It is easy to feel overwhelmed and tired as a new international student trying to do everything on your own. Managing your time, finances, people skills, doing something to rejuvenate, and taking care of yourself are the fundamental aspects of a healthy and sustainable life as a student. Here are some practical steps you can take to be the master of your own destiny as an international student.
How often have you felt like you’re not doing enough? How often do you feel you’ve done too much and need a big vacation from life? How often do you jump back and forth between these thoughts 10 times within just ten minutes? I was no exception to this and always had contradicting thoughts between choosing to do more and taking a break, especially as an international student trying to adjust to my new life. I’ve realised that focusing on what matters most will set everything else into motion. Life feels a lot less stressful if you do one thing at a time and focus only on that at any moment.
Your life is your “time” here. The first and foremost thing to plan and manage is your time as an international student. You study, work on assignments, do your chores and run errands, cook, clean, work your part-time jobs, socialise, and live all at once.
As much as I hate routine as I’m a spontaneous planner that loves to make plans on the go, I have to admit that planning my weeks, months, and years ahead of time has helped me stay on top of my game. Your plans can get vaguer as the time frame increases. You don’t have to know what you’ll do next month as well as you know about this week or tomorrow, for example.
Even though life has its surprises, failing to plan your time is the best plan to fail. It’s a domino effect that can make or break where you are in the long run. Here are some practical steps I took to plan my time.
- Life Journaling – Writing down where you stand now, where you want to be, and in what timeframe sets things into motion naturally. I believe in journaling and writing down things puts thoughts into motion through action. It has helped me immensely.
- Scheduling – Having a routine for each week on Google Calendar has helped me keep track of a busy life. You can set some activities to repeat weekly or monthly and set reminders for each task so you know what you will be doing and when.
The next most important aspect to take care of is your personal finances. Truth be told, I used to be a spendthrift and it’s not something to be proud of. As someone who had never earned my own money or worked back home, this was something I had to learn about and plan thoroughly. Here’s how I made sure I know what I earn, where I spend, and how I can save more all while also enjoying the little things in life.
- Know your money – After a few months of living, you have a clear idea of your cost of living, how much you’re earning through your part-time gigs, and how much you can save. The best way I could keep track of this is to make a personal spreadsheet on Google Spreadsheets. It helped me track if I was spending more than I could earn. Knowing where you exactly stand by every dollar is the first step to freedom.
- Build habits to save more – Try to build a routine in your shopping patterns (groceries, accessories, stationery, clothes, etc). Conserve energy to save on bills. Walk a little to save on transport. Basically, build habits that help you save more in the long run.
People Skills & Networking
Learning how to network and form meaningful human relationships was the most fruitful habit I formed as an international student. I’m an ambivert who opens up very slowly and needs a lot of time to speak up. It was a nightmare to even think of randomly starting a conversation with a stranger. Here’s how I managed to change that.
- Start small – Start by just smiling and saying hello to people that you see frequently. This helps you build some confidence if you’re an introvert. Sometimes that’s all it takes and the other person can take it forward. Pretty neat even for someone shy.
- Build genuine relationships – Do NOT have an agenda in mind while you network. Speak to people to learn new things from their experiences. Speak to gain knowledge rather than asking for something directly or indirectly. Speak out of compassion to genuinely know about the person.
- Attend events and join societies – The best way to overcome your shyness is to rip the band-aid off. That’s what I did! Enter a networking event and just speak. You won’t do great the first time. People are generous in such events and you’ll learn quicker than you thought you would. It’s a skill that you can build like any other. Being part of societies and clubs at your university is the best way to start a conversation as there are common things that you like doing.
Organisations like VicWISE help you network better and build relationships that will help you in the long run. Refer to this LinkedIn post for more information on how I created my own opportunities as a student. If you are an international student in Australia check out MaxMe which helps you build on human skills necessary for better employability and career progression.
Extracurricular & Recreational Activities
The only way to stay sane when I’m overwhelmed is to do something I love. Do something that rejuvenates you. Do something that makes you lose track of time. Do something for the soul which helps you do everything else better. It can aid your time and personal finance management. Here’s why recreational activities and hobbies are more important than you thought.
- Helps you grow as a person – You will learn a lot more from these experiences than you thought. Reading books is the one thing that completely changed me as a person. I hated reading books. But I chanced upon reading which led to me blogging and sharing my experiences like I am right now!
- Helps you earn – You can take the extra step to monetise your hobbies. Have a skill that you can teach? Start freelancing. I started coaching people in table tennis and it helped me earn and learn more than I ever imagined. Other monetisable skills include photography, art, music, and many more. This helps you plan your personal finances.
- Helps you rejuvenate – Passions and hobbies help you get back on track for the boring things in life. Set aside specific times in the week for this and watch how you master your time management skills even better.
Self-care, Health, and Wellness
As a former professional sportsperson, if there’s one thing I know well it is that we need to take care of our bodies before it’s too late. Forming healthy physical and mental habits early on in life is absolutely essential.
I can’t even imagine how many times I’ve slept without eating because I didn’t have time to cook, how many times I’ve binged on desserts during a late-night assignment completion, and how I haven’t had the motivation to exercise during the lockdowns. Looking back, if there was one thing I could do better as a student, it would be to take care of my physical and mental health.
As a Master’s or Bachelor’s student living alone, this is something we bother about the least. It’s all about getting things done and we forget to take care of what’s most important; ourselves. You are what you eat. You are what you think. You are what you act on. So eat healthily, take care of your mental health, and have a hobby that helps you exercise at least a few times a week.
Check out Linkmate if you are a mental health advocate and share the word with your friends about mental well-being.
Every aspect of life is interlinked and taking care of one sometimes helps automatically take care of other things. So if done right, life is less stressful than we think it is. If I plan my time well, I have time for hobbies that I can use to earn money which will help me plan my finances better. If I focus on my physical health it helps me have better mental health which in turn helps me plan better. It’s all connected.
Take care of your time, money, the people in your life, your activities, and habits. These five things essentially build who you are and shape what you would be in the future. Take one thing at a time and enjoy the moment no matter what you do 😊
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