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30 Oct 2023
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101 Essential survival skills when studying abroad

Studying overseas is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore new cultures, new languages and make lifelong friends. But it can be quite daunting, especially if you are leaving your home country for the first time.

Leaving Singapore for an overseas education is a big decision. Between the tearful goodbyes at Changi Airport and your mum's repeated reminders to eat enough vegetables, you're no doubt hoping that this period spent abroad will broaden your horizons.

In the lead up to your departure, there is a lot you can do to prepare for a smooth transition and ensure that you will be well-equipped to make the most of this overseas experience.

Here are some essential steps to take before your departure date.

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1. Learn how to cook and clean

This is likely to be the first time you will be living away from home. That. Screams. FREEDOM! Curfew? 7am. Snacks? Anytime you wish without the nagging. However, with great power comes great responsibility (Hint: the dishes aren’t going to do themselves).

If you lack cooking experience, fret not. Basic culinary skills are quite accessible and you can quickly learn some easy recipes within a couple of days. Dishes like fried rice, omelettes or pasta are exceptionally simple to cook – and the plethora of TikTok videos showing the step-by-steps are also helpful. Why not also consider asking your parents to demonstrate some of their recipes and get involved in preparing meals together at home in the lead-up to your departure date? You will appreciate having mastered some of your favourite dishes when homesickness strikes.

Another key skill is housekeeping. Doing the laundry, ironing and cleaning are all tasks that take practice to get right, so seize the chance to help around the house right now. Your parents will be delighted to have some extra help at home!

This period will be hectic but fulfilling. While you learn to live independently, your family would appreciate the quality time spent together too!

2. Immerse yourself in the new culture

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If you are heading to Australia, UK or Australia, there is a good chance that there will be many other Singaporean students who can help you adjust to your new surroundings. However, don't miss the opportunity to learn more about the culture of your new country too! Make friends with both local and international students at your university and in other places, such as by joining student clubs or taking up a new sport or hobby (because YOLO!).

Studying in a country where English is the main language? Communication should be as easy as 123. Learning local slang and phrases will help you fit in better and show locals you're making an effort. For example, in Australia, greet people with a breezy "G’day mate!" Immersing yourself in local lifestyle practices is also a great way to make friends and assimilate. In the US, the outdoors is important, so embrace the chance to enjoy new activities you could never try in Singapore, like camping or hiking.

For Jeremy, a lawyer who studied at a UK university, joining his school’s Ultimate Frisbee club helped him make friends with local and international students. “Ultimate Frisbee made it easy to bond with other students because we were focused on playing sports rather than constantly trying to make conversations,” he says. “Connecting over shared interests is the key to making friends on the same wavelength.”

3. Stay connected

The first few weeks after you leave Singapore, don’t be surprised if you find yourself missing your family and friends. It’s very normal to feel homesick. Fret not! Free chat apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Facetime make it easy to keep in touch. When you're feeling homesick, nothing beats a late-night Facetime date with your bestie.

There are many other things you can do to get a taste of home when you are missing Singapore.

For instance, scout out Singaporean restaurants in your area so you can enjoy a taste of home even in the coldest days of winter. In Melbourne, there are three Killiney Kopitiam branches (114 Lygon St, 11/108 Bourke St, 3/409-421 Victoria St) where you can enjoy kaya toast, laksa and nasi lemak, washed down with Milo or barley water (so slay right).

Also make the effort to connect with your friends back in Singapore in creative ways such as sending postcards and sharing photos of your lives. Trending photo sharing apps like BeReal are perfect to see what your friends are doing so you won’t get FOMO!

Melissa, a bank analyst with a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Melbourne, stayed connected with her family with frequent Skype chats while studying abroad. “I always looked forward to weekly Skype sessions with my parents and sister, whom I missed very much when I was studying overseas. They would bring news about our extended family and my sister’s own experiences at a local university,” she says.

4. Get a grip on your finances

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An overseas education is a priceless and privileged experience which would transform you both inwardly and outwardly. You would not only gain soft skills but also knowledge which would benefit you in the long run. This will, however, come at a financial cost, so making good financial arrangements in advance is key.

First, calculate your total expenses, including tuition, living costs, and loan repayments. Then, determine how much you need to borrow based on your savings and income. For instance, if you take up a loan which requires you to begin repaying principal and interest once you start university, don’t forget to include loan repayments when figuring out your monthly expenditure.

Education loans offer different repayment options. For example, some loans allow you to defer principal and interest payments until after graduation. Choose a repayment plan that works for your financial situation. Based on your parents' or your own savings and income, you can also then determine how much you will need to take out in the form of an education loan such as the FRANK by OCBC Education Loan. In addition to the Standard repayment scheme that requires you to start repaying your principal and interest when you start school, the FRANK by OCBC Education Loan also offers repayment options that enable you to pay only interest until you graduate, or until a year after graduation.

Depending on your own financial situation, you might opt to borrow the entire amount of your expenses or just a partial sum.

It’s totally up to you on how you wish to use the sum you’re borrowing, so give it a think. For instance, you might choose to use the borrowed amount to fully pay for your tuition fees, or you might decide to invest the borrowed sum and use the returns to pay the interest on the loan.

Finally, figuring out how you’ll manage your money before you leave will ensure you have enough cash to live comfortably.  If you don’t already know how to budget, now is a great time to pick up the basics. Make it a habit to add up all your fixed expenses such as phone bills and rent, and then plan your remaining spending for the month. If you’re lost on ideas for how to save while you’re overseas, you can hear it from a pro here

A sample monthly budget might look like this:

Loan Installment $700
Rent $800
Food and groceries $300
Transport $50
Entertainment $150
Total $2000

Studying abroad is going to be a period of intense growth. You'll be making new friends, discovering a new country, and learning to live independently. By following the above steps, you will be well equipped to make the most of your time overseas.

Whether you are headed to the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand or elsewhere, the FRANK by OCBC Education Loan makes an overseas education possible. Apply for an education loan with FRANK by OCBC so you can take that first step towards realising your dreams of studying abroad.

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