Exchange study abroad: choosing country and university

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Some Motivation

I’ve studied abroad in a  few places and having a different ‘status’ for quite many years. What’s the most important? Just do it! I am trying to make this article as a general set of guidances, though I have most experience with exchange studies in Europe. Many things are country-dependent, but the international experience that you are going to get is common for anyone anywhere. Watch the movie “L’auberge Espagnol”, a must for every exchange student.

Initial Options

Your own university may have collaborations with universities abroad. If exchange is already happening, there should be a person in your department and an office in the university that arranges exchange studies. They will provide you with information on where you can go, how to apply, what funding is available. More than that, you can arrange the exchange on your own. If you know a specific university that you want to visit, start from checking out their webpage and asking for information. Start this research well in advance, you might need to apply a year before you go.

Where is that Lovely Paradise?

As for the place, most likely you will enjoy your experience, where you end up. Do not be afraid of a Town-I-Never-Heard-Before in a cold and rainy country that has not so much to offer. In smaller towns it is easier to make very close friendships, there is likely to be a community of international students that organizes parties and trips, you get to know nearly everyone, you get easily around, and can live cheap and still have lots of fun even in expensive Scandinavia. Probably, you will not integrate with the locals, but instead, you will get to know people from all over the world. I’ve spent quite a few years in Aalborg, Denmark, and met plenty of students for whom it was the best experience ever. However, I have also met those who get bored in small places and dream of a lively city and more sun.

South of Europe is an excellent option for those who want to learn Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian, get to know more locals, eat good food, enjoy sun and relaxed way of living.

Eastern Europe used to be a cheap and fun destination for Western Europeans, where, as the legend says, girls are beautiful, guys are ugly, beer is good and cheap, food is fat and horrible. I come myself from Vilnius, Lithuania, and students who were studying there had an absolutely awesome time. If you like bars and want just a little pinch of exotic (unfortunately, with integration to EU it is diminishing), if you are not afraid of cold winters and impossible to learn language, this might be an option for you.

Something more exotic might be an experience of your life. If you still want a good university and civilization, Singapore is an excellent choice. I have spent there 5 months, traveled to the most amazing places, met the most warm and friendly people ever, enjoyed sun and sea and a scent of Asia. Studies are tough though, but you might want to choose half of the subjects and catch up with the missing credits once you are back. For a more rustic experience, the world is big. You can study in English in many places in Asia, such as India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, etc. Don’t forget Australia and New Zealand. South America is for you if you want to learn Spanish or Portuguese. Don’t be afraid, in a few moths you will be fluent. Easier if your studies are technical.

Checkpoints

After all, the main things to consider are:

  • Living expenses: depends a lot on your needs. A small town in Scandinavia is generally cheaper than a capital in East Europe, because there you will be going out more instead of having dinners and parties at home. Though transport costs a fortune is Scandinavia, you can use a bicycle. Do you want to get a scholarship, or are you planning to work? Google for options. Some universities might offer part-time jobs (more likely for full-time students). Check if you are allowed to  work as a student.
  • Language: check if studies in English are available. Do you want to learn a new language? In a country where everyone speaks English (e.g., Scandinavia, Netherlands, Singapore) you will not get a chance to speak the local way.
  • Traveling: it may be a good chance to see more of the world, get a deeper insight into the culture than you would sample as a tourist. Maybe you want to see snow or go swimming in winter.
  • Quality and difficulty of studies: after all, you are going to learn something. India, China, Singapore are very competitive and many local students do nothing much more than read books. The legend says that you need to be rather hard-working than creative, though there many very high quality universities. In UK and US you can find top quality, but you have to know where you are going. In Netherlands good grades are only for gods. In Denmark, some universities (Roskilde, Aalborg) offer problem based learning, where you get most of the credits for a practical project work rather than theoretical exams. World-known universities are not necessarily good in every single area. You can as well choose to study something else than your major.
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