5 questions to ask yourself when picking an exchange destination

Narrow down your exchange preferences with these simple questions
The University of Sydney has 292 exchange partners across 42 countries. Picking one is no easy task, but there are lots of factors to help you shortlist your preferences.

Going on exchange is one of the best opportunities you’ll get as a student at the University of Sydney. With a world of exchange programs available, narrowing down your desired destination can almost seem overwhelming. While your decision will largely depend on the degree you’re studying and the subjects you wish to undertake, there are lots of other variables to help you make your choice, so consider these simple questions.

How long do I want to stay?

The University offers exchange programs that range from two weeks to a full year. Short-term options are perfect if you are looking to dip your toe in the exchange pool. The experience will give you a taste of a different culture and landscape between semesters, which is especially useful if your degree structure doesn’t have much flexibility.  Plus, brief trips aren’t as expensive, you’re less likely to get homesick and many short term exchanges include fieldwork opportunities.

A full semester or year overseas will allow you to embrace your surroundings and become absorbed in a different lifestyle. Many students find it hard to leave their new ‘homes’ after making lifelong connections with their overseas peers. Longer exchanges are life-changing and allow you to properly immerse yourself in a different cultural and educational setting.

Short term exchanges: National University of Singapore  

Semester or yearlong exchanges: National University of Singapore

Do I prefer shorts or sweater weather?

Studying in Sydney, you will have become accustomed to relatively mild temperatures, sunshine and the occasional patch of drizzle. In making your decision to go on exchange, ask yourself this – do you want similar weather conditions? Or are you ready for a change?

There are pros and cons to any climate. Summer and sunshine can be great for sightseeing, ease of travel and outdoor activities; while cooler climates have their own charms, with many cities transforming into a winter wonderland when it snows – something you won’t experience in Australia.

Cold areas tend to place greater emphasis on socialising indoors – cafes, restaurants and bars have a special buzz about them, and roaring fireplace to boot. The air is also usually fresher, not to mention there’s a huge range of winter sports to take up or start supporting, as well as plenty of opportunities to parade around in cute scarfs and beanies.

Summer exchanges: University of Miami, USA; University of California, USA

Winter exchanges: University of Ottawa, Canada; University of Alberta, Canada; University of Utah, USA

What size campus community do I want to be a part of?

By American standards, the University of Sydney is in fact, huge. While our campus features an undergraduate population of over 30,000 students, some prominent US institutions can have just 5,000 students or less. 

Small schools foster unity and team spirit. There is a family feel to them and you will become familiar with both your campus surroundings and your fellow classmates much more quickly.

Larger schools can have a different, bustling feel. They can offer a wider spectrum of opportunities given the diverse mix of students on campus. You will have a huge range of student-run clubs and societies at your fingertips as well as more options in terms of subject selection. You are also more likely to meet other exchange students from other countries. Bigger schools are also often located in major cities, if you’re a fan of the big smoke.

Small school exchanges: Malmo University, Denmark

Large school exchanges: University of Copenhagen, Denmark

What other attractions are nearby?

When considering your exchange location, it’s not just the campus or the town itself that you need to assess. You will likely be keen to explore your surroundings, which might include nearby attractions, cities and even other countries. This means it’s important to consider how well connected the University is with the rest of the region, as well as transport options within the town itself.

City locations are usually well connected and will allow you to embrace much more than just one area while you are away, offering you plenty of opportunities for weekend adventures and day trips when you don’t have class. There’re also usually lots of tourist-y things to do – think museums, monuments, dining experiences and shopping.

If you’re seeking a less tourist-y experience, then universities in more rural areas offer a picturesque contrast to Sydney living, and might be just the change of pace you are looking for. Campuses that are a little bit more isolated will likely have heaps of natural attractions close by (many you’ll probably never find in a travel guide) and ooze that small town charm you won’t find anywhere else. Country campuses, particularly in the United States, are famous for their local sporting fervour and will draw crowds of thousands passionately supporting their college teams.

Country exchanges: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA; University of Georgia, USA; Kansas State University, USA; Aarhus University, Denmark; University of Florida, USA

City exchanges: Drexel University, USA; University of Copenhagen, Denmark; University of Miami, Florida.

Do I want to learn a new language?

A very practical consideration is whether the university is in an English-speaking country. If not, you’ll need to find out if your language skills will cut it, or whether the school offers programs in English. There are also opportunities to take an intensive language course on your short-term exchange. If you are eager to hone your language skills, then a longer term exchange will benefit you much more than any class or app ever could.

Exchange program with English classes offered: University of Utrecht, Netherlands.

Remember when deliberating you choices that it’s important to factor in other fundamental variables. Check the availability of suitable subjects for your course and level of study as well as costs and the scholarships and loans that are available to support you.

31 March 2017

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