28 September 2019

Studying overseas and making It feel like home

Arina Aizal
Malaysian undergraduate student

Starting a new life in a different country can be challenging for international students, especially when leaving family and old friends behind.

I remember my first months settling into Dunedin for my Foundation Year at Otago. I was overwhelmed - excited but feeling nervous at the same time.

Although it wasn't easy, I always have to remember why I started. Getting an education and gaining new experiences was my ultimate goal. Sometimes, it may leave you outside your comfort zone, but in the end, it is well worthwhile!

Here are 5 things I found useful for adjusting to a new environment when studying abroad.

1. Make new friends during Orientation Week

At the beginning of every semester, the University of Otago runs an Orientation Week. For new international students, there are specialised courses and gatherings to welcome you and help in the transition to university life.

Some events are academic courses like UNIO 101, where you learn about student experiences and tips for university. The campus and city tours were my favourite!

I strongly suggest that new international students make the best out of orientation week – mingle around and get to know the other new students.

Don't worry about feeling a little out of your comfort zone when making friends – the truth is, everyone is feeling the same way. Practice introducing yourself with a handshake, that skill will save you for the rest of your social life. Chances are, the friends you made during orientation week will be your mates until you graduate!

The Otago University Students' Association (OUSA) also organises events for Orientation Week like Clubs Day. Joining clubs of your interest is an effective way to make new friends - because being in the same club means that you have the same interest!

As an executive of Thursdays in Black Otago, my team and I run events to raise awareness on sexual violence on campus and we connect with like-minded volunteers. I’m also part of cultural clubs like the Otago Malaysian Student Association (OMSA) and Muslim University Student Association (MUSA) too.

There are heaps of clubs and organisations for you to join, and they run programmes throughout the year - so you'll definitely be making diverse groups of friends during your university life.

2. Get involved with the community

So, you're new and want to fit in with the locals: Go get yourself involved with the community! Make yourself busy by spending your free time after studying exploring attractions around your area and get to know your neighbours. There are also heaps of volunteering opportunities for university students or as residents around your city.

Volunteering for Rape Crisis Dunedin during Rape Awareness Week

3. Keep in touch with family and friends back home

Every time I felt a little homesick, I would get in touch with my family and friends back home. There is a sense of relief and therapy talking in your mother tongue after speaking in English most days.

It's the 21st century - which is a fantastic time for technology! You could use FaceTime or any video call apps, or get in touch on social media. As much as you are excited to talk to them, they must be looking forward to hearing your stories as well.

Sometimes I like being a little old school and send my family and friends postcards! The cheapest only cost a dollar, but you can also write them letters.

It's essential to keep in touch with old friends, even when you have new ones!

4. Eat food from home and explore different cuisines

Did you know that there are 213 different ethnicities in New Zealand? Aotearoa is a multiethnic society and home to millions of people of different cultures. If you're walking around town, you'll find all kinds of restaurants of different cuisines. If you feel like having Chinese or Indian food, or living like a local and having fish and chips - the choice is yours.

One productive way I found to satisfy my home food cravings is by practising my own cooking skills. I would also invite my Kiwi friends over to enjoy Malaysian dishes as well. You can easily find special ingredients from back home in the International aisles at the supermarket or Asian Food Markets around Dunedin!

Not only that, but the International Food Festival is also run during Orientation Week.

International Food Festival at the University of Otago

5. Decorate your new place to suit your personality

I remember being extremely excited every time I moved to a new place because it was a chance for me to design and decorate a new room. I would find inspiration on Tumblr and Pinterest under 'workplace inspiration' or 'interior designs' etc. to find ideas based on my personality. Most of the items from my room are from Kmart, the Warehouse and Typo!

My workplace and bedroom

Adapting to a new environment isn't easy - but once you get there, you'll feel at ease throughout the rest of your studies! It's important to know that you are not alone, and there are other international students, just like you, who feel the same way. There are a lot of resources and support centres and you can get help from the university, friends and also people from the community.

Remember, although we try to fit in with the locals, never forget to embrace your own unique culture as well, because that is what makes New Zealand colourful.

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About the contributors
Arina Aizal
Malaysian undergraduate student

Arina Aizal is a Malaysian student at the University of Otago. She studies Psychology and Gender Studies with interests in Sexual Violence Prevention. She is a Kiwi Ambassador for Education New Zealand and an Otago Ambassador. She has published articles on her perspectives as an International student and collaborates with global education agents for promotional content on social media. Instagram: @arinaaizal Website: www.arinaaizal.com