I am a firm believer that exchange programs (also known as a study abroad semester/year), is a massively valuable, rare opportunity in a person's life. I've also noticed exchanges to been significantly formative in the lives of those I know who have taken on the adventure. We're talking, changed them for a better version of themselves, a version they didn't even known existed within them, and a darn good version at that!
After university there are few opportunities that provide the comfort of a familiar lifestyle, in an exotic location, which allows for much traveling and exploration, along with a safety net.
After university if you'd like to live abroad, your options are a lot more unknown, and by extension, scary. You could pack up your life, get a work and travel visa, travel to some unfamiliar location without any support system in place, and try your hand at finding a place to live, a job, and friends.
Now, some people have the guts to do so, and that is FANTASTIC! However, for a lot of people, that sounds like a lot of uncertainty, and is intimidating. However, the more you have experience getting out and traveling the world, the less intimidating this lifestyle becomes.
An exchange is a perfect way to start getting travel experience, with a lot less uncertainty. You'll already have your occupation determined (student), with a place to live arranged, and a support system in place, (the university's International Office). There's basically a lot less chance of screwing it all up on exchange, as opposed to moving abroad after school.
(Not that I have anything against packing up and living abroad after school ends, it's just a lot more intense of a leap of faith, if yeh know what I'm sayin'.)
So, let's see what you'll need to study abroad, and I'll also quash some commonly accepted notions about study abroad that just aren't true.
What You Do NOT Need To Study Abroad
1. A trust fund/boat load of money
No, no, a trust fund is not necessary! Exchanges abroad can be so, so very affordable! Once you really look into the financials of it all, you'll learn that the expenses you'll incur abroad are very similar to those you would have at your home university anyways.
Each university will have different financial incentives for studying abroad, so it's worth looking into at your university.
An average semester's cost for me is about $8,000, and I had an additional $1,500 in expenses while abroad. I also saved $3,200 for choosing to study abroad ("Whatttttt?" Yeah! SAVED $3,200 by choosing to study abroad!)
Regardless if I didn't have that savings, the $1,500 is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of my 6 years of higher education in undergrad and grad school. I will also mention, looking back, I cannot think of a more fulfilling, and beneficial way to spend $1,500.
I kept track of every penny (or more precisely, pence) while abroad in England, and broke down every single expense and area I saved in this detailed post. Worth a read, (and showing to your parents) when debating a study abroad experience.
Of course, what you spend on, and where you save will be specific to you. Everyone in the world has those lucky circumstances, and connections to save here and there. I found some, and you will too, just in a different way, or on a different expense area.
Oh, and if you're wondering, YES, YES, YES, you can still go on exchange if you receive student loans for school!
2. A 4.0 GPA/Honor Roll
You do not need to be in the top 10% of your class, so don't let that worry you. However, keep in mind that scraping by with D's also wont make you very attractive to host schools.
Again, this is specific to each university, there's usually always some sort of cutoff GPA or expected grade to be considered for exchange. Get Googling for your schools International Office to find out.
I think a 70% or 2.5 GPA is a normal minimum expectation.
3. A very common program of study
Think only Business, and Engineering students can go abroad because those are common programs at every school worldwide? Nah!
I took a very specific, unusual program in undergrad, and that didn't stop me. I loaded up on electives, and credits for my minor (Political Science) when abroad. The school I went on exchange to in England didn't have my program of study at all, and it didn't matter one bit.
So yes, rejoice all you Master's of Hipster Business students, and History of Classical Dance people, because you can still go abroad.
4. A second language
No second language? No problem! Many university's offer courses taught entirely in languages not native to the country. English speakers are especially lucky, we have it easiest around the world with the most common, and most sought after language to learn. (Thanks British Empire).
If going somewhere with a different language is a little too far out of your comfort zone, there's likely to be a few countries with your same language. Apply to schools there!
5. Be in your undergraduate degree
The boyfriend studied abroad during his Master's degree. I'm going to admit, I also had no idea that was an option until meeting him. Who knew?
If you missed out during undergrad, and are in grad school, don't let regret eat at you for forever, GO NOW WHILE YOU STILL CAN! Because that missing out feeling is just going to get worse as time goes on. Grad school is your second chance, don't let it pass you by too!
What you Do need To Study Abroad:
1. Ace an interview
Your university depends on it's students to promote them, and your country well while abroad. So, it's common practice to conduct a quick interview with each student who wants to go abroad.
The questions were pretty darn simple "Why do you want to study abroad?" "What experience, if any, do you have traveling?" and "What would you say to someone who asked about the university/country?"
I'm pretty sure what they are really looking for is: the student isn't likely to embarrass the university, doesn't have tattoos all over their face, and didn't look high. Basically, if you can show you'll represent the school well, and aren't likely get into any legal issues while abroad, you're good.
2. Reference Letter(s)
One, or a couple references from employers and/or professors you impressed will do. Again, having someone else vouch that you are a reliable person, and aren't going to cause your university, or the university abroad any problems.
3. Organizational Skills, Motivation and Courage
These ones are really, truly important. While living and studying abroad is the most wonderful experience, it doesn't come without headache, and a sufficient amount of bureaucratic red tape.
Things which are simple (eg.'s prescription medication, getting your transcripts) at home, suddenly become some wildly complicated, elongated process.
Do you easily give up when things get tough? Kiss your study abroad dreams goodbye. In the wise words of Dumbledore, "sometimes we must choose between what is right, and what is easy." Organizing studying abroad can be a proper pain in the neck, I won't deny it. You're not taking the easy road here.
Which leads me to, courage. While all your friends are pleasantly enjoying their summer, and going back to their usual school routine, you're going to be preparing to go abroad like mad, and worried about the unknown outside your country. It takes courage to leave what you're comfortable with. However, doing so will make you much more attractive to employers (proof #2) (proof #3) in the future. Organizational skills, motivation, and courage are all fantastic character traits employers love.
4. Destinations, or schools in mind
The world is your oyster, where do you want to go?!
When you go to apply for exchange, one of the first thing's you'll be asked is, 'where do you want to go?' Have a few countries in mind, and maybe even schools. Your International Office will help you narrow down your choices, but it's good to have a fair idea to start with.
I have oh so many resources for you to help you study abroad!
- Interviews with girls studying abroad:
- Study Abroad & Relationships
- Tips For Going On Exchange
- How Much Does An Exchange Study Abroad Semester Cost?
And if you're looking to do graduate school fully abroad you'll love:
What on the list did you not expect about going abroad?