I often get emails from people asking me about my time as an exchange student. For those of you who do not know, I was an exchange student in Hong Kong in 2013 and in Sydney, Australia, in 2014. I did the exchange as a part of my bachelor’s degree in business administration. In this post I will answer some frequently asked questions and tell you some of my thoughts about life as an exchange student.
1. Where to go?
I can only speak for two places; Hong Kong and Sydney. Even though I have traveled a lot, it is quite different being a visitor and a student in a city. Personally, I liked being an exchange student in Hong Kong better than Sydney. I think it is because I love to visit strange places, and Sydney was a bit “almost like Norway” for my taste. However, I would also recommend Sydney, as it was a wonderful experience, even though I preferred Hong Kong. It is also worth mentioning that it is much cheaper to live in Hong Kong and it is very easy to travel to other places in Asia.
So how to decide where to go? The first thing you need to think about is what you want to get out of your exchange. Are you mainly focusing on your career? Are you going on exchange to improve your language skills? Or maybe your main priority is to have fun and make a lot of friends? For me, all the points mentioned were quite important. First of all, I am very dedicated to my studies and my future career. I was already fascinated by China before I went for Hong Kong, and I also knew that knowledge about Chinese culture would look good on my resume. But, I also wanted to visit a place where English was the native language, to improve my language skills. Thus, I decided to go to Australia as well as it seemed to be an interesting country.
My most important advice is to think about where YOU want to go. If all your friends want to go to California, but you really feel like going to Singapore – go to Singapore! You will meet new friends and have a lot of fun anyway. Even though it might seem scary to go to an unfamiliar place all alone, it is a challenge that will make you grow and in the end you may end up having an even better experience.
2. For how long?
I wanted to go on exchange for a year, but I could not decide on one destination. That is why I chose to go for one year, but in two different locations (I spent autumn in Hong Kong and the following spring in Sydney). If you really want to get to know a city and its culture, it might be better to stay the whole year at one place. At the same time, many people feel that one semester is enough, as you will be far away from home. Either way, going on exchange is a great experience!
3. Which school?
Are you applying for the cheapest schools that are easy to get into, or are you going to try to get in to a more expensive, high-ranked school? This depends on how important your career is for you and how important the right choice of school is for your future career. I would also consider the location of the school. When I chose University of Sydney in Australia, I did it because of two reasons. First, University of Sydney is located in the center of the city, which makes it easier to spend the evenings somewhere else than at uni. The high ranking of the uni was my other reason for choosing it. For Hong Kong, I have to admit that my choice of university (Hong Kong Baptist University) was rather random.
4. Where should I live?
My most important advice here is to choose a place near your school! If you are an exchange student in a big city, it sucks to have to spend one or two hours every day to get to uni. In my experience, most exchange students stay near the school and this also makes it easier to make friends and attend social activities. If it is possible to stay in a student accommodation with other (exchange) students, I would go for that, as it makes it easier to get to know people.
5. How should I plan my classes?
Try to choose classes that you do not have at your home uni! I had so many cool classes like economies of Hong Kong, international business, cross-cultural management and so on. It was so much fun to learn about other cultures while I was living in one. At the same time; remember that your home uni must approve all your classes before choosing them.
6. Getting to know people.
Many students are a bit nervous for taking an exchange year because they do not know anyone at the new university. Honestly, I found it a bit hard to get to know the local students, especially in Sydney. On the other hand, it was very easy to get to know other exchange students, as most of them were in the same situation as me (I did not know anyone before I left). My most important advice here is to attend all the social activities that you are invited to in the beginning of the semester. Living in a student accommodation will also make this part easier. If you still find yourself struggling, join a club, a sport activity or something like that! Couchsurfing’s new hangout app is also a unique possibility to meet new people.
7. Free time.
Try to travel as much as possible! From Hong Kong, I went to places like Japan, The Philippines, Singapore and southern China. It was amazing – I could explore places that normally were so far away, just over the weekend at a very low price. When I was in Sydney it was not that easy to explore other countries, but I got to see many places in Australia (as well as New Zealand). Even though you might have loads of work to do at uni, make sure to spend your free time well and explore as much as possible!
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