A Semester Abroad

Choosing to study abroad for a semester isn’t just exciting and a completely new and different experience, it is also a change. A very big change, for sure.

 

Be it the first own apartment, living abroad for six or more months or the thrill of being independent for maybe the first time. Even if studying abroad usually means living in a dorm or a small one-room apartment on campus, it is something completely new, especially since it’s in a different country.

City Tour in Kopenhagen (Bild: Vanessa Pohl)

The very first change, though, takes place at home, right before the start of the semester. It includes applying for the subject you want to study at the partner university, packing all the important things, planning your journey and arrival, and managing possible early payments, such as deposits. Usually finding a flat or a room isn’t the most difficult part, especially if the university you have chosen offers student accommodations.

The only thing which should be kept in mind is that not every European country uses Euros, and not every country offers the possibility to open a bank account if you’re an exchange student who is only staying for six months. Paying the monthly rent might therefore be tougher than originally expected; it usually involves either high transaction fees or the installation of a money transfer app to lower the costs. However, the currency rate changes frequently and thus the rent might increase or decrease slightly from month to month.

Right before beginning your studies abroad, you will be asked to complete a language test in the language of the country – not the language of instruction. This test is neither included in your transcript of records, nor will it affect your semester abroad, it is merely taken as a survey for the ERASMUS+ organization.

Travelling to the partner university is already exciting, but arriving, collecting the keys, and getting to see your room which will be your home for the next few months is even more thrilling. But, just as a warning at this point, student accommodations and dorms aren’t necessarily clean or tidy and they might seem disappointing at the first glance. But don’t let the condition of your room discourage you. Bring cleaning supplies, the ultimate result will be worth it.

Once everything is set, exploring the dorm and the closer neighborhood is one of the best options to spend the time until the first courses start. Depending on the type of university, the course structure and syllabus may be something entirely new compared to those of your home university.

Even talking or writing mails to the professors and teachers might be strange at first because in some European countries it isn’t unusual to use the lecturers’ forenames, instead of the Mr. and Mrs. XY we are used to.

Of course, one of the best things about attending the new courses, is getting to know a bunch of new people from different countries all over the world and – especially if the guest university is a campus-university – the sense of community and the social life which could be entirely different from those experienced at the FAU.

If you’re living on your own for the first time some major changes are scheduling your day, cooking for yourself, going grocery shopping, and especially setting a monthly budget, which includes groceries, public transport, going out and other expenses. Which might sound easy at first because of the ERASMUS+ scholarship, which is highly dependent on the country.

When I first started planning my semester abroad in Denmark, I didn’t calculate that even with the financial support I wouldn’t be able to pay for my rent, course materials, a new mobile contract and other living expenses without the help of my parents.

However, considering that Denmark is a very expensive country, my experience doesn’t necessarily apply to other European countries. Apparently, at least according to a friend I met in Denmark, budgeting when studying abroad in Spain is considerably easier because the living expenses aren’t as high as they are in Denmark.

What I personally noticed was that due to the international community at campus and living alone in my own small apartment, I was much more willing and enthusiastic about going out in the evening, trying new sports offered by the university and generally meeting up with friends to hang out or cook.

It is always good to have a few friends by your side who maybe are just as confused as you are about the train system, the language and how to find the right course room. And it definitely is more fun to explore the country and travel to the next city with a bunch of people who are just as new to the experience as you are.

New Year’s Eve in Kopenhagen (Bild: Vanessa Pohl)

One funny aspect of studying abroad and continuously having to use English was that after the first few months I started to confuse German and English. Not because I thought it was funny, but because I switched between the languages on a daily basis and slowly started to mix them with each other without even noticing. Also, coming home for Christmas as a ‘guest’ was a very strange experience, especially because after living in a dorm for several months it had started to sort of become a home for me as well.

Altogether, I have to say that studying abroad for a semester can change a lot, mostly in a very positive way. For me, it was the best experience I’ve ever had during my studies so far. It might seem intimidating at first, but it’s definitely worth it.

 

By Vanessa Pohl