Every year, thousands of young Singaporeans hug their families at Changi Airport as they leave to study overseas.
The number of Singaporeans studying in Melbourne, Sydney and London is so high that even the locals are familiar with the Singaporean accent. And Singaporeans make up the second-largest group of non-British undergrads at Oxbridge after the Chinese.
Unless you’re on a scholarship, studying overseas is going to cost you and your family quite a bit of cash. Is it worth the cost? Only if you make the most of it.
Here are eight ways to use studying abroad to your financial and career advantage.
1. Get a part-time job
Most student visas will give you the right to work a certain number of hours in the country where you are studying. Use this to your advantage, as you’ll find that wages in even the lowest paying part-time jobs can be much, much higher than what you’d earn in Singapore.
For instance, the minimum wage in Australia is currently 18.29 AUD (19.53 SGD) per hour, which means you would probably earn over $20 an hour in a part-time job as a retail assistant or grocery bagger.
2. Seize the chance to intern
According to a recent survey, 7 in 10 Singapore millennials are willing to work overseas. Securing an internship will be easier for you than your peers back home as you’ll be able to go for in-person interviews and will be studying at an institution that’s familiar to potential employers.
Even if you are determined to move back home after your degree, don’t lose the chance to experience working life in the country where you’re studying. Overseas experience is now very sought after in the Singapore job market, and you’ll certainly learn a lot from working in a different environment.
3. Don’t only hang out with other Singaporeans
Certain cities in the UK, Australia and US host so many Singaporean students that it’s all too easy to get stuck in a Singaporean bubble, hanging out only with your compatriots to the exclusion of everyone else.
It is certainly easier to stick with the Singaporean group, as you have ready-made friends with whom you have more in common than the average local or international student.
But do try to step out of your comfort zone and get to know people from other communities, whether by joining clubs at your uni, volunteering, getting involved in a hobby outside of school or taking on a part-time job.
Other than collecting overseas contacts and honing your intercultural communication skills, you’ll gain a new perspective on career opportunities and work culture in the country where you’re studying.
4. Open your eyes to career opportunities in the country where you’re studying
This brings us to our next point. Many Singaporean students tell themselves they’re going to move back when they graduate, and focus solely on their studies and hanging out with their Singaporean friends.
Even if you want to move back home right after graduation, don’t become blind to career opportunities in the country where you’re studying. Grab any opportunity to talk to your professors and peers about career options in your field of study, go to job fairs, and explore internships in various fields.
As you’ll someday discover, Singapore is a small country where options can be limited, and working abroad for a few years may be a smart option. What’s more, working abroad is getting harder for skilled Singaporeans these days, so don’t waste a good opportunity when you see one.
5. Figure out how you can stay on after graduation, just in case
Whether or not you decide to stay on after graduation, it can be useful to figure out how you can legally do so with or without a job, just in case. If an opportunity arises at the last minute, you don’t want to have to say no just because you forgot to apply for a particular visa.
For instance, students in Australia who wish to stay on to look for a job may apply for a post-study or graduate visa, which will enable them to remain in the country for a limited period after their studies even without an employer to sponsor them.
6. If you’re studying overseas in a non-English speaking country, pick up the local language
Many non-English speaking countries now offer degree courses in English, especially at master level. As an added advantage, public universities in non-anglophone countries are often cheaper—it costs a lot less to study in Germany or France than the UK or Australia.
Don’t squander the opportunity to pick up the local language if you’re studying in a country where English is not the main language. You will learn a hell of a lot faster than if you were studying on your own or taking classes back in Singapore.
Being fluent in another language can make it easier for you to stay on and work there after graduation, help you make local contacts more easily and be useful in your future career.
7. Even if your parents are giving you allowance, learn to budget
If you’re taking out a bank loan or funding your own studies, you are probably already living the life of a frugal student. But those students who are bankrolled by mum and dad should also take this overseas stint as an opportunity to learn how to budget and manage their own money.
For what is probably the first time in your life, you’ll have to do your own groceries and make sure you have enough cash left over for rent and bills. This is your chance to cultivate good habits like comparison shopping, prioritising needs and wants and making your own meals.
8. Take advantage of healthcare if it is cheaper than in Singapore and learn how your medical insurance works
Depending on where you are studying, you may be able to enjoy cheaper healthcare Singapore’s private healthcare system can offer. As an international student, you will probably be required to purchase medical insurance coverage, so you might as well make the most of it.
To cite an example, Singaporean students in Australia will be required to buy Overseas Student Health Cover, which should cover doctors’ visits and hospital treatment. How much coverage you get depends on which plan you’ve purchased. Find out how to make an insurance claim and the extent to which you can get reimbursed to figure out if it will be cheaper to see a doctor in Australia or locally.
Do you have any other tips for Singapore students at overseas universities? Share them in the comments!