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03 Aug 2018
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Essential survival skills when studying abroad

Leaving for an overseas education is a big decision. Here’s how you can prepare your yourself for this life changing journey.

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.

Learn how to cook and clean

This is likely to be the first time you will be living away from home. That means no more curfew and the freedom to eat cereal for dinner if as you wish! But it also means you’ll be responsible for your own cooking and cleaning.

If you can’t cook, don’t panic--basic cooking skills are not that hard to pick up, and you can learn some easy dishes in a few days. Easy dishes like pasta, fried rice and omelettes are very easy to learn. If you’re feeling more daring, you might want to attempt more complex dishes like chicken rice or briyani.

 Ask 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 be glad to have mastered some of your favourite dishes when you're missing home!

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 out around the house right now. Your parents will definitely be happy to have some extra help at home.

This period will be hectic but fulfilling. As you learn how to live independently, you will at the same time be enjoying the chance to bond with your family before you leave.

Immerse yourself in the culture of your new country

If you’re headed to Australia, New Zealand, the UK or the US for your studies, there’s a good chance there’ll be a fair number of fellow Singaporean students who can make the transition easier.

But don’t miss the chance to also learn more about the culture of your new country. Make local and international friends at your university and elsewhere, such as by joining clubs or taking up a new sport or hobby.

If you’re studying in a country where English is the main language, you shouldn’t have problems communicating. Going one step further and learning local slang and phrases will help you fit in, and also show locals that you’re making the effort to get to know their country. For instance, in Australia, it’s common to greet people with a breezy, “How’re you going?”

Immersing yourself in the lifestyle practices in your new country is also a great way to make local friends and enjoy a new culture. In the US, the outdoors is an important part of many people’s lives, and many Americans go camping or hiking often in their childhood. So embrace the chance to enjoy new outdoor activities you could never try in Singapore.

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 conversation,” he says. “Connecting over shared interests is the key to making friends on the same wavelength.”

Stay connected

The first few weeks after you leave Singapore, don’t be surprised if you find yourself missing your family and friends. You can be sure the feeling will be mutual! 

But don't worry, there are many ways to stay connected.
Use chat apps like WhatsApp, Viber or Skype to stay in touch with friends and family. When you’re feeling homesick, there is nothing like a Skype date with your best friend at midnight.

There are many other things that 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. For instance, 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.

Also make the effort to connect with your friends back in Singapore in creative ways such as by sending postcards and sharing photos of your lives.

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 uni,” she says.

Get a grip on your finances

An overseas education is priceless. You can be sure that this time spent abroad will change you from the inside out, and equip you not just with knowledge but also invaluable soft skills.

This will, however, come at a financial cost, so making financing arrangements well in advance is key.

The first step is to decide how much you need to borrow. Add up the cost of your tuition fees over your entire course, as well as your living expenses including accommodation, food, textbooks and pocket money.

For instance, if you will taking up a loan that requires you to begin repaying principal and interest once you start university, don’t forget to include loan repayments when figuring out how much you can spend each month.

Based on your parents' or your own savings and income, you can 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

Education loans usually offer several repayment methods, depending on when you are ready to start repaying the loan.

For instance, 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 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 also be making new friends, discovering a new country and learning to live independently. By following the above steps, you will be equipping yourself 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.