Top 6 tips to help you survive your placement abroad
Travelling to a foreign land and starting a new life is a daunting but incredibly exciting prospect. Sometimes, you feel like you’re an intrepid explorer, a hero on a quest leaving the safety of home to discover uncharted lands. Unfortunately, as mere students we don’t have a magic ring, or an enchanted sword, we don’t even have the next best thing (our parents) to guide our way. All we can do, is help each other out by sharing our experiences and top tips. Here are mine:
1. Surrender to the feeling of being unprepared
The weeks before your departure are not going to be easy. Whether you’re going 1,000 or 10,000 miles away, the feeling never changes. Freak outs and last-minute melt downs will occur daily and the thing you will desire most of all, to feel ready, seems to elude you no matter what. Well let me tell you, that will never happen no matter how much you prepare or worry. It’s impossible to psychologically prepare yourself for such a massive change. My advice is to embrace this feeling, and don’t wrack your brain day and night trying to imagine how it will be, how you will act and what you will do. This will only stress you out more! Instead, just try to make the most of the time you have with your friends and family.
2. Don’t obsess about your living situation beforehand…it can sometimes be better to wait!
Looking for accommodation in a country you don’t know can be a bit stressful. When it comes to a town like Cape Town for example, every area brings with it a different atmosphere and demographic. You really need to know a neighbourhood and test it out before deciding that you belong there, and I suggest that you only make the final decision once you are there. For the first few weeks, you can rent an Airbnb, a hostel or even a hotel room, just make sure that it is close to your work, in a safe area and that you feel comfortable in it. It might be a bit more expensive, but believe me, it will be worth the money! From there, you can take time to explore and look around until you find the perfect house for you. Also, just think of how grown up you will feel! It’s not every day that you get to go house hunting on the other side of the world.
3. Become a better version of yourself, in moderation
Starting a new life and meeting new people always seems like the best opportunity to reinvent oneself. You will probably feel under pressure to make a great first impression, especially on your first day at the office. Turning over a new leaf is great, but be careful not to overdo it! There is such a thing as trying too hard. Your colleagues will notice if you come on too strong and you might end up with the opposite of what you hoped for. It might sound boring and cliché, but be yourself! Believe me, it’s moments like these that make you appreciate the advice that your mum gave you on your first day of elementary school.
4. No more lazy Sundays!
Going from a Uni lifestyle to a 9 to 5 schedule, five days a week, can be a bit unsettling even for the busiest students. The good news is that you’ll get used to the routine soon enough (I promise!), the bad news is that your time as a tourist will be limited. This may sound obvious, but exploit the hell out of your weekends. You might be exhausted, hungover, in desperate need of sleep, but never forget that you are in a faraway land and you need to go out and explore. Don’t get me wrong, it’s ok to have the odd “nothing day” now and again, just remember although it may not feel like it, you’re not here forever. So, the trick is to pull yourself together and step out of the house, even if it’s just to check out a local shop or cafe. It will be worth it!
5. Find your partner in crimegoo
When a person decides to move abroad, there are a couple of unspoken taboos that everyone knows. Number one on the list is avoid spending time with people from your own country. It makes sense, what’s the point of moving to the other side of the world if you are going to end up speaking your own language and mingling with Dave from Milton Keynes? However, the truth is that finding a person who shares your culture and background is going to make your life so much easier. This person will become your partner in crime. Your new mission will become to make the most of this experience together. As long as you carry on supporting and pushing each other to embark on new adventures, meet new people and enjoy every moment, you will be set!
6. Working for a start-up is a great opportunity not everyone would think of
As far as actual work is concerned, when you go abroad I would seriously consider looking for a start-up company. I am currently a Digital Marketing Intern for Avirtual, a small but growing company that provides virtual pas to clients in the UK. I truly believe that had I been working for a bigger company, my experience here would not have been the same. Being part of a start-up means being part of a team of other young people who are all still growing and learning. “Sharing is caring” becomes part of your company culture, nobody is allowed to withhold knowledge that could benefit the entire team and help the company develop. I also found being the same age as your colleagues means it’s easy to build relationships that go beyond the office walls. I have been working with 10 people for three months, and they have already become like family.
Finally, I will leave you with this bonus piece of advice from my recent experience. You might reach a point when all you want to do is go back home, ask your mum to cook you your favourite meal, do your washing and just have a massive cuddle. It’s normal, we’ve all been there. My advice is to push through and remember that this incredible experience will unfortunately have to end. Your old life is still there waiting for you when you get back, everything will be the same, except for you. You will have grown, seen more of the world, met new people and have thousands of amazing memories. So, what are you waiting for? Take the leap! You won’t regret it.
Irini Sala is a student at the University of Reading, currently on her placement in Cape Town