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How to study abroad: plan your transition to a new country as an international student

Written by Ashrifa Ali

Fall is synonymous with college applications, and I am sure you or someone you know is in the process of applying to study abroad. Embarking on a journey to pursue higher education in a foreign land is an exhilarating and life-changing experience. For international students, this transition marks the beginning of a new chapter filled with opportunities for growth, learning, and cultural enrichment. However, it can also pose various challenges. Apologies for throwing a damper on your imaginations, but the reality is – you will be miles away from family and adulting 24 x 7 (trust me it requires grit!). 

Fear not, we at Chromosome06 work closely with students who study abroad and over the years we have accumulated a set of life hacks which may make your transition smoother and manageable.  The key to a successful transition is thinking ahead and envisioning life in a particular city or country even before you apply to the program. The next important thing is of course asking all the right questions and doing plenty of background research and we will help you get started. We at C6 are big believers of scientific the scientific process of problem-solving, and this is what we propose. 

Do your lifestyle research at the application stage

At this stage, your focus will be on identifying the best degree program in the best ranked university. Yes, this is important because it will set you up for a challenging and rewarding learning experience while providing you with the exposure to secure a good job. However, it is also important to consider your happiness, growth, and mental and physical well-being during college.  The best time to do this is before you apply to universities. Excel sheets will be your best friend during this time, and we suggest adding these columns to your research. 

  • Country and City 
  • Climate – high and low temperatures in a year, extreme weather patterns, and natural disasters. 
  • Ease of commute – public transport vs the need for a car 
  • Social Life – rural vs city, distance to grocery shops and entertainment outlets. 
  • Opportunities to foster a hobby. 
  • University support to students – open bank accounts, obtain permits, rent apartments. 
  • Health care system
  • Cost of living and safety index
  • Nearest airport and travel restrictions 
  • Expat communities and support groups 

Make a financial plan for your study abroad

Whether you are embarking on an undergraduate or graduate program, financial well-being is a crucial part of survival. Your financial capabilities will greatly influence your selection of country and city to live. Create a budget on Excel or an app of your choice and some factors to consider are: 

  • Scholarship vs paid program. 
  • Permission to work as a student and rate of pay.
  • Tax rate (if any) on student income. 
  • Cost of healthcare.
  • Cost of housing, food, and transport. 
  • University costs other than tuition. 
  • Cost of hobbies and fun activities. 
  • Cost of travel back home.
  • What will be your return on investment?

Prepare for the study abroad transition while you wait to hear back from the universities. 

Challenges of the academic program – look up the first-year course modules on the university websites and identify any that seem daunting. These could be an interdisciplinary topic, a completely new area, computer programming, or cutting-edge software. Now use the numerous free resources online to fill in this gap in knowledge or find a tutor who could help you prepare for these topics:

Life skills

Invest time and effort in learning survival skills such as driving, cooking, banking, navigating airport travel, learning a new language, or doing your laundry. Use your support system while you have them because soon you will be on your own. 


Read about the healthcare systems in your chosen city and country. Some places have free healthcare while in other places you will be mandated to buy health insurance. It is most certainly going to be a different system from the one you are used to at home. To this end, the more information you have now, the less the chances of feeling alone during a medical emergency. Find out if the university has a health center, or if you have to register with a local general physician. Find out the hours of operation and what you should do if you feel ill on a weekend. You will be responsible for your well-being so always pay attention to your diet, sleep, stress levels, and safety. It is better to be safe than sorry when you are in a foreign land. 


This is a big one! Reach out to the university to see if you are expected to live in a dormitory or residence hall your first year and work towards securing a spot. If not, you may be expected to find rentals, flat shares, or room shares on your own. Most universities have on-campus housing, but they are usually in high demand, and you might have to get on a waitlist. Universities would sometimes have recommendations for off-campus housing; the best place to start looking is the university housing webpage. From there you could look up apartment-hunting websites for the specific country ( eg: apartment.com in the USA and Zillow in the UK). Some universities have student-run forums where students might post adverts looking for a roommate, however, you may only have access to these after you are accepted to a program.

Securing off-campus housing comes with a lot of red tape and knowing these ahead of time will help you prepare. For example, does the city make it easy for students to rent, what kind of documents do they need, should you show proof of a local guarantor, and how much is expected as rental deposits? It is never easy securing accommodation in a foreign country, but comprehensive information will help you navigate this with minimum anxiety. 

Make friends and expand your network

We just talked about the difficulties of securing good accommodation.  A friend or mentor in the city you are moving to will make your transition as painless as possible, allowing you to enjoy the adventure. They will also be able to pick you up from the airport, give you a tour of the campus, and show you the ropes of living in a new city. So how do you make these new friends? Most universities have an international office dedicated to addressing the needs of international students. Reach out to your department and the international office to see if they can put you in touch with a student. You can also make friends via groups on social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. While using social media to make friends, always be aware of scammers and do not divulge personal information until you check their university affiliations. 

The journey of pursuing higher education in a foreign land is a transformative experience. Embrace the challenges, celebrate the victories, and cherish the connections you make along the way. Remember, you are not alone—many have walked this path before, and countless resources are available to support you.

By being prepared, adaptable, academically focused, and prioritizing your well-being, you can make this journey an enriching and successful one. Welcome to this new chapter of your life—may it be filled with learning, growth, and wonderful experiences!

Transitioning into a new academic environment as an international student can be both thrilling and overwhelming. Hopefully, this guide helps pave the way for a smoother transition and an incredible educational experience!  

Come back for more tips on adulting like a pro while you study. 


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