Many students like me have thought about studying abroad at some point even before starting to apply for university. Then actually in your first and second year you start to research what universities you can choose from because you had enough to see the same 4 walls every day. My journey began in February 2012…
Early in my second semester of my second year I began to research the options I had. I definitely wanted to go somewhere in Europe with Erasmus exchange programme whereby they were financially supporting me with 370 EUR a month (it changes every year though), which was a great help in order to buy flight tickets and get basic things that you would need when you settle in. I had an option to go to USA and Brazil also, but it did not appeal to me as the costs were significantly higher than if you would go somewhere in Europe.
The choices of the universities were similar level of education as the one from Southampton, but most universities on offer were in Nordic countries like Norway and Sweden, which did not appeal to me because of the cold and higher cost of living. I chose in the end to go to Frankfurt, Germany as I spoke German and the cost of living for students was a lot less than many other alternatives I had. In addition Frankfurt was in the centre of Germany so I thought you could travel to different cities around Germany and beyond as it had good travel links to the rest of the country.
Besides Frankfurt was the only location that was on offer in Germany and I really wanted not just to speak German but also experience the culture and being one of the Germans!
So once you chose your destination you had to check if the courses on offer are in German or English. If they are in English, then there is no problem but if they are in their native language then you had to show some evidence that you speak the native language to a good standard either by attending one of the language modules or doing evening classes. In addition your grades had to be on average 2.1 in order for the department to feel confident in sending you abroad, so you might have to work hard during your first year in order to get 2.1, but in my case it was not a problem.
So after the approval by your department, you would have to register with the host university and apply for accommodation and my advice is always to stay in student dormitories because this is where you will meet other Erasmus students and you will be able to support each other and it is considerably cheaper than private rented accommodation. It is difficult though to find accommodation in Frankfurt, so always apply early in advance for halls. Otherwise you end up paying fortune living in private accommodation.
So once you chose your destination you have to think about the biggest issue moving abroad and that is accommodation where you intend to settle in once you arrive! This is particularly very important as you do not know how to exactly search for a student accommodation for a short period while you are abroad!
Number one advice from me would be always to apply for student halls in the host university because when you will live in halls, you will be able to meet other exchange students like yourself, which makes it more fun to hang out with people who are in the same situation as you. But you can also mingle with native students and this can be a good way for you to improve your language skills, especially when you speak poor host country language.
When you get a choice between different halls though I suggest to choose to be in the biggest halls as that is where the biggest chance of good social life exists and that is where most of your friends during your study period abroad might end up, which should tackle the problem of being sometimes lonely!
The other reason why you would mostly choose want to choose accommodation living in halls is the price. In my case, Frankfurt was massively expensive to live in private rented accommodation sometimes costing over 500 EUR! Choosing an option to live in halls you would pay between 200 -230 EUR! So it will save you massively on the cost and you will be able to enjoy your semester abroad even more with the spare money you will have left over!
But in order to secure a place in halls (It is always limited in most countries!), you have to apply as early as June if you want to secure a place in October! If you miss the deadline, don’t worry you can still try e-mail the accommodation office as they sometimes still have some spaces left over or plan B: go for private rented accommodation and try check for the cheapest option early!
Accommodation can be sometimes tricky to find if you leave it too late, so better do it in advance and don’t worry later as you will have other things to sort out such as insurance.
Once you decide to move to a place/country where you have little knowledge about their way of life, it is better sometimes to know some basics before you embark for your new adventure. Especially as you might be going on your semester/year abroad it is essential to prepare yourself as sometimes you might offend somebody by e.g. showing gestures that are classified as being rude in the host country and not in the home country.
The best way to minimise culture shock is by doing some advance research into the norms and values of the culture in the host country. You can do this by directly googling straight e.g. German culture and characteristics. This will give you over 100 results, which you can explore.
I personally find reading about cultures a bit boring so I would advise you to do something what I did in the UK and that is to meet up with some Germans that I could exchange countless stories about each other’s cultures. They would suggest you also the best ways to integrate and how to act as one of the Germans. Southampton has many exchange students who come from Germany and they are always friendly in helping you out! Changing your identity abroad is what happens to many students while being abroad and that is a cool way to get yourself out of the comfort zone!
What if you do not know any Germans in your city? Well how about you try get in touch one of the German societies within the University that often organises German themed events where you can explore the culture on your own or with your friends. They also often organise trips to Germany, which can prepare you well for your time abroad! Southampton has one and they are superb at what they do and you should definitely check them out at the bunfight during the Freshers week!
When you choose your destination, don’t just think about the city itself and all the fun you could have, but you also have to think about quality of education that you will get.
Obviously to have fun is the most part when you are abroad. At least I had that idea in my mind, but when deciding which city I should go for, I wanted to attend a university that would be as good as or better than Southampton as grades during semester abroad counted towards my degree.
Only if you usually do a whole year abroad, your grades won’t count towards your degree but you will still have to pass the modules and sometimes in their native language, which can still be difficult. But don’t worry about it too much! Most universities have on offer many modules in English as well to ease up your life.
I got this information from students who went there on exchange from my department. Unless you might like to have a really easy time abroad, then do choose that option. The reason why I might though choose to go down south is because of the mild weather in the winter time.
Another aspect is the grades which are different in the rest of the European countries. In Germany for example 1 is the best grade, so therefore conversion of the grades might influence your final grade back in your home country. Also in the case if you go to university where marking is classed being too generous, your final grade might be lowered like there was a case with one of my friends who studied in Turkey.
In my personal opinion the best universities to choose from are the ones up north in Scandinavia. In terms or rankings and quality the universities are really good, but the weather in those countries is known to be very harsh and this puts off many students.
You will also find out that universities where they actually pay for their fees get a good student support whereas the case with Germany the support for students is pretty low. Therefore when people talk about paying fees, it actually does benefit you in many ways having a better experience at the end of your degree!
Once you are in Germany and especially in a small town, you might want to get out of there for a weekend to see a bigger city!
Frankfurt, where I studied abroad, is an amazing medium-sized city and there are lots of things to do and explore. Nevertheless after 2 weeks I got a bit bored and decided to get together with my friends. The best way to travel in Germany is by using the weekend group ticket. The ticket costs 42 EUR for 5 people- it’s a bargain!
So for roughly 8 EUR you can go for a day (not the whole weekend) to anywhere in Germany, but the only problem is that you have to use the slow regional trains that usually stop on every stop but if you are a group, then the time will fly by! Me and other exchange students usually play some games on the train as the journey sometimes is pretty long.
When you decide about your exchange destination, bear in mind that being in the centre of the country has its advantages having it more convenient to travel to various places quicker and cheaper!
The places I can advise you to visit are Cologne, Hamburg and Berlin that are awesome cities with a lot of history and culture. Besides the big cities there are many small old towns like Marburg where you can see one of the German castles!
My advice though would be to travel always with a group as you are in a different country and you never know what might happen especially when you also might not speak the language. Always be safe than sorry as accidents do tend to happen. Make sure you also have a map for the place where you travel as some of my friends did get lost.
Germany also has a lot of festivals and one of the most famous ones is Oktoberfest-where Germans get together, drink beer and dance! There has been a tradition since a long time and the main festival takes place in Munich, but there are also smaller editions in many other cities like Hamburg and Germany but it will not match the experience though.
If you are a travelholic like me, then be sure to have some spare weekends in your busy study schedule and see the world out there!
That is it from me and my Erasmus experience. If you need any help or advice about studying abroad and how it is like I always advise to check out Erasmus Student Network, which is a network of societies across the Europe that cater for the needs of Erasmus students!