What You Need to Know Before You Go on Exchange
Universities are great international hubs. They all are connected with other universities around the world through academic partnerships or government treaties. That’s great for research, but that also creates amazing travelling opportunities for their students. University exchanges are a fantastic way to travel and to discover a foreign culture. I have gone on two exchanges myself, on two different continents. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for a stress-free exchange experience.
Check deadlines right now
Maybe you’ve heard about exchange opportunities through your university’s international office. Maybe it was from friends or acquaintances, or even from a Youtuber or a blogger. It sounded great, and now you want to go on exchange. You might be thinking “We’re just in October, I barely started this school year, I don’t have to worry about that just now!” This might especially be your attitude if you live in Europe, where, in some universities, you have until the end of summer to register for the fall semester. But you’re wrong.
It’s never too early to look into studying abroad!
Deadlines vary greatly from program to program, and from university to university. Some deadlines are as early as December 1st, when others only require you to apply in spring. The earlier you know this, the better. You need to visit your university’s international office webpage. There, you will find details about the different kinds of exchanges that your university offers, as well as the deadlines and the application process. Attend information seminars if they offer some.
The application can be a lot of work
You made up your mind, you really want to go on exchange! Well, it’s not always that simple. Exchange opportunities are quite competitive and you usually need to have solid academic performance to be selected. Often, the admission process is in two steps. First, your university selects you as a suitable candidate for the exchange. Let’s say that they have two spots for the University of Turin. They go through all the applications to elect two of their students and you are one of them. The second step is the exchange university’s selection. The University of Turin has to accept you as well. It is very rare that the exchange university decides to go against the candidates selected by the mother university, though.
To apply, you usually need to write a cover letter explaining why you are the best candidate, sometimes in two languages. Everything gets more complicated if the exchange university’s language is different from your mother university’s. For example, if you study at the University of Warsaw and you want to go on exchange to the University of Turin, you might need to write a cover letter in Italian, depending on your exchange supervisor. You might also have to translate your transcripts and diplomas to Italian, for the University of Turin to evaluate your application. This is not simple, and that’s why you have to be aware of the deadlines.
You might need a visa
Deadlines can be particularly early if you need a student visa, as getting it can be a very long, tedious process. I didn’t have a passport when I was applying to go on exchange in Canada, so I had to take care of that as well. That took me quite a bit of time.
You don’t need a visa if you’re European and go – as I did – from the Sorbonne in France to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, as they were both part of the Erasmus agreement (EuRopean Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students). If you study in a country different than the country of your citizenship, additional rules may apply to you.
You should be able to find all this information on the country’s embassy website and at your university’s international office.
It can be expensive
Most of the time, you will have to pay for you student visa and, if you need one, there is a high chance that you will not be allowed to work in the country you are going to. You might be able to work on campus, though. If the currency of the country you are going to is different than yours, you might end up spending more than you usually do. My Canadian friends had to stick to a budget in Scotland, as the pound was double the value of the Canadian dollar.
However, if you get financial aid in your country, you should be able to keep it during your exchange, as you will still technically be a student in your current university. Your university might also have some funding programs to help you go on exchange.
It’s all worth it!
It is a lot of work, it’s stressful and it might cost you a bit more money than you usually spend. But studying abroad is a great investment.
It will give your resume a boost and will help you have a more well-rounded approach to your subject of study, as you will see how other countries approach it.
More importantly, it’s probably going to be the time of your life. If you speak to people who went on exchange, chances are they remember it dearly as the best time of their life. You will have amazing travel opportunities, you will learn about a new culture, and maybe also improve your language skills. It will make you grow a lot! You are also going to meet people from all over the world who will become life-long friends. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also very useful for future career opportunities to know smart, successful people all over the globe.