In my blog, I already told you why you should seize the opportunity of a semester abroad and how to make most of it. Here you learn how to organize your semester abroad, where to stay in your host country and how much money you will need –and what other possibilities there are to experience another country during your college time.
Get Started and Prepare Your Semester Abroad
1.) Get the paperwork work done
If you’re interested in going abroad, you should first find what are the necessary steps for a semester abroad. Check out the website and ask your teachers and fellow students which opportunities you have and what programs and scholarships there are. Then find out what you have to do to get in one of the programs. In some institutes you will have to send a CV and motivation letter to the responsible office or even pass an interview. In other institutes you just talk to the responsible coordinator to get a place in one of the programs.
2.) Choose your classes
Once you’re enrolled in ERASMUS or another program that will send you to one of your college’s partner universities, find out if the classes you will take abroad can be credited as a part of your studies. When the responsible teachers at your college approves your classes abroad as equivalent, it is usually easy to credit them. In this case, it will help to take a look at your host’s university calendar and talk to your teachers before you go abroad to avoid doing classes that can’t be credited – you can still change your timetable later and talk to your teachers at home via email. However, even if you can’t credit your classes, this is not a reason to dump the idea of going abroad. Learning a new language and gaining international experience is just as valuable for your studies and your CV.
3.) Organize travels and accommodation
Book your flights and give some thought to where you are going to stay when you arrive at your host university. In some countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden or Norway the college might provide a room in a local student residence. If this is not an option, flatshares are a common way to live for exchange students. If you are looking for a room, I would recommend to stay in a hostel or Airbnb for the first days and start looking for places once you’re there – I have bad experiences with renting a room without having seen it in real life. Another opportunity are family homes, which are often a higher standard of living and cheaper, but, on the other hand, grant less freedom.
4.) Pause your life at home
You will spend at least 5 months or even a year away from your usual life; thus it’s important that you arrange things early enough to “pause” this life for the time you’re abroad. If you live in a flatshare or in an apartment by yourself and you’re planning to move back in when you’re back, the easiest thing would be to rent your place to someone while you’re gone – but check with your landlord first if that is fine. Maybe you already have a friend or a friend of a friend who wants to take over your room or apartment for a few month. Otherwise there are online portals that help you find an interim tenant. However, if you have very personal or valuable things in there, make sure to store them safely in the place of someone you trust, like a good friend or your family. If you were planning to look for a new place to live anyway, this is a great opportunity to make a change – cancel your contract on time and bring all your stuff to your family’s or friend’s place. When you’re back from your semester abroad, you can start looking for a new place to live.
Furthermore, “pausing” your life not only includes your housing situation. If you have pets, find someone trustable to take her of them, if you have subscribed newspapers, make sure to cancel or pause them. Depending on your budget, you might also want to pause the contract of your mobile phone and if you had to make a health insurance for living abroad, you might – if possible – want to pause the health insurance you have in your country.
5.) Pack your bags and go!
A semester abroad is a time where you have to get along with the stuff fitted into one or two suitcases for a few months up to a year. Organize it well and really reflect critically what you really need and what you don’t. The tips from my blog post about how to fit everything you need in small luggage may help you. If you really don’t fit all the things you need in the bags you can bring, find out the prices for sending a package from your country of origin to your host country; especially within Europe this is usually not too expensive. However, keep in mind that you may want to buy new clothes and souvenirs in your host country, and that the climate of your host country might be different and you will want to wear things you wouldn’t wear at home – so trying to fit all the clothes you own in your suitcases is nothing I would recommend.
How much Money Do I Need for a Semester Abroad?
This highly depends on the country you are going to and the program that organizes your semester abroad. You can live relatively cheap in many countries of Eastern and Southern Europe, whereas Scandinavia and North America are very expensive. However, you will probably get some financial support by ERASMUS or whatever program organizes your semester abroad. This can be a little support of 200 Euros per months or even a whole scholarship that covers flight, accommodation and other expenses. Luckily most programs cover the enrollment fee. Thus, there is no definite answer on how much money you will need for a semester abroad – but if you choose a cheap country or get a scholarship it should be available for nearly everyone.
Full-Time Studies Abroad
A semester abroad is great, but not the only possibility to experience another country during college. You can, of course, also spend your whole studies in a college abroad. In this case, there is no need to get enrolled in a program like ERASMUS. Just apply at the university as any local student, but be aware to send all the required documents; read the application guidelines on the university’s website carefully to find out what you need.
Doing a master program in another country is, regarding the duration, very similar to a semester abroad because masters in most countries are only one year. However, if you to do you masters in another country, keep in mind that this probably won’t be as relaxed as a semester abroad because in the end of the year you actually graduate with a degree. During a semester abroad, people tend to take it easy and this is basically accepted by both your university at home and your host university. If you go abroad for a PHD, it might be even more challenging, especially when you have to study and write in foreign language.
Going to another country for a bachelor degree is possible as well – if you are willing to live there for the 3-4 years it will take. However, within Europe studying abroad is not a complete one-way-ticket anymore since the Bologna reform, as you might be able to bring in some courses you already completed if you should decide to continue your studies in another country after a few semesters.
Language Issues While Studying Abroad
Another question that people often ask when they consider to study abroad – do I have to be fluent in the host country’s language? Here it also depends on the country, the college and the field of studies. In many Scandinavian, Eastern European and Asian countries there are courses in English. Thus, having more language skills than English is useful, but not utterly essential. However, in some countries such as Spain or France, many people don’t speak good English and there are only courses in the local language. In this case, you should learn the language before you start to study there; a basic level is usually enough for a semester abroad. If you’re planning to spend your whole studies there, you should be fluent in oral and written expression. Sometimes you even have to provide a language certificate of a certain level to apply for a course of studies. Language holidays and crash courses are good to improve your language skills within a short time – and get the necessary certificate.