What to expect from studying abroad

International students at architecture university Canada

Being an exchange student is the best thing that happened to me. I met amazing people, got to study in the EU at a good faculty, met my boyfriend, had all the time in the world to travel, had amazing discounts wherever I went, AND had the time to grow as a person and learn how to take care of myself.

Before I applied to study abroad, I thought that this was an extremely hard thing to achieve and that only the best students got to try it. I have seen foreign students in my city before, and it seemed possible, but I didn’t really know who I should ask about the opportunities and how to become an exchange student.

I was lucky to have ONE person that showed me that studying abroad has never been easier than now and that it was something achievable. Now, for all of you who don’t know where to start asking the questions, I will be that person. I will try to give you the basic information you need. So, here is how to become an exchange student.

How to be a foreign exchange student?

First, you will need to find a program in your country that creates foreign opportunities for students. Many countries have different organizations that do this (Erasmus plus program, Erasmus Mundus, Go Overseas), but most countries (Europe, Africa, South America) work with Erasmus.

International students
International students

Erasmus creates partnerships between foreign institutions that allow students from one country to study in another and vice versa. Partnerships are made within universities, so you will need to explore which universities you can attend based on the university you are currently enrolled in.

You can find this information on your university’s website, or you can simply go to your faculty’s office for international relations and ask for information. Opportunities are broken down into faculties and study groups, so not every partner institution will have an opportunity for you.

You have to explore which universities offer courses related to your field of studies, but also study level (bachelor, post-graduate, etc.). Erasmus exchange studies go with scholarships, so if you apply through them, your studies (and life abroad) are fully covered.

Acquiring documentation for studying abroad

When you find universities that you would like to attend, you will need to apply for some of them. Applying consists of gathering all the required documentation (CV (Europass CV), motivational letter, recommendation letter, grades, etc.)

Documentation preparation for exchange studies
Documentation preparation for exchange studies

One of the most important documents is the learning agreement, in which you list courses that you are planning on attending at the foreign university. A great thing about Erasmus exchange studies and partnerships between universities is that if you do it right, it won’t stop your academic dynamics. The point of choosing relatable courses is that those courses are accepted at your university as if you attended them at your own faculty.

Pro tip: For example, if you have Economics on your faculty, and you choose matching course Basic Economics at a foreign faculty, you will have to pass the exam only in one country. So, if you pass it while on the exchange, when you come home, you won’t be behind your classmates. You can also choose subjects and courses that are not relatable and attend them, just to use the opportunity to attend something you are not able to in your country.

Foreign language certificate

Every faculty puts a list of requirements that you have to fulfill, which they check through your documentation. One of those requirements is language. Mostly, countries require fluent English (level B2) or B1/B2 of the native language of that country. This is why most of the time; you will have to send proof of your language skills.

Language certificate
Language certificate

If you have an internationally accepted certificate, that is the best, but some universities also accept finished language courses that you took on your faculty or even recommendations of a language professor from your university.

When you gather your documentation, you will send it, and then wait for them to get back to you. If there were a lot of scholarships offered, you will have a greater chance to be accepted. If there are fewer people that applied than there were scholarship offerings, probably all the people will be accepted. It’s best to apply to 2-3 faculties, to have bigger chances of being accepted.

Pro tip: Put all the effort into the motivational latter, that is what sells you better than your grades!

When you get accepted, you will see it’s the best feeling in the world! Being an exchange student will change your perspective of life.

Expectations from studying abroad

When you have decided to study abroad, you have at least a couple of months to prepare yourself for the new adventure. So, how to prepare for studying abroad?

Creating preparation checklist for studying abroad
Creating a preparation checklist for studying abroad

On the technical side, you can set up some sort of a study abroad preparation checklist in which you will put all the things you need to get done before you leave. If you are moving away for the first time in your life, and to another state, you will find that trying not to forget something is a lot of stress. So, to avoid that, make a list or two so you can keep up. It’s better to make two, three checklists based on different categories or due dates, so you can have a better look at them.

Examples by categories:

Study abroad preparation checklist – Trip planning
  • Make sure you have a passport and a visa (if necessary)
  • Book a flight
  • Plan trip to the airport and from the airport
  • Book a place to sleep in between traveling etc.
Study abroad preparation checklist – Living
  • Find a place to live in (an apartment, dorm, room)
  • Plan your budget and living costs etc.

Examples by due dates:

Study abroad checklist – 6 months before moving
  • Find courses and get in touch with professors
  • Pass two exams left at your faculty
  • Book a flight
Study abroad checklist – 2 months before moving
  • Set a shopping list for all the necessities that you need to bring with you (towel, clothes, cell phone, etc.)
  • Go visit your family in the country before you leave
  • Plan a going-away party for your friends

So, you see how checklists are the best things to do when you want a clean technical preparation, but how to prepare for studying abroad mentally?

Preparing mentally

To prepare mentally for the big move, you need to know what to expect when studying abroad. To know this, you will need to do research on the country, city, and neighborhood you are going to. For example, is there a different time zone than in your country? Or, do classes begin much earlier than classes at your faculty, do people there like to work and study, or relax and party?

