Ever since I can remember, I wanted to move abroad. I wanted to learn new languages, see foreign countries and immerse myself in another culture. I didn’t just want to travel, I wanted to live abroad. Fast forward a few years, and I have moved to Scotland in order to pursue postgraduate studies at the University of Glasgow. If you were to go back in time and tell 15-year-old Kathi that she’d be living, studying and working abroad at the age of 25, she would have thought you were nuts. Even though the dream was there, moving abroad for school just seemed a bit too daunting.
I made my first solo experience abroad when I embarked on a year-long volunteering mission to Denmark with a programme called European Voluntary Service. It was a great way for me to live abroad and do something useful, and for my parents to know that I am in good hands. I have written at length about it before, and if you’re European and between 18 and 30, you should definitely have a read of my experience!
After that I returned home to Vienna to study – and I really never spent one serious thought on studying somewhere else. When you grow up in the largest city of your country, with the biggest university and most course options at your doorstep, why would you move anywhere else? Even though my Danish was good enough to consider school in Denmark, or I could have chosen any German university – particularly with my high school grades – moving abroad for school never even crossed my mind. Never mind the option to move further afield and study in English. And by the way, studying abroad would be way too expensive.
Had I known back then that undergraduate education at Scottish universities is not just excellent, but also free, I would have begged my parents to at least consider letting me go. But alas, I had not a scooby about the world of studying abroad, beyond the obligatory Erasmus semester I knew of mostly because of the film L’Auberge Espagnole.
When the time for my Erasmus semester came I chose to apply for the University of Reykjavik, which back then was the least popular choice at our department of Scandinavian Studies – I’m sure this has changed by now – and moved to Iceland for five months. Afterwards I returned to Vienna once again to finish my undergraduate studies.
Flash forward two years and I had decided to move abroad for my master’s degree. I had started to write for Travelettes which gave me the confirmation that my English was good enough to give it a try. I shopped around for suitable master’s degrees in Canada, Iceland, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK and Austria (mostly to calm down my mum), but realised quickly that my big dream to study in Canada would be too expensive. I decided to apply for several programmes in Scotland, because the universities there have a great reputation, the fees for EU citizens are reasonable, and I had dreamt of visiting the land of men in kilts ever since high school.
Another three years later I am still in Scotland, having gone from a master’s degree to a PhD at the University of Glasgow, and am convinced that moving abroad to study was the best decision I’ve ever made. Not only am I getting an education at one of the UK’s best universities, I have also learnt to navigate a foreign culture on a long-term basis, I am perfecting my English with a Scottish accent, I have made local friends and found a home far away from my first home.
If you’re thinking, ‘I want to move abroad to study too – but where do I begin?’ stay with me a bit longer!
My Top Tips for Studying Abroad
1) Know your options
As I said, I had no idea EU citizens could study for free in Scotland – at least for their undergraduate degree – and I also didn’t know how many European universities actually offer entire programmes in English (particularly postgraduate degrees). I used findamasters.com which logs over 24,000 English-language postgraduate programmes worldwide.
2) Shop around for scholarships
Scholarships can often be found in the weirdest of places, so make sure you explore all options. A good place to start is the scholarship and funding information page of the university you apply to. Check out the Scholarship Portal, but also be aware of national funding bodies who might give away scholarships based on national identities (for example special Commonwealth scholarships for Commonwealth citizens to study in the UK).
Remember that once you’ve scored one scholarship or prize, it is usually easier to get another one! Funding bodies like to invest in people in whom others have already invested.
3) Choose a programme that fits your goals in life
Studying abroad should be fun, but seeing as there is substantial emotional and financial capital at risk too, make sure that the programme you choose really fits your goals in life. This particularly applies if you move abroad to study for your master’s degree like I did. Think about what you want to do – even if it is just a rough plan – and what kind of skills you want to take away from your course in order to achieve these goals. It sounds so simple, but I had to learn this the hard way…
4) Don’t necessarily organise all accommodation in advance
While I was happy that I had organised a flat in Reykjavik before I set out for my Erasmus semester, I wish I had been more flexible in my first year in Scotland. I signed a contract for 12 months of student accommodation and paid in advance. Half a year later I realised it would have been quite easy to find a room in a shared flat with friends, cheaper and closer to university after the first semester. My new rule of thumb is not to pre-arrange accommodation for longer than 6 months, so that you can move out if you’ve settled and realised that you are over-charged or that there are much nicer areas to live.
5) Overcome your fears
Moving abroad to study is a big step – and a daunting one. What if I don’t fulfil the language requirements? What if I don’t find any friends? What if I don’t manage to connect with the local culture? What of the course is simply too hard? These fears are understandable, but eventually it is up to you to stand up to them and overcome them. If your coursework is getting too much, admit your weaknesses and seek help at your university’s learning centre. If you need to make friends join a uni society or club to meet like-minded people. If you feel disconnected from the local culture, volunteer at a local festival or a charity organisation. The fear of homesickness and isolation is a real one, and a legit one, but remember that there is always a solution.
6) Travel around
Lucky for me, I had no issues staying in Scotland after I had finished my master’s degree; but many of you might be restricted to a student visa which ends once you graduate. And while studying hard and building networks in your respective field is important while you are at university, seeing the country that you moved to is just as meaningful. Use your weekends and holidays to travel, explore the far-flung corners of your new home, and soak up every little bit of local culture that you can!
Are you thinking about studying abroad or have you already moved to another country for university? Share your biggest worries or top tips in the comments below!
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.Tweet