Going abroad for studies needs months of preparation, from assessing the suitability of courses and colleges to going through the nitty-gritty of travel and accommodation in a distant land.
The previous instalment of this column, discussed the mental preparation needed for studies overseas. This time, the physical aspects are discussed. There are several do's and don'ts. And planning is essential.
Decide the subject and level of education to pursue abroad. Going abroad just for the sake of being in a foreign country is unjustified. More so, when India does have quality institutions and programmes. Keep in mind that doing undergraduate studies abroad may not be beneficial, though many graduate and research programmes abroad have a substantial advantage over those offered here.
The subject of study may be decided taking into account diverse aspects, including aptitude and the market value of the programme. Planning is required, say 15 months ahead of the commencement of classes.
International ranking of various universities or institutions can be easily found. Focussing only on top-most institutions may land you in trouble on failing to get admission. As a back-up, try for admissions in a few other institutions as well. The final choice is yours.
Study the details of exchange programmes. Get familiarised with the functions of organisations that coordinate admissions at the national level, such as the American Medical College Application Service in the U.S. and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service in the U.K.
Confirm the authenticity of the university or institution which you intend to join. Going to countries notorious for racist attacks or racial prejudice is inadvisable.
Deans and professors in many foreign universities have the authority to admit candidates. Get the details of the institutions, programmes and faculty from the institutional web sites. Almost all the universities in developed countries update their web sites regularly. The contact e-mail ids will be given on the sites. The professors normally reply to e-mails.
Meticulously prepare the curriculum vitae and the ‘statement of purpose,' explained in detail earlier in the series. Get two letters of recommendations from reputable teachers or professionals in the discipline.
When contacting the professors for admission, convince them that you are competent and deserving to study in their institutions. Indicate the requirement of financial assistance in some form for pursuing studies or convince them that you can pay on your own.
Do not give an impression that you intend to settle down in the foreign country on completion of education. Convey your aim to apply the knowledge and skills acquired abroad in the motherland on returning home.
Make a detailed study of the type of accommodation, transport requirements, living expenses and, of course, the tuition fees, along with related expenditure. Factor in the ‘hidden' expenses, such as those on account of health insurance premium, cost of medicine, sports fee and special clothing.
Make a detailed study of the sources for scholarships, fellowships, financial aid, work study or other assistance available. Opportunities for part-time work and related regulations in the university should be studied well in advance.
Get the academic requirements, including the acceptability of Indian qualifications, confirmed by the admission authorities.
If score reports of examinations such as GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, MCAT, LSAT and SAT are to be produced, plan ahead, since these cannot be produced overnight.
Try to learn the language of the country. But beware of showing off with your limited acquirements of the foreign tongue.
Because a local citizen may reply fluently little realising that you do not follow what is being said. So attempt speaking in a common language to avoid embarrassment or misunderstandings. Try to learn the crucial factors of the culture and customs of the country.
Never take too much of baggage. Passport; visa and immigration documents; air ticket; id card, if any; some international currency (U.S. dollar, euro or traveller's cheques); contact numbers in India for emergencies; contact numbers, addresses and e-mail id of university officials and the Indian embassy; health records and doctor's prescriptions, if relevant; adhesive medical bandage; tablets, such as painkillers, that needs no medical prescription; mobile phone and charger; clothing to suit the weather in the foreign country; fine professional dress for special occasions; and good footwear can be in the baggage. Decide appropriately on the question of carrying a laptop and a driving licence, depending on the circumstances.
Learn the customs and regulations of the country of destination. Even fruits and vegetables may be taken as contraband in some countries.
Getting in touch with the embassies or consulates or visiting their web sites and learning the terms and conditions of visa is yet another important aspect of physical preparation.
To get bank loans from India, the terms of various banks have to studied, for getting the most favourable terms of repayment.
Attend educational exhibitions or shows conducted occasionally in major cities by foreign universities or educational consultants and gather detailed information.
There is no harm in getting the help, guidance and assistance from professional agents who will process the papers for admission.
However, confirm their history and credibility before entering into any deal with them. Never get cheated by a false agent. In case of doubt on anything in a foreign land, consult the embassy or high commission.
Plan ahead for the formalities on arrival in the foreign land.
This involves visas, currency, registration, getting identity cards, work permits, finding accommodation (dormitory, hostel, home-stay or rented house) and familiarisation with the new environment.
It is said that forming special groups exclusively of Indian students is inadvisable, since that denies you the fine opportunities for interaction with people from various countries and cultures.