Many of us have the infamous rite of passage gap year between finishing school and university or even sometimes between finishing university and entering the real world with our first “real job” that doesn’t involve waiting on tables.
However, some of us are so studious and focussed that we don’t want to lose a year. We don’t want to be a year behind others (although I don’t think you would really be a year behind as a year travelled is still a year that you will have spent learning about and appreciating other cultures and is something you cannot put a price on). Anyway, I digress. If you want to be able to travel but not sacrifice a year or a semester of your studies, you can actually do both.
A lot of universities offer exchanges with sister universities in other countries. Some of these may be for only a few months, whereas others may be or a whole year. This is a great way to get to continue with your studies but to also live abroad and get a taste for life in a different country.
A lot of these are offered at undergraduate level and if you are travelling to a foreign language speaking country, you may find that there are language restrictions which apply. However, each program is different. Your university will be able to let you know which international exchange programs it has in place for your degree.
Others may have programs which by their design involve an exchange for all students who complete them. For example, my Australian university had a joint Master’s program with a German university whereby one semester was completed in Germany and the other in Australia and the whole course was taught in English. So it was the German students who were required to meet a requisite level of English in order to be admitted into the course.
No delays to your studies
You get to have your time abroad without having to delay or put your studies on hold. You can still complete your degree in the originally intended timeframe.
You get to experience the university lifestyle in a foreign country as you will often be able to stay in university accommodation with other foreign language and local students. For example, when I was in Germany, I stayed in university accommodation and lived with Germans, a French guy and a Brazilian. I was able to go to parties held by university students and attend other important social events which are integral to university life.
Depending on your country’s social security system, you may still be eligible for student entitlements. For example, back when I went to study in Germany, as it was for an Australian degree I was still entitled to be paid the relevant student benefit from the Australian Government.
Continuing with the financial theme, scholarships are often on offer for foreign students participating in international exchange programs, whether offered by the home or foreign university.
You can travel on weekends. You don’t have to be at in the university town (or even country in the case of Europe) for the whole semester. During the 5 month program I completed, there were a few students who actually spent every single weekend away. I don’t recommend that you go that far though as you then don’t get to form friendships and participate fully in the life of a uni student in that place.
Learning a foreign language
If you travel to a country that speaks a language other than English, living and studying in that country is a great way to be completely immersed and to develop your language skills.
Study subjects relevant to but not available in your home university degree
Some of the subjects that I studied in my Master’s degree in my German semester are not offered by any of the Australian universities. In addition, some of them were taught by international experts in the field.
Study at prestigious institutions that you would not otherwise have access to
This is an opportunity to study at internationally renowned universities without the usual barriers to entry to such institutions, both academic and financial.
You will then stand out from your peers who have not travelled when you go to look for work once you complete your degree. You will also become more internationally employable than if you had not completed an international exchange program.
Because you will be based in the one place and with other people for a few months or a year, you will have a much better chance to develop longstanding friendships than when you are only spending a few days here or there.
And…all of the other benefits that come with travelling in a foreign country
You get to learn about different cultures and meet people from different places.
You get to gain independence and confidence that comes from being out on your own (even though you will have the benefits of the university support networks to help you where needed).
I really can’t think of any off the top of my head. There are certainly many positives to outweigh the negatives. If I really had to think hard to come up with something it would perhaps be that you don’t get as much time to travel because you are studying. However, I think that this is negated by the fact that you can travel on weekends (as stated above) and even take a month or more at the end of your semester/course/stay to travel.
Even financially I don’t think you are really at that much of a disadvantage as you are getting the benefits of cheap university accommodation as well as potential scholarships or living allowances.
In summary, completing an international university exchange program organised through your home university is a wonderful way to get to travel to a foreign country and get all of the benefits without having to put your studies on hold. It also allows you to experience the university life of a foreign country and make yourself more employable. Win win!
By Ellie Palmer