In the photos is Fay.
Just a while ago today, I found myself giving impromptu international education advice to my loving niece Fay in South Africa. She is brilliant and wants to study overseas preferably Poland or Germany. She has also been doing some research on cost of living in different countries and has found a good contending school in Europe. Of course as a loving, caring, and concerned aunt I wanted to know if she was prepared for life in a foreign country as initially, life away from home can be both a challenging and stressful experience. Of course being the sharp young lady that she is, she had to ask me “How would it be stressful, and what are the challenges?”
I had to be honest with her, I mean, this is her dream. I had to be cautious though with my response so as not to crush her dreams. I of all people know a thing or two about disappointments. I knew for her to understand, my response, it would need to be transparent, informative, and realistic. The message I relay about possible obstacles and actual preparedness as she embarks on pursuing things that matter to her needed to be clear.
Everyone’s experience is different since we all come from different walks of life, but for more perspective in helping her understand where I was coming from, I had to share with her my own experience as an international student in the U.S. almost two decades ago. When I landed on U.S. soil as an international student with a F1 student visa, my first couple of years were extremely rough. Emotionally, I was dealing with grief of my mother and three brothers who had just passed away back to back in the course of a couple years prior. I did not have any close relatives living near me. Financially, I was strained and was not allowed to work in the U.S. with a student visa status. Additionally, my tuition fees as an international student was three to four times higher than that of a local or state student. I landed at JFK airport in one of the most cruel January snowstorms without a winter jacket! I’m thankful for my earlier education for it saved me from language barrier issues since I could fluently speak English. I was also grateful for some exposure to some American lifestyle that I only knew as portrayed on television shows that aired internationally, they somewhat preparing me for culture shock. I also endured a brief moment of the initial weird taste of food, which quickly passed. Thank goodness, now I can eat almost everything on most restaurant menus!
After sharing this with my niece Fay, and based on her response that followed thereafter, I knew that she was prepared and that this was what she wanted to do - Study Abroad! She had a determined mind about this matter, remarkeably, on her own, she was already self motivated in researching potential schools in different countries, and cost of living within those respective countries. I was also impressed by her immense optimism in her communication with me. This was her response to me, “Aunty Ruth, she said, I'm so sorry about what you had to go through, however, you seem to be in a better place now.” Even though it was only a facebook communication, and not one of those “you had to be there moments”, to me, the moment was perfect and priceless! Right then, at that moment, I felt so proud of her and I had to ask permission if she would let me blog about this bonding and inspiring moment, who knows it might just help someone else looking to study abroad! From this experience, and together as a team with her mom, my sister Sarah, I know we intend within our power to help her succeed.
So, why else am I sharing this? For anyone out there looking to study abroad, my message is that you do your research by yourself or with your family about the universities that interest you along with their costs of tuition. Do research on potential countries and their costs of living. Determine university location and get familiar with their area climate and so forth. I highly recommend working with a reputable and knowledgeable international educational consultant or agency abroad or those in your respective countries who are familiar with the international student application process as well as visa counseling. It is easy to get caught up with dazzling college marketing brochures during the college search process, however, in the long run, your well being, sound stay, and positive outcome takes precedence. It is far more important to be equipped to survive college and life in a foreign land!
By Ruth Omanya