A pool of possibility – studying abroard

IF YOU’RE a first year student who is interested in broadening your horizons, then the opportunity of going on a study exchange to a university overseas is one which you won’t want to miss out on.  Many people believe that exchange is limited to language students; however this simply isn’t true. Various departments here at Aber offer their students the chance to study abroad, with the possibility of living and studying in a diverse range of foreign countries. Between August and December last year I spent an incredible four months at the University of Tampere in Finland through an Erasmus exchange organised by the Interpol Department.

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Photo – Will Salmon

There are a number of benefits which you will gain as a result of taking part in an exchange programme. Firstly, there are the numerous great travel opportunities that studying abroad provides. During your time overseas you are likely to find yourself in the role of a part-time student and full-time tourist. Obviously each exchange destination will have different destinations to visit, but during my time in Finland I was lucky enough to visit St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Tallinn, Helsinki, Lapland and the Arctic Ocean in Norway, which I swam in during November!

Another bonus of going on exchange is the opportunity to meet new people and make friends from around the world.  This not only helps you to make the most of your experience and learn about different cultures, but also provides you with somewhere to stay and a great excuse to visit new countries after your study abroad!  While I was in Tampere, I made friends with people from places as diverse as Brazil, Germany, Canada and Spain, to name but a few.

The academic side of studying abroad also provides positives.  You will learn in a different environment to Aber, which can help you to develop new study skills. There are also likely to be different courses offered, helping you to gain new knowledge which you can apply later in your studies when you return to the UK.  Opportunities to learn new languages are also part of many people’s study abroad programmes. While in Finland I took on a ‘Survival Course’ in Finnish language, which meant that I was able to learn some essential phrases in the complicated tongue. A study exchange is also likely to give your CV a real boost. It shows that you have initiative and that you are capable of overcoming challenges to live independently in a foreign country.

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Photo – Will Salmon

Of course, the prospect of going on exchange is also bound to raise some questions; will I be able to afford it? Will I get homesick? These are valid queries and those considering studying abroad should give them careful thought. In terms of cost, there can be no denying that going overseas for a semester or two can be expensive.  However, students going to destinations within the EU on the Erasmus scheme do receive a grant on top of their ordinary student loan, which proves extremely useful for funding your time away.  Homesickness may depend on the individual, although after a year of living away at Uni already most people are probably well-placed to cope with being away from family and friends. What’s more, students on exchange are also likely to find themselves having so much fun that they don’t have time to feel homesick!

I would definitely recommend that first year students consider taking part in a study exchange placement. There are a large number of benefits to be gained from such an opportunity and now is the time to begin investigating possibilities for spending time studying abroad. The first place to look at these opportunities is with the study abroad office or your departmental coordinator.  It is important to apply early, as there are often several stages to the application process; I had to submit an application and then attend an interview before being offered a place on the exchange programme. Good luck in your studies and make the most of every opportunity.