Because study abroad orientation week is a week like no otherWhile ice breakers, mandatory campus tours, chaotic class registration, and long safety lectures probably caused you to dread anything associated with student orientation, I can tell you that orientation week at your study abroad university is probably one of the best weeks you’ll have during your abroad experience. From someone who has been there before, here are 10 tips on how to make the most of your study abroad orientation week.
1. Start your experience off the right way
My single warning is that while you should enjoy orientation week, don’t do anything that could jeopardize the rest of your time abroad, or worse, get you sent home. That out of the way, orientation week is a blast, and like I said above it may be one of the funnest weeks of the year. Although there may be a few mandatory events, those are usually overshadowed by plenty of pub crawls, cultural fairs and campus events. Participate in as many activities as you can, socialize and make new friends, and do your best to start your study abroad experience off on the right foot.
2. Get to know your new home
While there may not be mandatory campus tours, it’s always a good idea to get to know your new university and community. In addition to figuring out where you’re classes will be, you might also want to scope out new restaurants, places to hangout, and public transportation routes. If you look lost, I can almost guarantee there will be easy-to-identify orientation staff wandering around who are probably more than happy to help you find your way.
3. Buy a cell phone
I’ve found that a phone is pretty much a necessity, especially during those first few weeks you’re abroad. Buy a phone that allows you to make calls and text, that’s all you need. Having studied abroad in both Europe and Asia, I can tell you it will probably be the cheapest Nokia on the shelf – 40 euro/pounds (UK/Mainland Europe) or 250 kuai (China). I bought my phone in Scotland in 2009 and my phone in China in 2011 and yes, they are the same exact phone.
-If you own an iPhone, check out The Study Abroad Student’s Guide To Using The iPhone Abroad, and The Top 50 Study Abroad iPhone Apps.
4. Join a university club or society
This is a biggie. Signing up for a club, sport, or society is one of the best ways to meet friends, learn a new skill or hobby, and just generally get integrated into the student life at your abroad university. St. Andrews had something like 125 options to choose from with everything from the varsity korfball team to the Beer and Ale Society. Sign up for as many as you’d like, just keeping in mind you don’t want to stretch yourself too thin.
5. Shopping and decorating
You should embrace living in a foreign culture for a semester or year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t decorate your room with a few things to remind you of home. I recommend going shopping for anything that you didn’t pack like toiletries or towels (saving valuable pounds on the luggage scale!), and while you’re at it, pick up some posters, pictures, or anything else that will make your room more comfortable. It sounds a little cliche, but living abroad can sometimes get tiring and you want your room to be a place you’ll be happy to come back to and relax (and maybe a little work too).
6. Check in with friends and family back home
While you don’t want to be glued to your computer screen during orientation week, there’s a good chance you’re family wants to know you’re safe, and your friends want to know what it’s like living the dream in another country. Get in contact with your parents when you land so they know that you made it to your university, and set aside some time throughout the week to Skype with everyone back home. Believe it or not, they’re just as excited as you about your study abroad experience.
7. Sign up for courses and review your course reading
Signing up for courses was the single mandatory even that every student had to attend during orientation week at St. Andrews. There system was archaic and the lines were long, but skipping class enrollment could mean that the university assigns you to courses that you would’ve never chosen on your own. Go with a prepared list of courses if you can, and be open to other courses if the ones you originally wanted aren’t available – remember that this is a great time to take advantage of classes that aren’t normally offered at your home university.
8. Open a student bank account
While you may be able to survive the year by making infrequent trips to the ATM, opening a foreign bank account can actually come in handy. My American university, for example, would reimburse us for certain academic activities or club membership fees, but only through a foreign bank account. Also, if you plan on getting any sort of work while studying abroad, your employer may only direct deposit your earnings in a domestic bank or particular branch. Opening an account is easy, and lots of banks offer accounts with different incentives, it’s just a matter of figuring out which one is right for you.
9. Start to budget
Get ready to spend a substantial amount of money during your study abroad orientation week. You’ll need to buy some necessities for your dorm room, you’ll probably spend a hefty amount at pub crawls and clubs, and you may even do some traveling. Try and keep a budget in mind though, as you’ll still need money after orientation week is over. It’s not a bad idea to begin planning out a long term budget once you have a feel for the cost of living in your abroad location.
10. Take anything and everything that’s free
Campus reps, sports teams, and clubs will all be trying to give you branded items for free during orientation week. Even if you don’t think you have a use for it now, there’s a good chance you’ll need that pen, key chain, frisbee, notepad, or condom in the future. I’m serious about the condoms, St. Andrews was giving them out all over the place during orientation week (a smart idea in my book) since many students have their own definition of “meet new people and try new things”.
11. Go to the opening ball
In additional to the bar crawls and other orientation activities, there will usually be some sort of opening ball towards the end of the week. It’s the highlight of orientation week for some students, and the highlight of the year for others, with all students regardless of class year joining in. The Opening Ball at St. Andrews was pretty fancy with a black tie dress code (I wore a suit and bow tie which could pass as a tux in the dark), they served “champagne” (beer in glass flutes) at the door, and it was headlined by Mr. Hudson (who was popular at that point for collaborating with Jay-Z). It’s a great chance to let loose with your friends, both old and new, one last time before the start of classes.
Don’t let the word “orientation” scare you away from making the most of your first week studying abroad. Go out and have fun while you still have money and don’t have homework. Try new things, be open to new people and new experiences, and set yourself up for a great semester or year abroad.
If you have any other questions or comments please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!