Student Exchange/ Study Abroad Part 1: How I Prepared

For those who don’t know, I recently came back from a student exchange in the United States. It was around this time in my first year that my school had a Study Abroad Information session, so I thought I would post this in honor of that time.

Going on exchange was a great opportunity and I’m glad I went. It was honestly the best semester I’ve had at university. I wished I could’ve done a full year but in the end I’m just glad I was able to go at all. A lot of people may think that it’s a lot of work, and it wasn’t (at least for me), a lot of things I did were made easier by me, doing them early.

I’m going to split this post into three parts: before I left, during my exchange, and after exchange: a reflection.


How did I learn about exchange and why did I want to go?

This all started back in my second semester and last year at community college. Over here,  we follow the British school system, so we finish secondary/high school at 16 and for those two years, you either go straight to work, go straight to university or you go to sixth form, community college or the technical schools. I chose to go to community college.

In my last year there was this notice about a student exchange program in Canada. It seemed interesting and I wanted to go. The requirements were pretty simple: good grades, financial support, if you were a minor you were to have family in Canada. I qualified most of these criteria . My only hesitation was that they didn’t have a list of schools to choose from so I wouldn’t know where I would be allocated and of course, the issue of money.

They hadn’t advertised study abroad before this last  year so I didn’t get time to save up money, plus I was going into university next year, so I couldn’t help but wonder if going abroad then would it be worth it. I decided not to go due to the short notice I was given, and then I kind of forgot all about it with school being in progress and exams and all that.

The idea of studying abroad came back up when my friend transferred her ccredits to America. We spent that summer before our first year of university looking up move in videos and dorm ideas on the internet. I began to think about exchange again. It seemed like a fun and great adventure. The more I looked up blogs and YouTube videos of people on exchange, the more it  made me want to go.

I went on my university’s  website and they did have an exchange program and a study abroad office. I was happy  because it gave me a chance. When I told my family, they were okay with it, but I just needed to clarify that the program was still at the university because, you didn’t hear people talk about exchange; you heard of people going abroad to study their full undergraduate degrees or masters but you didn’t hear much of exchange.

From then on I worked towards exchange. My entire first year I studied with the intent of getting my grades eligible for exchange (over 3.0). I wasn’t a bad student but I now had to adjust to university/university life and the level of work that I was being given.

The more I thought about it , the more I realized that this could be  my one chance to become a bit more independent while in school. I could see what I was like without friends or family nearby, I could learn how to take care of myself because up to hat point I had always commuted from home. I had never lived in a dorm before, I’ve always commuted. It was a chance for me to grow and experience a different and a bit more grown up sort of life while I still had a sort of safety net ( family and international office) beneath me. I wouldn’t be completely alone.
What did have to do in order to qualify and what steps I took after

In October of my first year they had a study abroad information fair hosted by the International office . I knew about it (the fair)before my lecturer told us about it in class. It was a small affair, not as big as I expected but it was informative. I got to talk to the assistant exchange coordinator and I also got to talk to some students who had already gone on exchange before. During this time, I talked to some girls that went to the school that was my number one choice. It cemented my eagerness to go.

At this point I had already looked at all the requirements for exchange and I had formulated all my courses, over my full degree, so that I had a better chance of getting my courses approved. I had also chosen a list of a few (about 6) potential colleges/universities.

Next came the easy part, I talked to my lecturers about  going abroad. In fact I’m pretty sure I told everyone I knew and anyone who would listen that I was going abroad, even though it wasn’t a finalized thing. In order to go in exchange, I had to get any potential courses approved by both my department heads and the dean of the faculty.

In order to do this, I had to ask all the professors from the colleges/universities abroad, by email,for their syllabi so that my department heads  could approve the courses I wanted to take. This was the process that took the longest. Although it was by email, school was still in session and these were professors and heads of departments, so I had to wait for them to reply to me. I understood if I had to wait a while because obviously they would be busy people. After that I had to compile the information and submit it to my department heads. Then I had meetings with them to talk about the potential courses and after that was finalized and approved, the papers were submitted to the dean.

I was so sure I’d  missed the deadline for application. Although I wasn’t going until spring semester, I wanted to submit my application early around March, which was the deadline for those going in fall semester or for the full year. My real deadline was October but I’d been told to submit things as early as possible so I was a bit panicked about that. I submitted around the end of the last semester in my first year. I then had to wait until late in the summer for my grades to come out.

When the next semester started again, I went to the international office just to find out what else I should do. I was told to keep my grades up for this semester as some of my courses might be counted as pre-requisites to thecollege/universites and they just had to nominate me.

I received a response on October 2nd which was the day after deadline had closed. From the moment I got that email I called everyone I knew letting them know what I needed in addition to my application: medical checkups, visas etc.

In August I  renewed both of my passports because they were expiring. I didn’t necessarily do that just for exchange. In November, I went to my doctor and got a full checkup, she filled out the forms and gave me any vaccinations I needed. Where it was needed she also referred me to the polyclinic for a special vaccination. This medical check up took about a week- a day for the checkup, I had to make an appointment for the special shot, I had to go back the next day and get tested to make sure I was negative , I then had to go back to my doctor and have her sign it as part of my medical form.

By December I had pretty much finished all I had to on my end. I was approved, plans were made, plane tickets bought and I was about to go on an adventure!
Tips and Tricks

  • Always start finding out information about study abroad as early as possible, even if you aren’t certain you want to go.
  • Find out what criteria are needed- a certain grade, restrictions and any extra requirements to be done when you come back. For example at my school, I’m not allowed to do exchange my last semester of my last year.
  • Talk with your family or support system early so that if you need to convince them you will be doing it long before the application deadline .
  • Always have more than one choice of schools / places, I had two choices in the end, and I couldn’t go to my first choice so I went to my second.
  • Make sure your credits can transfer back home. If you want to do additional courses not for credit go ahead, but make sure you have credits that count,you’re still trying to get your degree.
  • Find out deadlines for visas, health forms, housing forms etc.
  • Find out information about any visas you need to get so you can get all relevant things completed before that particular deadlines
  • Find out about any immunizations or any medical testing you might need to take. These tests might take a while to be done or to get results or they may only be done at a certain time of of year in your country
  • The same goes for any academic testing: any English tests or university proficiency tests may only be done at a certain time and you may haveto pay extra for that.
  • When calculating finances, calculate what the college/ university suggests and add extra, especially to personal expenses and school books, also add costs for visas,  education checkup and vaccinations,and testing you may have to do. These things add up and may pull money allocated to spend on exchange.
  • Relax- don’t get too stressed. You still have a semester filled with work that you’re currently doing. Try to practice good time management and submit things on time. Once you do your portion of the work, the rest of it relies on the other parties.
  • Don’t stress about what you can’t control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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