An exchange year abroad is a fantastic experience you'll treasure for years to come. However, as grand as it is to receive the news you've been accepted at your exchange university, moving abroad is guaranteed to make you at least a tad nervous, and not for naught. Even a short exchange period requires a lot of planning and organizing that isn't just about packing your favourite clothes and booking flights. We gathered 5 things you definitely should think about before embarking on your exchange adventure. Read through and start planning!
1. Official documents
First and foremost: your passport. Get a new passport well in advance or make sure your current one is valid for long enough. Some countries require that your passport is valid for 6 months AFTER you return home, so it's not enough that your passport is valid for the duration of your exchange alone! You may also need a visa, and usually a regular tourist visa is not enough to cover an exchange semester or year. Make sure to have at least 3 photocopies of your passport, one of which you'll leave to your home country and 2 you'll take with you. Your passport is your most valuable document, so don't carry it lightly around with you (you wouldn't do at home, either!).
Your passport is the most important document to take with you, but make sure you've got your prescriptions, vaccination information and ISIC card with you as well.
Make sure your vaccinations are up to date and meet the requirements of your destination country. Check the recommended vaccination for your exchange destination well in advance. Note that some universities might require you to take specific vaccinations, before you enter the campus. If possible, it won't hurt you to have travel insurance for the duration of your exchange. Many travel insurances cover a shorter exchange period of 3 months.
If you've got prescription medicine, make sure to take your prescription with you, when you pack your medicine. Some prescription medicine from your home country maybe illegal at your destination, so check the legislation of your destination before departure.
Because going on an exchange usually means going abroad, it would definitely be a massive waste of money to leave your international student ID ISIC at home. With ISIC, you enjoy over 150 000 student discounts in 130 countries, and you're eligible for student flight tickets as well. So make sure you're carrying your ISIC with you, when you board that plane!
Finances are among top priorities during your exchange, too. Familiarize yourself with the local currency and a rough exchange rate before leaving, and make sure you also carry some local currency before leaving your home country. You don't want to find yourself penniless on your first few days abroad! Inform your bank at home that you are going abroad, and ask how much it will cost you to use your debit and credit cards abroad. If you don't have a credit card, get one, if that's possible. Some foreign banks may not accept a foreign debit card, but a credit card usually gets you a long way when abroad.
Carry some local currency with you, when you arrive. In case your debit or credit cards won't work for some reason, you'll have a bit of money to get by.
You'll spend money on pretty much the same things during your exchange you would at home too. Your expenses may grow as well, especially if you need to buy a lot of utensils or furniture to your flat abroad. Start saving when you first start applying for exchange, if any way possible, or latest when you get confirmation that you've been accept on an exchange. Income and expenses can also be tracked beforehand; make a monthly budget for the time you'll spend abroad, so that you'll know exactly where you are at with your finances. Weekend trips and short travels are a great way to get to know your host country, but they'll also cost you money. However, there's nothing stopping you from trying to budget for these trips before you leave home, right?
3. Picking your courses
Before you picked your exchange institution or destination country, you've probably had a look at what you would want to study during your exchange. Many exchange programs, especially exchanges between faculties, are quite strict on what courses you can choose. It's also good to think about if the courses you picked can be included in your degree at home when you return; this way you won't get only experiences but also credits from your exchange abroad! Even though it can feel a bit dampening to think about home when you're just about to go abroad, take a moment to ponder how you'll pick up your studies when you return home and what courses you are likely to miss during your exchange.
Take a look at the courses you want to take during your exchange.
Finding accommodation is probably one of the biggest issues for any student planning an exchange. First, check with your exchange institution; many universities offer on-campus accommodation for exchange students. It's also worth checking different student and exchange studies groups on Facebook, as there are probably others in the same situation; you may find potential flatmates. Anyway, get going with finding accommodation the moment you know you've been accepted for exchange.
On top of finding an apartment, find out about your arrival, finding your way to your apartment and schedule for the first few days or week. Many institutions offer some kind of orientation to exchange students and freshers, and this may also be obligatory.
It's great to settle to your new student flat, but you may find it lacking some basic utensils. Maybe it's not worthwhile to pack a frying pan, but a lunch box, a coffee mug and cutlery will get you to a good start, so make sure you pack these with you when you leave, so you don't need to go shopping for a new kitchen right after you touch down! Plan your arrival ahead and contact your exchange institution's tutors; they're sure to help you arrive and get started at your new school.
4. Luggage and valuable belongings
As tempting as it is to create an exchange student style from scratch, you don't need to pack your entire closet with you. Pack light and think carefully what to take with you. When there's room in your bag when you leave, you'll have peace of mind finding new clothes from your new home city. And it's fun to visit stores you maybe don't have in your home country! So make sure you pack the necessities: medicines and personal hygiene items, adapter, stationary and notebooks, phone, laptop, and your favourite and most useful outfits. Don't forget pyjamas!
Don't fill your bags with clothes you don't need. Pick your favourites and leave room for new finds from your destination.
It's worthwhile ensuring your laptop and phone either before you leave or while at your new home town, if you're staying for longer than a few months. Ask your exchange institution for insurance advice and student friendly plans for your valuables, if you can't get an insurance from your home country. Remember to check that your phone is not locked and will accept a foreign SIM card, if you're planning on getting a local phone plan.
5. Local language and friends
English will get you a long way almost anywhere in the world, but put your language skills to work right from day 1, especially if you are not going to an English speaking country. If you haven't studied the language before, learn at least a few key phrases. If you are already somewhat familiar with the local language, brush up your skills before you arrive to your new home. Even if you are already fluent in the local language, it's a different thing altogether to communicate with a foreign language all the time. Your brain will take a while before it's used to the new language as the main form of communication! The sooner you start training yourself for the change, the quicker you'll adapt when you're actually there.
Try to find out if there are others going on an exchange year to your destination from your home country. It's much nicer to share the troubles of arrival and getting used to the local life together with a new friend than all alone. If you are staying with a host family, connect with them online before your arrival.
Fair enough, there's a lot on the plate for the student going abroad for an exchange! Hopefully this list of tips and things to remember will help you along the way, and you'll have a solid hold on the whole ordeal. There's always gonna be a few bumps on the road, but you'll learn by doing (and from your mistakes too...) and usually what seems like a disaster now will make for a good laugh later on. Anyway, have a blast on your exchange! It's gonna be awesome.