Hundreds of Bermudian students head to Canada, the UK and the US to pursue higher education every year. While travelling for school is an age-old tradition, it doesn’t take away from the enormity of such a move. Can you strike a balance between this newfound freedom and decent grades? We turned to the experts – international students – to find out how.
Reputation aside, what factors come into play when choosing an international college or university? “Not just cost, which is a vital issue,” said a representative of bermudascholarships.com, “but also cultural, weather changes, location, health insurance, family ties – will they get homesick?”
A sophomore in business at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Alex Pacheco said that students must also be in the right mindset: “Prospective students should examine their mental readiness to handle the demands of education, the foreign living situations, and the high costs.”
Cutting through the red tape
In terms of paperwork, your college or university application is the tip of the iceberg.
“Depending on your citizenship and the destination, specific papers may be required to enrol in an international education programme,” Mr Pacheco explained, and he recommended students conduct “in-depth research on all the paperwork, visas, immunisations, needed to study in that country.
“One piece of advice from personal experience: renew your passport before applying for any visas because most permits expire at the same time as your passport, and spare yourself unnecessary headaches when it comes to renewing your visas in the middle of the school year.”
Students aiming for scholarships may want to have secured their student visas before submitting scholarship applications.
“You can apply for any scholarship you are eligible for as long as you have received an offer of acceptance by interview time,” said the spokesperson for Bermuda Scholarships. “Similarly with visas, as long as you know you qualify.”
Mr Pacheco suggested that having your visa may demonstrate your preparedness to a scholarship committee. At the very least, it may “showcase that you have a clear strategy for where you want to go, what you want to do, and what steps you want to take to carry out the stated plan.”
Mitigating the cost
International students pay more for post-secondary education. The final cost comprises tuition, international student health insurance and fees, accommodation and incidentals, and overseas travel.
Location wise, studying in the US is believed to have the highest price tag, with Canada coming in second and the UK taking third because student tuition is fixed.
“I have experienced university in both Canada and the UK,” said Ciara Burrows, a graduate of Economics and Legal Studies from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and both the University of Southampton and BPP University in the UK. “While tuition and rent remain higher on average in the US and Canada, travel costs to Canada have noticeably increased and are more comparable to the UK.
“Moreover, students should be aware of the seasonal nature of travel costs. Between November and March, any of the three major jurisdictions mentioned above will likely experience more weather-related travel complications or obstacles that students should work into their budget. For Bermudians in particular, adjusting to colder, darker weather may directly impact their travel costs, relying more on public transportation and ride-share services, as opposed to travelling by foot.”
Students may consider looking into part-time employment if and when possible to help offset costs, which can lead to valuable resume-building experience and contacts in other industries. “Be sure to consider how flexible class offerings are if you know you will need to support yourself with a part-time job,” Ms Burrows urged.
Setting yourself up for success
Paperwork and price aside, travelling students will face a vast cultural and mental shift, but there are ways to help manage big feelings before they get the better of you.
“Talk to those who have done it before you. You can gain a lot of knowledge from the situations and errors of others and use them to inform your choices,” Mr Pacheco said. “For example, I picked up much of my learning from more experienced students who advised me on how to plan my time, budget myself properly, and what resources I should investigate before studying and living abroad. You tend to forget or never consider the little things that can make your life much easier.”
He also suggested setting up a support system or network of trusted friends and family to talk to if or when you experience difficult or confusing times during the transition.
Ms Burrows believes that familiarising yourself with the school and area can help lessen initial nervousness. “This will be the first time [students] are wholly responsible for paying their bills, buying and cooking their food, doing laundry, and maintaining their studies simultaneously. This adjustment can be overwhelming and debilitating for some without practice or adequate support.”
She also recommended students become acquainted with the local healthcare options and services that may be free or subsidised.
To that note, Mr Pacheco suggested taking essential multivitamins and supplements for the colder months. “Some students may be more adversely affected than others regarding mood and energy levels.”
The Final Word
When it finally comes time to embark on this adventure, the most important thing to remember is to try to enjoy every experience you have.
“The greatest method to approach schooling isn’t to take it too seriously or to neglect all of your duties. You should aim for a balanced middle ground that meets your specific requirements,” said Mr Pacheco.
“Join clubs and try new things,” Ms Burrows added. “Stay open-minded and try new experiences to make new connections and learn life lessons. Give yourself grace, and don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes.”
“Being an international student comes with many challenges, and it’s normal to be anxious about taking such a significant step in your career,” Mr Pacheco said. “But it’s your responsibility to respond to them and come out better.”