So, you’ve done it, you’ve made the most important decision of your life to date, you’re going to apply to study abroad. You’ve gone on to MyPlacement, done the advanced search for your course and found out exactly where it is you are allowed to go! Now, for some of you, the options may be more limited, which makes your life much easier when it comes to researching which partners you are going to apply for – remember, you’re only allowed to apply to 8 partners maximum! But for others, the list might be pretty long. This is a good thing, lots of options means you have more opportunity to find somewhere that really suits you and what you’re hoping to get out of your time abroad.
First and foremost, you need to sit down and have a think about your preferences, your desires, and your needs when it comes to a big experience like this. Are you the kind of person who wants to be somewhere where they speak English? Are you more into city or country living? Are you bothered about the length of the flights there? These kinds of preliminary questions will help you narrow down the geographical aspect of where you want to go, and are generally useful for helping you to get to know yourself and your boundaries better. For example, I am a bit of a homebody and wanted to be able to visit my mum, I wanted to be in a city, and wanted to be somewhere where English was widely understood, so I settled on prioritising European destinations.
Now that you know your options, you need to do some research on which would be the best fit for you, and I’ve got the tips for how to help you do exactly that. There are several facets of your future life that you might want to take into consideration: Academia, University Life, Social Life, and Culture…
As you’re going to be studying while you’re abroad, the kinds of modules offered and the academic life at the partner university will be a big consideration to take into account. For a Semester abroad, your grades count towards your degree programme, so this is even more important. Most university websites will have course catalogues where you can see the kinds of modules that will be offered. It might also be worth finding out how grades and marking works, and the academic standards. Another good idea is to have a look at the teaching format of the partner uni, do they have lectures, seminars, classes etc, and what style would you prefer? I enjoyed the longer, more discussion-based seminars that I experienced at the University of Amsterdam, because I find that I can get distracted during lectures, and this teaching style suited me perfectly.
Although going abroad is very exciting and you’re going to have lots of fun, it’s important to take into account the practical matters. Do they have counsellors, on-site doctors, or academic support? Do they have dedicated international student advisors? Things might get challenging while you’re out there, and it’s important to know what support the university has arranged for you. A good place to see what university life is like is through our On The Road Blogs, where students have written about their experiences. A big part of uni life will revolve around where you live, which means that accommodation is going to be a big factor! Check out the Accommodation Guide that you can find in MyPlacement under Learning Resources – it has individual country advice, as well as which partners guarantee accommodation.
Apart from academia… this is probably the other biggest part of your exchange. Although no matter where you go you are bound to have incredible social opportunities, if you’re a social butterfly, this is a good thing to research in advance. Most universities will have societies, clubs, and sports teams that you can join. They may also have an arrival/orientation programme either for all new students (Freshers round 2 anyone?) or a dedicated programme for international students.
The kind of environment you’ll be living in is also a very important consideration. This can range from things like how a culture views LGBTQ+/BAME people (unfortunately, some places aren’t as accepting as others), to a city’s cost of living. All of these more practical matters are very personal, so you’ll need to think about yourself and your circumstances to know what kind of place you need to be. The Foreign Commonwealth Office has lots of advice on local laws and customs, as well as information about security, health, money, and entry requirements . For cost of living, Numbeo has a database for nearly every country or city, which can help to govern your decision.
Where to look
A good place to start researching is the My Placement brochure for each university that you’re considering, where there is lots of this kind of information available. There are tabs covering all the things I’ve just mentioned (Academic information, Support and Orientation, Links and Resources etc.), which has been specially put together by the IPO based on what we know students want to see.
Each university will also have their own website, and many have dedicated pages for international students, so make sure you have a look at what they have to offer. As simple as it sounds, putting the partner university name and “international students” into Google actually works! Finding local student societies is also easily done… do the same thing, university name plus “student societies” into Google search. Each partner’s social media is also a great place to find information and get a feel for university life, as well as seeing pictures of the university and surrounding areas.
We also have plenty of Feedback from previous students available for you, to get a real sense of what each partner has been like for UoM students specifically. When deciding on your preferences, this insight could prove invaluable, as students may have mentioned something that you wouldn’t know unless you were there!
While you’re researching, it’s important to remember to stay open-minded and flexible, as there may be some hidden gems that you would never have previously considered!