The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many disruptions in the way we live our lives and our future plans. With many countries still unable to contain the spread and allow air travel, a lot of prospective international students have had to defer their study plans to 2021.
However, it is impossible predict what the new year will look like for us. With there being plenty of anecdotal evidence that this may be a long-term change to the way we function, it might be wise to start planning how to approach studying abroad in 2021.
As an international student who has been studying online and in quarantine since March 2020, I have some experience to draw on to help you plan your studies in 2021.
Review your field of study
If you’re someone who wants to build current, essential and relevant skills for the industry you’re interested in, this period of upheaval is a good time for research which fields are predicted to be in demand.
Healthcare, medical research, supply chain, IT, digital industries and manufacturing, for instance, are some of the industries experiencing a higher demand than others, a trend that is likely to continue for some time.
What you want to do, ideally, is find the intersection between your fields of interest and global (or local) market demands to find the right course to study – this applies both to undergraduate and postgraduate study.
Prospective postgraduate students looking to transition their careers from one field to another can also use this time to research and review what fields would be most valuable in the 2021 market and beyond.
Analyse the ground situation
This will be more relevant closer to the date you’d like to start studying. There is unfortunately no guarantee that the world will be rid of the coronavirus by the time 2021 rolls around so it’s important to factor this in when planning to study abroad.
Given that some countries are still in the grips of the virus, while some are experiencing second waves, it is possible that your country of choice may be closed to international travellers or have stringent measures in place for any arrivals. In these cases, there will be study options in place such as starting online studies in the interim and exceptions to your student visa.
On that note, another point to prepare for would be different and potentially longer visa processing times, new (and likely) medical-based pre-requisites and additional screening – you would want to make sure you account for all that and begin your application process even earlier than usual.
There is also a chance that your country may be in the grips of the pandemic, leading you to change your flight plans. That is an unfortunate side effect of the new normal, one beyond our control. In such a situation, the only options will be to start your degree online or defer your start date.
Invest in tech for online learning
The biggest change I’ve seen in the new normal is the way learning, work and personal activities have transitioned online. This is something that will continue for the foreseeable future, especially with many top companies in the world allowing work from home until 2022, maybe even longer.
This means that there is a good chance some of your study will happen in virtual classrooms and you’ll be attending them from home, most likely from the comfort of a couch or a warm bed. This also means that your smartphone, tablet or chromebook may not be enough to get you through your study, especially if you have specific requirements that require a sophisticated setup (graphic design, editing and encoding, engineering or modelling, to name a few).
I recommend putting some money aside to invest in a computer that will fulfil your study requirements, and any additional gadgets required to improve your online learning experience such as headphones, rugged mouse and keyboard, maybe a second screen and a good webcam (you want to look your best in class, don’t you?). You might also want to start preparing for online learning to make the transition a lot easier.
Factor in an economic recession
The pandemic has negatively impacted global economies– from businesses to individuals, and few have escaped the effects of lockdowns, quarantines and lay-offs. The fallout of COVID-19 may last for years to come.
What this means for you as a prospective international student is that the job market may be impacted, financial situations may be more difficult, and a lot of additional planning and research will be necessary to ensure you are able to plan for all your tuition and cost of living.
As there’s still some time to 2021, so now would be the ideal time to upskill for post-COVID employment and the competitive global market you plan on entering. The recession means increased competition per job, so you will really need to stand out if you intend to pursue employment in your new country – and learning in demand and transferrable skills could be the edge you need to land on your feet!
Learn to manage your mental health
A big part of 2020 has been the increased stress and anxiety affecting international students. It’s likely this may continue into 2021 and can have an impact on your international student experience, especially if the additional pressures of the pandemic continues into 2021.
That’s why my final recommendation would be to invest some time in learning how to self-identify possible stressors or triggers that could impact your mental health and how to manage and regulate yourself.
While I hope you’ve all been practising self-care in 2020 as well, it is paramount to your overall well-being and that means learning to look after yourself. As someone who has been studying under quarantine, I cannot stress the importance for mental well-being enough. Learn to identify warning signs, learn to reach out for professional help when needed, learn self-care. It is vital to ensuring you enjoy your period of international study and perform to your utmost!
2020 has been a challenging year for international students. but it’s still possible to get ahead with your study abroad plans as many countries are already planning to open their borders to international students. However, it’s important to make sure you do additional planning and keep in mind the possibility of starting studies your studies online. In the meantime, keep up to date with the latest news and updates so you’ll be well-prepared to start your foreign study in the best way possible!