Foreign exchange students
Foreign exchange students

All of these things seem unnecessary, and you will get to know them when you settle down, but it wouldn’t hurt to at least have a clue on what to expect when studying abroad in that particular country. The mentality of the people in that country could be very different than yours, so its good to have heads up on some stuff you might find uncomfortable or weird. On the other hand, you also need to know their vibe to not get in trouble or not to offend someone. We are all different, so a little research would save you a struggle.

Also, when you start to explore that country months before you leave for it, you start to get used to the idea of you living there, and you connect to it much easier. Then, when the time comes you actually go there, you feel much more familiar with surroundings, and thus you feel safer and more comfortable.

How to explore?

Exploring can be done on the internet, but also in groups and among people who already went there. Its much better to try to get in touch with someone from your faculty or country who already went to that exchange program, because your experiences will be more similar to his, than someone from the internet.

Buddy program

Getting a Buddy can also help you get some information before going. A Buddy is a special program that connects you to a local person, a student from the city you are about to move to, that helps you with information, getting around, etc.

Buddy program
Buddy program

Some people have become best friends with their Buddies, but also got some great inside information like where to buy the best food or some local socializing tips. It’s great! And, if you get in touch with Buddy before you move, you will have someone waiting for you!

Benefits of being an exchange student

Studying in a foreign country has many advantages. Being an exchange student not only brings educational benefits but also social, travel, and personal.

Educational benefits

You will get to see how your field of study is approached in another country and culture. You will be able to see problems in another context and will need to find solutions for those problems, which will develop your critical thinking and widen your perspective.

Student conference at university
Student conference at university

Students often don’t know how much culture affects their approach of thinking, even with natural sciences. Problem-solving strategies come from real-life problems, so when a country or culture lacks a problem, we also often lack strategies for dealing with it.

Studying in a foreign country helps us see the other side of things. Also, you should never forget that being an exchange student also helps your peers widen their perspective because you bring your own thinking structures with you in their class.

  • Learn from a different perspective
  • Share your knowledge with others
  • Apply what you know to the new environment
  • Develop critical thinking

Social benefits

One of the benefits of being an exchange student is having a strong community of other exchange students that surround you. You will constantly be in touch with multiple cultures and languages, which will help you develop social skills and be more confident in social situations. Also, being able to get around and live in a city that doesn’t speak your language is a whole new level!

Social benefits of being an exchange student
Become more open and comfortable
  • Learn new languages
  • Become more open and comfortable
  • Become more self-aware
  • Learn to have more respect for others
  • Become more confident

Personal benefits

Studying abroad actually affects your personal development the most. First, you will have a lot of time just to yourself. This will be your safe space where you will think about life, yourself, your aspirations. Secondly, you will be your own life-manager. That means you will learn how to cook, clean, how to organize a budget, pay bills, shop for your home, manage your time and balance between school and friends.

Study abroad exploring new city
Study abroad exploring a new city

Maybe this will be the first time you will be far from your family, maybe not. But you will be far from your closest circle of friends and family, and you will start to approach life from a different angle.

You will become more mature, appreciative of small things, more grateful and more ambitious.

  • Become more self-dependent
  • Have more free time
  • Learn to enjoy being by yourself
  • Learn to manage your life (budget, food, plans)
  • Learn to love yourself

Studying abroad expectations vs. reality

Expectations from studying abroad can often be different than reality. Let’s list some of them and compare them to reality.

The language will be a big problemYou need a very small vocabulary for everyday life, which you will learn in the first month!
It will be hard to make new friendsYou are surrounded by people in the same situation as you, you will meet a lot of people everywhere
Studying will be very hard; I won’t keep upEven if it is hard, everybody will have understanding for an exchange student and will help you learn
I will need months to accommodate to new climate, culture, and lifeYour body and mind will get used to the new environment in a couple of weeks

Being an exchange student in Spain

For me, Erasmus in Spain was one of the best things that I have ever experienced. The culture I come from is nothing like the culture in Spain, so I had a lot of shocks, but also some realizations that made me think about life differently.

Centro Botin Santander, Spain
Centro Botin Santander, Spain

I learned to cook and to live by myself! Applause, por favor! But, most importantly, I learned how to appreciate what I have, how to think beyond the borders, and I actually got to meet the real me.

Jaen is definitely one of the best Erasmus cities in Spain, even though it seems small compared to Barcelona or Madrid. Jaen has so much to offer, and I would never choose differently if I could go back in time. It is student-oriented, it has this festive vibe every day of the year, the people are amazing, and it has one of the best Erasmus universities in Spain.

University of Jaen, Spain
University of Jaen, Spain

Erasmus scholarship that I got was 800 euros/month, which was more than enough for Jaen. The amount that you get through scholarship is mainly influenced by how wealthy is your country. But on that topic read in our separate article “Average living cost in Spain.

If you are planning on being a foreign student in Spain, go check our last article on what to expect in Spain as an international student. It’ll give you some ideas on what to put on your study abroad preparation checklist!

We hope you now have some ideas on where to start searching for your dream experience, and if you have any questions or need help, feel free to contact us! We would love to help!

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