My name is Ellen Fisher and I am a 3rd year International Business Management student from Edinburgh. Last year, I was given the opportunity to go on exchange to Malaysia for my penultimate year and it has truly been a rewarding experience. Going on exchange has allowed me to learn a lot outside the lecture theatre which I think is a major benefit for those wishing to pursue a career in the increasingly competitive world of business. Having always wanted to live away from Scotland, Malaysia has given me the chance to prove to myself that I am capable of living abroad and succeeding. It has also allowed me to travel and meet people who are of very different backgrounds to myself. After graduating next year, I hope to go into marketing and feel that having experienced the global nature of business, I am already at an advantage.


Being offered the chance to go and live abroad for a year is something that the majority of students would jump at. The offer of new experiences and opportunities is something that you would be silly to turn down. However, what should you consider before moving abroad?


  1. Is it for you?


This might seem like an obvious one to start with but it’s important. If you can’t go for an extended period of time without your home comforts and seeing your mum then you may need to think about an exchange and if it’s the best thing for you. Remember that it is possible to do an exchange for just one semester if a year would be too long. Being on an exchange is about making the most of your time abroad and having fun so if you’re bogged down by homesickness, it is unlikely that your experience will be as good as it could be.


  1. How will you cope?


Once you’ve decided to go on exchange, it’s important to think about how you’ll cope with being away from home for an extended period of time. If you’re someone that gets homesick occasionally then think about how you’ll combat it when you’re away. For some people, FaceTime and Skype help whilst others appreciate having some home comforts with them.


  1. Your year abroad isn’t a holiday?


The travelling aspect of going on exchange is something that persuades a lot of students to do a year abroad. By being able to travel, it gives you the ability to experience new things as well as make others at home jealous of your time abroad. Whether you’re studying in America, Asia or Europe, the amount of travelling available to you will be limitless and so it can be difficult to sit in the library doing coursework when you could be on a beach watching the sunset. However, this doesn’t mean that you should be relaxing and travelling all the time, coursework obviously still has to take a priority. Despite this, you should still take every opportunity and free weekend you have to explore the cities and countries that surround you.


  1. New country = new rules.


Obviously different countries have different rules and laws. It is so important that you stick to the new rules when on exchange because breaking them and getting caught doing so can cause huge problems for both yourself and your university. Obviously being students, the most important law to consider is the legal drinking age so if you’re not 21 and can’t go a year without a drink, don’t go to America!


  1. Getting there isn’t a cheap process.


There are the obvious costs such as flights and accommodation which, depending on your destination, can either be really cheap or really pricey. Alongside this, there are several other costs to consider such as the price of your visa as well as any personal bond costs and vaccinations. Depending on where you’re going, you may be able to avoid getting vaccinations or have the few that you need taken care of by the NHS. However, for destinations such as Asia and South America, the number of injections needed can add up as well as the bill. If you would like any further information on the vaccinations needed for Asia, you can check out our blog which is being written by a group of 30 students currently studying in Malaysia. The blog can be found here.

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  1. You will be put out of your comfort zone.


This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; however, at the time, it can be quite daunting if you don’t know what to do. Being put out of your comfort zone can be very beneficial as it forces you to push yourself to new limits. By doing this, it means that you’re really making the most of your year abroad and so I’d recommend trying as many new things as possible.


  1. Grades still matter.


If you’re going on exchange in third year, whether it’s inter-campus or to a partner university, it is likely that you’ll have to pass second year before you can be signed off. There’s also the possibility that the grades you get on your year abroad will count for something in your final year so make sure you put the effort in and don’t get distracted!


  1. It’ll be more different than you imagined.


Going on exchange will present obvious differences such as changes in the weather and the food. However, a lot of other things will be different. One thing that most exchange students agree on is the difference in teaching methods. For example, back home you may be in a lecture with 400 other people but at your exchange university there may be less than 100 in your class. Another thing that may be different is the way of life in the country. This is often a good thing as it gives you the chance to experience new cultures and meet people who are completely different from those back home. However, being British in a country that doesn’t have a defined queuing system is something that we have struggled to adapt to.


  1. Make sure you learn from your surroundings.


Going on exchange will give you the opportunity to learn a lot outside of the lecture theatre. By keeping an open mind, it will allow you to learn a lot, both about yourself and the country that you’re living in. Although you need to focus on your studies, make sure that you’re not constantly in the library working because there’s a lot to experience.


  1. It’ll be the best thing you do at university.


By taking a leap and going on exchange whilst at university, you will expose yourself to so many opportunities that you wouldn’t have had if you had stayed at home. Going abroad is extremely beneficial for your education, personal development and it may give you that edge in applications and interviews after university finishes. Aside from the academic benefits, it gives you something to make those at home jealous about as well as an entire year of sunshine.


Picture by Travis Wise under CC license.