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MANILA, Philippines – The “grad student sa Europe” life definitely looks good from the outside. If you’ve seen that viral tweet, you know it’s easy to idealize it as a lot of inarte at parks and museums, living a rose-colored adventure like you’re in Emily in Paris.
But the road to pag-iinarte is not as easy as it seems. Before you can even enjoy eating lunch at parks and spending weekends at museums, you basically have to turn your life on its head – which is not an easy thing to do, especially if you have a stable career, a comfortable home, and a routine that works for you.
Deciding to get your master’s degree abroad is a huge gamble financially, emotionally, and mentally. The application process will kick your impostor’s syndrome into high gear, and even after you’ve been accepted into an institution, it’s a long and complex process of visa applications, securing finances, finding housing, and making travel plans.
Of course, if it’s right for you, all that trouble will be worth it. But how DO you know if the decision will make sense for your life? Before you make this life-changing, bank-breaking leap, here are a few things to consider:
Money, money, money
Obviously, the first thing you need to ask yourself before even considering doing master’s abroad is if you can afford it.
Before you even leave the country, you’ll already be spending a lot of money on things like English language tests, visa application fees, medical exams, and health insurance. And then, aside from paying tuition fees, you also need to be able to afford the cost of living in your target country. Keep in mind that when you’re on a student visa in most countries, you won’t be allowed to work full-time, so you’ll really need a certain amount set aside for living expenses.
Most countries wouldn’t give you a student visa anyway unless you had a certain amount in your bank account. This means that being financially ready to do master’s isn’t just a recommendation but a requirement.
If you don’t have enough money in your savings to cover the entire cost of studying for a year or two abroad, you may still have options.
If you have the credentials for it, there are a number of scholarships you can apply for that fund graduate students to different degrees – from covering all of their expenses entirely to providing a certain amount to help ease the costs. If you are fortunate enough, you might also be able to ask your parents or relatives for a loan.
However you decide to fund your master’s, just make sure that your finances are secure before you leave. The last thing you want to be is broke in a foreign country with no support system and no permission to find full-time work.
What is it you’re hoping to achieve by taking your master’s abroad? A number of people do it to migrate to their country of choice, even if it’s just for the duration of their program. Others do it to give their résumés a boost, while some want to learn new skills to pivot to a new line of work.
As cheesy as this sounds, knowing your “why” will dictate a lot of the decisions you will have to make through the application process. For instance, those looking for more permanent migration might choose certain countries over others. Those who want a résumé boost might be more selective of the universities they apply to. And knowing what skills you want to build on will heavily affect the program you will end up choosing.
Getting sick on your home turf is one thing, but getting sick in foreign territory is a whole new situation. Without a solid support system and the comfort of familiarity, seeking treatment for any health issues might be more challenging – not to mention, possibly more pricey.
Before you leave, make sure you have a clean bill of health, and if you’re receiving regular treatment or taking medication for certain conditions, talk to your doctor about how you might be able to continue these treatments while abroad. It might also be a good idea to purchase health insurance before you leave – though for some countries such as the United Kingdom, you’re required to pay a health surcharge anyway in case you need to avail of health care while you’re there.
While getting a master’s degree is a good way to boost your resume, sometimes the better career move might be to stay put where you are. For instance, if you’re in the middle of a major project or have the opportunity to work on something groundbreaking, the experience might teach you more than anything you’d learn in a lecture hall.
Being gainfully employed, especially if it’s at a job you love, will obviously make it difficult to leave. If your plan is to stay in the same field when you return, it might be worth asking your employer if it’s possible to take a study leave instead so you can return to your job once your studies are complete.
Perhaps the toughest part about studying abroad is having to say goodbye to your family, friends, and fur babies back home. Before you go to your country of choice, think about how the physical distance will affect your relationships. If you have kids, parents, or pets that you’re caring for, finding someone to take over for you makes the study abroad process extra challenging.
Homesickness and loneliness will definitely strike at some point, so just brace yourself for when that wave hits. Yes, there’s always social media and video calls, but if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that nothing beats spending time with your loved ones face-to-face.
Living away from home means also having to face language barriers, cultural differences, and even discrimination. If you’re going to a country where English isn’t the first language, there’s an added struggle of navigating your way around this new place.
Being around students from all over the world might also heighten prejudices that we wouldn’t otherwise face at home. As some master’s students in Europe shared, you have to be ready to face anything – from casual microaggressions to outright discrimination.
Obviously, going to graduate school abroad isn’t a decision anyone should make lightly. But if you’ve given it enough thought and realize that it’s right for you, it could make your life and your career a million times better. – Rappler.com