Finding and then choosing a ‘study abroad’ experience can be a complex business, whether supported by your own university or not. This is true whether you’re looking to study any of the ‘experience industry’ fields or to take your studies into a different field. In this section I’ll explain some of the things you need to consider, and questions to ask. Some will seem obvious to you, some questions may not seem immediately relevant to your situation, but even if the answer is a quick ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it’s worth asking yourself at this stage. All the questions and advice, though, are based on genuine experience.
Firstly, of course you need to identify whether you want to study abroad for a whole programme abroad such as a degree, or as a year’s or semester’s exchange in a different country as part of a degree? Or perhaps you want to use a summer vacation to do a short/intensive study abroad, maybe combined with cultural activities.
Secondly, why do you want to study abroad – what are your aims? It’s important you note these down (and return to them later) because you need to keep sight of – and possibly amend – these aims throughout the process. Here we’ll assume you want to gain a qualification or gain credit towards one. But what do you want to learn, and how much control do you want to have over choice of subjects? Do you want to study the same subjects as you’re doing right now, or explore new ones?
Mobility programmes such as Erasmus+, or other reciprocal arrangements between universities, usually require that you study a similar range of subjects (though not identical) to those you’d have studied if you stayed at ‘home’. There is normally some flexibility in this, and you’ll find some universities are more prescriptive than others.
Study at home and abroad is based on a credit system. In the UK you’ll find courses attract Credit Accumulation and Transfer ‘points’ – CATS – usually 120 CATS per academic year. This is equivalent in continental Europe to 60 ECTS – European Credit Transfer. Whatever you study needs to be similar in subject and generally the equivalent number of these ‘points’.
Thirdly, it’s important to consider are there any possible barriers that might make it difficult or limit your options to study abroad? Barriers often can be overcome but it’s essential you have a good idea of what you may need to deal with. Immigration rules may apply, for example depending on your nationality and where you’d like to study. Currently of course Brexit is an issue between the UK and Europe and you’re advised to look to the EC’s Erasmus+ Brexit webpages for the most current advice. However other issues might include whether you speak a foreign language enough to use it for study. This may not be as hard as it seems. Some degrees are taught in an international language such as English. Also, if you have the basis of language skills (plus some time and dedication) you may be able to develop your language skills enough for living and/or studying where these are spoken. We return to language development elsewhere in the website.
Fourthly, at what level do you want to study – undergraduate, postgraduate, professional for example? This is also related to whether you want to study the same or new subjects. Masters degrees for example may be aimed at people new to a subject, or they may be more advanced developments from undergraduate study. For example if your first degree is in sport science and you’re interested in tourism, you could take a tourism masters degree aimed at those without previous tourism knowledge. Alternatively, following a sport degree you could look more deeply into a particular area of sport, such as sport business or sport psychology, which probably requires a sports degree for admission.
So it’s important to think about what you’ve studied before that may provide a basis for what you plan to do next. This is also true when it comes to undergraduate degrees such as bachelor, licence and grado in UK, French and Spanish universities respectively. Whatever, and wherever, the course you will still need to meet ‘pre-requisites’ of qualification or study and be ready to provide evidence and perhaps explanation to prove this. International admissions units will normally know the equivalent qualifications between countries and how the different grading systems work.
Finally for now, what are the costs involved for your study abroad options, and do you have a personal budget for this? Don’t under-estimate this, and do expect costs and the available financial support to be different to what you’re familiar with. You can get an idea of relative cost of living using websites through googling ‘cost of living in X’ . Check these are up-to-date and compare with how accurate it seems for your own city. If a grant or loan is available, find out how it works, what the rules are, and of course what it can be used for. Don’t expect that a part time job, to supplement your income, is guaranteed or even possible. So set yourself a realistic budget and see how this might work for your study period.
Erasmus mobility between universities in the past has required that students aren’t charged fees in the university they visit, but you’ll need to pay for accommodation and living expenses out of your Erasmus mobility grant and any other money you have. Although the level of grant is set depending on the specific country involved, expect that it won’t cover everything.
Course fees for domestic and international students are often different, sometimes very different from one country to the next. In countries such as the UK there is a competitive ‘marketplace’ for degree courses where shopping around may be useful. Having said that, in the UK the government setting maximum fees has controlled the freedom of this market considerably. There may also be fees for reassessments and field visits, so this is a question to ask when applying too.
Then there are accommodation fees which you may pay to the university, an agent working for the university, or private accommodation providers. Don’t assume private accommodation is best because it may be cheaper – take advice from the university’s student accommodation team. This advice is also useful if you do decide to go with private rented accommodation as they can often help with explaining and even checking contracts before you sign them!
Once you’ve decided which university and which course, you’ll need to start preparing for your study abroad experience. Look here for guidance on how to prepare for your international experience as it becomes available.