Adapting to living and spending alone: A Gen Z’s experience of studying abroad

After having a month to settle in, our writer shares what she wishes she had packed and how to save money when in a new country.

Alicia Ang

Published: 3 May 2023, 10:22 AM

  • In this Youthopia series, we follow our writer’s journey in pursuing her education overseas in Brisbane, Australia. 
  • In her second article, 21-year-old Alicia Ang shares how to adjust in a new country, what she wishes she had packed and her advice on what you do need to spend money on.

No matter how well you prepare beforehand, moving overseas to study will always surprise you in some capacity. 

In February, I wrote an article on what you need to know before making a move of this scale. Since that article I’ve gone through dorm and university orientation, the first two weeks of class and the horror of navigating public transport by myself. 

With that in mind, here’s what I missed in my first article.

Bring everything you want, unless it’s really too bulky. In a bid to bring only what I felt was absolutely needed, I under-packed and found myself having to spend on things I could have brought from home, like a spare pair of shoes and facial products. This had me scrambling to readjust my month’s budget- and woke me up to the uncertain nature of living far from home.

Look into university and dorm culture as well! Knowing I was moving to a warm state, I packed mainly casual clothes – so I was caught off guard when I found out how prevalent party culture is here. 

As a Gen Z, Facebook was the last thing I was expecting to be using- so I didn’t anticipate it being the main form of communication instead of WhatsApp or Instagram. Had I thought of that, I might have gotten onto the platform to look my college up, and I would have seen that the colleges here host a lot more activities than dorms in Singapore. 

It may sound silly, but not having the appropriate clothes for college and university events (which have required cocktail, semi-formal and formal attire so far) made me feel way more out of my element when I got here, which amplified my homesickness. 

Do your research on pricing in your chosen country before you leave Singapore as well, and speak to people who are currently living or have just returned from where you’re going. 

I was shocked to find out how much more expensive food and drinks are here in Brisbane, due to their high minimum wage. Though the cost of grocery store items and clothing are comparable to Singapore, a small bubble tea here costs at least seven dollars regardless of brand. Doing some research will save you a lot of money on things you never anticipated might blow a hole in the bank.


Not pictured: me trying to figure out what protein powder was the most cost-effective on my first grocery shopping trip. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/ALICIA ANG


When you are shopping, do price comparisons before and during trips. I’ve gotten into the habit of looking up prices in competing grocery stores before I go shopping, so I’m not spending more than I have to. 

I’ve also found myself tempted to overspend now that I’m living alone- my dorm room always looks too bare, or I find myself buying snacks ‘just in case’. To prevent that, make a list of essentials before you go out. Not only does it negate having to make two trips, it also keeps you from buying anything unnecessary. 

That being said, allow yourself small comforts. Before I left Singapore, I assumed I would transform into a strong, independent woman once I was living alone- how wrong I was. 

Don’t feel like you have to have everything sorted out just because this is a new chapter in your life! Living alone is scary, moving to a foreign country even more so. On your newfound quest for independence, there’ll still be moments of confusion or needing help- those are perfectly natural as you find your footing. 

Because of that, allow yourself to enjoy living in a new place! Balance is key, and just as you’ll find yourself being more conscious of money, you’ll also find joy in making the new space really feel like home.


Small changes like putting up posters and photos can make a space feel more like home. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/ALICIA ANG


With that in mind, my most important tip is to invest in your new friends. Though you may miss your friends and family back home, cultivating a trustworthy group of friends while you’re overseas will be integral to your mental health and ability to enjoy your new environment. 

This means putting yourself out there, though you might be tempted to stay in and study or worried about making a poor first impression. When I checked into my dorm I was terrified that everyone seemed cooler and smarter than I was, but I’ve made a strong group of friends despite my social anxiety.


Even if it was grueling, I’m glad I signed up for my dorm’s orientation as it jump started a lot of friendships- allowing for shenanigans like a dorm-wide freshman dance. PHOTO CREDIT: FACEBOOK/GCSC MEDIA


After a month, I can confidently say there’s more to look forward to than dread when moving overseas to study. If you’re willing to put in a bit of work, a completely foreign space can become a second home.

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