Get eight top tips for surviving and making the most of your study abroad experience from Zhixiang Zang, an international student from China studying for his BA Human Resource Management at the National College of Ireland…

1. Cook for yourself

The most basic survival skill is cooking. Maybe you’ve never cooked at home because your parents did instead but living in a new country means no one takes care of you except yourself! I seldom did my own cooking when I lived in China and I knew nothing about how to cook except for boiling water. You can buy convenience food or order takeaway but this can become a very expensive way to live. If you want to save money, cooking your own meals is best and learning how to cook is a fantastic experience. The downside? Even if the meal you make is terrible; sadly, you have to finish it!

2. Be courageous and confident

Many Chinese international students can feel too shy to speak as they worry people will laugh at their language and accent. Take my advice, don’t be shy and be courageous. My speaking was so terrible and I struggled to make a complete sentence in the first few days I was in Ireland. Nevertheless, I pushed myself to talk with people in English and now, while I’m still not fluent, I’m much improved and have increasing confidence. If people do not understand what you say or you cannot understand them, just ask again. Most people are willing to repeat things to you slowly and patiently. The more you practise, the better your language will be. And studying abroad grants you a wonderful opportunity to completely immerse yourself in a new language, and there is no better way to learn than to dive right in. Do not let your fear and inferiority ruin your best chance…

3. Manage your time

A vast number of the international students I know are here for a one-year master programme — meaning time for interacting and socialising is limited. Time flies by here so it is vital to manage your time well. At present, there are only four months left for me to study here in Ireland and I really cherish every minute I have. Good time management can ensure you study efficiently and reduce stress, especially when assignments are due. Here are two tips for time — I always take a small notebook that fits in my pocket — I make lists of all the things I want or need to do in a day or a week It doesn’t only serve as a reminder, but also you need not worry about missing important activities. Get up early and sleep quickly. Don’t waste your morning, it is the best time to make plans. If I get up late, I feel the whole day has been wasted. Sleeping quickly means just closes your eyes and do not watch electronic products (phone or computer)! This is what usually happens to me; “It is just 10 pm, it is too early, how about playing with my phone for a little while?”, when I look at the time again, what?!!! It is already 1am. So, sleeping quickly enables you to rest well and help to avoid jeopardising your internal clock and your eyesight.

4. Get involved

Many friends have told me that they lack a sense of belonging and feel lonely here. At home, you have family and friends close by but that’s not always the case when you are abroad. So what to do? I have joined three clubs in my college and I have also volunteered off campus to distribute food to the homeless. I’m also part of this blog and International Student Ambassador. These choices have helped me interact with lots of awesome people and make new friends. There is culture difference, which is the biggest challenge for me to get involved in groups like this, but I am positive! Don’t be shy! Push yourself to be a part of things and you will gain a lot.

5. Treat everyone you meet kindly

Remember one thing. No matter where, a smile can draw people to you and you are sure to get a smile in return. You will meet all kinds of people with all sorts of customs and habits. You are supposed to learn to accept, accommodate and respect them. This is part of growing up and being mature. If possible, do your best to help people. I have always believed that there is more happiness in giving than receiving — it is my motto!

6. Feel nature and animals

Ireland is a kind and environmental-friendly country and I have travelled to many beautiful places in Ireland including Galway and Wicklow. These places possess lush vegetation and a wealth of animal species. In the Wicklow Mountain — which is a definitely must-see — overlooking the forest and river I totally spoiled myself in what I saw, felt and smelt. In Dublin, there is the Phoenix Park where you’ll find a herd of wild deer! It is a quite big and charming park, and not far from the city centre and before I went to this park for the first time, my lecturer told me that you should prepare some carrots to feed  the deer. I had an image of feeding deer through the fence rose in my mind… not so! On that day with slight rain, I approached to look for deer and asked the passengers in the park where I could find deer. They told me that they were everywhere in this park. What? So I kept walking and after a while, I saw a group of wild deer moving. I was so surprised as I have only ever seen wild animals in cages. I have never observed animals so close. Initially, I was afraid but I took out the carrots from my bag, and these “gluttons” walked toward me and chased me to get my carrots. I was surrounded with a group of deer which stretched their necks to try to reach the carrots. It was a really harmonious picture! I love to visit this park to feed these lovely and holy creatures.

7. Be respectful of academic results

Ireland is a country with a strong focus on education and it has realised an impressive improvement in recent years. According to CSO statistical publication (2017), in April 2016, 42% population had a third-level qualification, compared with 13.6% in 1991. One of the reasons for this rapid development  is the weight given to academic rigour with practical relevance, creating a positive academic atmosphere for students.

Academia doesn’t always come naturally — for example, writing an excellent essay for assignments is difficult and one of the first lessons I learned here is about how to reference. My first assignment cost me plenty of time and almost drove me crazy. It is common for me to stay up late. The major headache for me is to find supportive materials for your viewpoints and reference them correctly, which means I need lots of searching and reading!

8. Stay foolish and stay hungry, study is still your most important mission

The main goal for many international students is to do well in their studies and get a good result in your exams. I understand it is quite tough for international students, particularly for those who are from different educational systems, like me. Ireland possesses the European educational system where there are many differences, such as teaching methodology (tutorial and lecture), test model, from China, which was really unfamiliar for me. Thanks to the help from my lecturers and classmates, I have become accustomed to the ways in Ireland.

Since being here, the library is my second home — it’s here I  I stay longer that anywhere else! I;ve devoted thousands of hours to my study as I know it is a rare and valuable opportunity for me to study abroad. As the saying goes, No pain, no gain! Keeping hungry for studying can benefit not only your course research, but also your career opportunities.

Zhixiang Zang is studying BA Human Resource Management at the National College of Ireland, as part of an educationally collaborative project with Hebei University — offering an opportunity to study in Ireland for a final year.

Find out more about studying abroad at NCI as an international student