The Ultimate Guide to Studying Abroad
Whether you’re studying in your home town or have moved away, once the excitement wears off university quickly becomes your new ‘normal’. A study abroad experience can be the perfect way to take you out of your comfort zone and give you the opportunity to experience a new culture while you’re still studying. As well as opening yourself up to new experiences and creating international friendships, further study abroad benefits include significantly enhancing your CV as it demonstrates to employers that you are an independent person with life experience which gives you an interesting point of difference.
I recently arrived home from a semester exchange at the University of Leeds in England, and I’ve gathered together some information that I wish I knew beforehand!
While your respective university will have certain deadlines for their various study abroad programmes, it’s really important to start thinking about going and looking into your options quite early, as each degree will have different requirements. For example, for most study abroad opportunities for 3-year degrees, UoA, AUT and Massey recommended that you go in your second year of study, whereas for longer degrees such as law and engineering you’re recommended to go in your 4th or 5th years. Talking to your university’s study abroad office as well as your respective faculty well in advance will mean that you are able to prepare your papers accordingly so you can still finish your degree in your desired timeframe, and that what you study whilst on exchange credits back to your NZ degree.
However, all is not lost if you’ve decided later in your degree that you want to go on exchange! Just be aware that your university’s application deadlines can be 6-months to a year before the semester you want to go on – and meeting those deadlines means you are more likely to be accepted to the university of your choice.
Once you’ve decided you want to go, there is A LOT of paperwork and research you need to do before you’re accepted, as you have to be both accepted to your university’s study abroad programme as well as the host university’s programme. For study abroad UoA, part of this process includes selecting five different universities in case you don’t get your first pick – I missed out on mine so make sure you take your backups seriously!
Also look out for any study abroad scholarships that may be available to you – trust me extra money is extraordinary money! Be sure to also check out our guide to creating the best scholarship application here.
After you’ve been accepted to your university’s exchange programme, you will be assigned to a host university and in most circumstances you’ll then have to apply directly to their incoming study abroad programme as well. Take it upon yourself to research that university’s deadlines, etc., as they are subject to change and your university may not have up-to-date information. There is a lot of paperwork involved in going on your exchange, and be prepared that these may be due around exams so it’s best to keep on top of it.
You’ll also be responsible for sorting your visa for the respective country you are studying in. Check these requirements well in advance as the application process (if you need one) can be lengthy and expensive – particularly if you are travelling to the USA. Also be aware that you may need additional visas or evidential documents if you are planning on travelling in and out of the country once you start studying.
If you’re a Studylink user, you can continue to receive your allowance, living costs and course fees but you need to go through their processes to notify them of your overseas study.
MFAT Safe Travel Registration
All NZ travellers are recommended to register their travel so that if something does happen the government are in a position to locate and help you if you need it.
Ahhhhhh budgeting. It’s hard, but if you aren’t able to work while you’re in your host country it becomes essential. Here’s what I learnt along the way:
1. BE REALISTIC – do not sugar coat how much money you need or how much money you are going to have in your account. It is all very well to say you will worry about it when you get there, but it also sucks missing out on stuff because you can’t afford it, trust me!
2. VISAS – some visas may require you to have a certain amount of money in your account when you enter the country, check these requirements early.
3. UNEXPECTED COSTS – you can never plan for this, but you can plan to have a back-up. Whether this means having a reserve untouchable account or an agreement with your parents, make sure you have some way of accessing money in a hurry as travel insurance can take a few days to pay you out.
4. HAVE FUN – this counters budget tip #1, but don’t let your budget get in the way of a great experience! I travelled for a month prior to my exchange and spent a lot more than expected, which did impact what I did in my last month abroad but I made some incredible memories and don’t regret it for a second!
What I loved the most about my exchange
I’d been studying for 4.5 years and was itching to go travelling, so an exchange was a way for me to do a bit of travel in Europe and something to focus on when the 4th and 5th year blues were getting me down! Although my host university was quite similar to UoA in terms of size and teaching style, the change of environment and learning from a different perspective was really refreshing and re-engaged my enjoyment in studying. On top of this, it sounds cliché but I really didn’t expect to actually make so many genuine friends. When you are in the exchange environment the other exchange students become your lifeline and support system and you will be forever bonded!
- Read past exchange students’ blogs – these are helpful for both choosing your top five universities/programmes and later picking a hall of residence, etc., as it gives better insight than the uni’s promotional material
- Make plans loosely – it’s easy to dedicate every weekend to travel but be aware that you will make friends and various plans for trips and events will come up with them that you’ll want to be a part of!
- Prepare for homesickness – it happens and it can come in many different forms! I felt really low and grumpy for two weeks after I had settled in and it wasn’t until I talked to other exchange students that I realised that was what it was, and that we were all in a similar boat.
- Make your dorm room a home – If you’re like me and hadn’t previously lived in university accommodation, you probably won’t realise how much time you will spend in your room (especially if you go somewhere like the UK and it gets dark at 3 pm!). Invest a little bit of time and money to make it a happy and inviting place to be.
- Join university clubs and societies – my one regret is that I got stuck in my exchange student bubble and didn’t really meet many local students. Signing up to clubs and societies will give you a bit more exposure to students who actually live there.
- Pack a multi-plug – this is one of the biggest things I wish I took with me. You have no idea how annoying it is when you want to charge your phone and straighten your hair but there’s only one adaptor!
- Don’t forget to explore your host country – I had grand plans to fly all across Europe on my weekends, but I ended up loving just being in England and spent most of my time exploring towns and cities that were closely accessible to me by bus or train! The rest of the world will always be there but you’ll never get an experience like an exchange again!
Lastly, be safe and have fun! The last four months were hands down the best in my life and worth every bit of the paperwork and saving. Experiences like this are rare so if you have the opportunity, go for it!
By Tayla Court, Auckland, New Zealand.