it has not only forced me to break away from spending time exclusively with other international students, it has helped me see more of Australia than I would have been able to on my own because my friends are eager to take me to their favourite places!

Working has also helped me keep a rough weekly budget (including grocery shopping, rent and some leftovers for socialising and activities). Being able to manage your money is a valuable skill wherever in the world you are and whatever you are doing. Additionally, my friends and I often take a wad of cash out at the start of the week so that we can keep a physical track on what we are spending…this might be something you can try!

Art-Space

Final words

I do appreciate that, generally speaking, Australia is very similar to England therefore adjusting to life here has not proved as much of a challenge as it could have been somewhere else. Most of what I have said, whilst relating directly to my experiences in Australia, also has universal currency so I hope that it can be applied to most study abroad experiences. The most important piece of wisdom that I have left to impart is to RELAX AND ENJOY YOURSELF…go with the flow and never put too much pressure on yourself. Everything always falls into place the way it is supposed to.

Good luck!

Written by Tiffany Quinn – University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Read the original post on the Faculty of Biological Sciences blog.

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