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Re-Fresher: 3 Tips for the Early Days of Studying Abroad

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The initial days and weeks of university life are incredibly hectic, and one barely has the time to think about them until they are over. Looking back, here are three thoughts incoming students may find helpful:

1. Intentionally Balance
I came to the UK all set on exploring new things, and my first few weeks in Cambridge did not disappoint. I dabbled with lacrosse, investment banking, mooting, morning runs and faith talks, all this in addition to the plethora of free squashes, curries and other social get-togethers of fresher's week. Every few waking minutes saw me meeting yet another very friendly and interesting person full of still some more fascinating stories. Academic life was unprecedentedly inspiring, not just because we were sitting with among the best academics in the field, but also because most peers were impressively passionate and ready to discuss ideas till dawn.

The need to constantly make conscious efforts to relate to the new soon caught up with me. Slowly, subtly but very surely I began to sorely long for the familiar in order to soothe this weariness. The natural tendency was to magnetise towards people who shared similar backgrounds. I soon found myself spending most of my time with fellow Malaysians or other Asians. Although in my mind I did not want to huddle within my comfort zone, I still subconsciously veered towards those who were also internationals. While hanging out with such people was not in itself a bad thing, the fact that I swung between different groups according to my moods made for a less-than-optimal balance of friendships and activities.

I guess a tip to pick up from this is to be intentional about having a good mix of both the new and the familiar. Make time, even if only 10 minutes a week, to contact home. Don't run away from every single event put together by your relevant national/cultural society. Get committed to an interest group - a sport, musical orchestra, dramatic society or whatever. The activity will create a common ground to help you connect with people from significantly different backgrounds and the commitment will ensure that you stay involved, and meet these new mates regularly.

2. Creatively Capture
You'll only be a fresher once in your entire life. Even if you go on to pursue a postgraduate degree, that would hardly be the same thing. So do all you can to remember these precious experiences!

Invest in a good camera: it's worth having a few bad meals. Organise your photo albums, perhaps even make a (digital?) scrapbook. Another good idea is to keep a playlist of the songs you listen to every month or so. We often relate memories to the songs we hear during that period, so simply replaying those songs will trigger different bits of our experiences! If you're artistically inclined, why not be brave and write a couple of songs or poems?

And the old fashioned method of journaling can't be outlived. You don't need extensive diaries though. Some people enter sparse but precious comments to a notebook or blog every week or so. My method was to double my daily planner as a journal - in the event that an interesting event or thought occurred that day.

3. Occasionally Reflect
The pounding pace of things will seem to leave you no time to step back and process your experiences. But the best way to grow and learn is to think about the new things coming our way. Even if it is once a week or once a term, take time to consider the new ideas, cultures, beliefs, habits and people you encounter.