So you’re thinking of going on exchange? Yay, you’re at the start of a wonderful journey!

It took me a long time to finally go on exchange (I am currently in my SIXTH year of a Law/Politics, Philosophy and Economics degree), but I am so grateful that I was finally able to fulfil this dream. I originally wanted to go on exchange in my fourth year, and then my fifth year, but things kept popping up and life happened. In this way, I want to remind you that there is no ‘perfect’ time to go on exchange so if your plans change or get delayed, don’t worry about it, exchange will always still be there as an option (provided you have enough room in your degree to study overseas, talk to your college!). That being said, it does take a big of planning to factor in when you will be able to go on your overseas exchange, so the early you plant the seed, the more time you will have to consider your options.

It took me a long time to decide where to go on exchange. I kept overthinking where I would have the most fun or where I really wanted to live for 6 months, but in hindsight all of this worrying was unnecessary. You will have fun anywhere you go if you have the right attitude. If anything, exchange will teach you more about managing your expectations and push yourself out of your comfort zone.

There can be a lot to do before going on exchange. If you’re still a bit indecisive about where and when to go, here are some great starting points:

1. Where do you want to go?

The world is definitely your oyster and ANU has a multitude of exchange partners for you to choose from. Nevertheless, there may be some things to keep in mind that might limit your exchange options. For me, it was only possible to do a law exchange, which meant I had to find a partner university that allowed me to take law courses. It took a considerable amount of research through the perspective university partners to figure out where it was possible to take courses that fit into my degree, but I figured that was much better than choosing a university then getting there and finding out that my course credits would not count towards my degree. While there were still many universities that permitted me to take law courses, some of the subject matters did not interest me at all. I ultimately settled on preferences based on the variety of courses that were available and taught in English. I also took into consideration the number of courses that were equivalent to a full course-load at ANU. At Stockholm University, two law courses equivocate to four ANU courses.

The region where you choose to go can also be important. Whether that is Europe, Asia or the Americas, your exchange is oftentimes a launching pad for further travel in a certain region. That being said, don’t be afraid to push outside more mainstream boundaries of typical tourist destinations and consider travelling to somewhere a bit more unknown. For me, I wanted to go to a country that was a bit more unfamiliar and that I had never been before. Coming to Sweden has been a blessing in disguise in terms of what I have experienced and where I have been able to visit. I came over to Stockholm with the intention of travelling around central Europe more but have discovered gems in the Baltic and Nordic countries that I have absolutely fallen in love with. My best advice here is to be open to adventure and exploring different places, you never know what you’ll find.

2. Which semester can you go?

It is most likely that your exchange partner will be in the northern hemisphere. Not only does this mean that the university calendar is different, you also need to keep in mind the contrasting seasons. For me, I much preferred going on a semester abroad that would take me from winter into summer, though I would have loved to do an exchange that would allow me to have a white Christmas as well, but it’s all really a matter of preference. You should also double check if you have any compulsory classes that you need to take back at ANU and which semesters those courses run in. This could also impact which semester you decide to go overseas.

Other considerations that are important include deciding if there are internships you want to apply for back home or other special events that you want to be home for such as birthdays or certain holidays. Do check the university calendars of the universities you are considering going to as you might find you’ll have to cross some of them out due to clashing times with job interviews or start dates for internships. It may even affect term dates at ANU as well, for example, in my research I found out that German universities’ term dates where not very compatible with the ANU semester.

3. Language

Unless you have decided to go to an English-speaking country or have some language proficiency in the mother tongue of your host country, living in a place that speaks a foreign language can be daunting (Courses are taught in English in most countries, even if the native language is not English) . I have had a few questions from prospective exchange students asking how I have managed in Sweden, and all I can say is don’t let this be a barrier to wherever you go on exchange. Personally, I haven’t had too much trouble getting by in Sweden. It was a little hard at first but once I settled in and understood how things worked over here, I felt much more comfortable and at home. Even though a lot of signs and information is in Swedish, most Swedes know how to speak English, as do many other exchange students, even if it isn’t their mother tongue. A lot of foreigners will tell you that their English is only sub-par, but I always am impressed by their proficiency even if there are some grammatical mistakes here and there, but hey, I can’t speak a foreign language to that level at all so I’m not one to judge.

While English is a universal language, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and learn a bit of your host country’s language. I went to Sweden with zero knowledge of the language, but I was very lucky that Stockholm University offered free Swedish courses for exchange students that ran for a month with the option to continue further language studies. This was not only an opportunity to pick up on some helpful Swedish phrases, but also a great way to socialise and meet new people. I recommend using Duolingo as a starting point or any other free online language courses. Otherwise, you could consider picking up a language course when you’re overseas or joining a language table group where you can also share your English-speaking skills. Overall, do try to make an effort, not only as a foreigner but also to open yourself up to a different culture.

4. Cost of Living

As a student, being prudent with money is important. Obviously, having a good time overseas and enjoying yourself is crucial, but also ensure that you are budgeting accordingly to maximise the experiences you can have.

As an exchange student in Scandinavia, I have noticed prices are much steeper than back at home – going out for a coffee can set you back as much as $8 AUD. To counteract the cost of going out and about, I often cook food at home with my friends, which has turned out to be a nightly ritual that brings together all my exchange friends. That being said, my student accommodation over here costs relatively the same as back in Canberra and there are always cheap flights to be found to visit other regions in Europe.

Take note, there are multiple travel grants and loans that are available to Australian students, so don’t forget to do your research in advance to see if any of these apply to you.

5. Other Administrative Tasks

Throughout this whole process, don’t forget about the ANU Global Programs application deadline. While you’re deciding where you want to go, you’ll also need to remember to sign off with your ANU College for approval and send off your application on the Global Programs website. Once this is all done and your exchange is confirmed, there will be other administrative tasks such as applying to your host university, finding accommodation, applying for visas, booking flights and packing accordingly to name a few. To make this a much smoother and enjoyable process, set yourself deadlines so that you’re prepared to depart for your adventure in a stress-free manner.

All of this can seem like a lot of work to do on top of your very busy schedule, but doing your travel and study abroad research is all part of the process and it makes exchange that much more rewarding. If you’re still finding the process a bit overwhelming, check out the ANU Global Programs website (anu.edu.au/anuglobalprograms), attend information sessions, or attend Global Programs fairs, or follow the Global Programs Instagram, or read the Global Programs blog. Feel free to reach out to current and past exchange students (both inbound and outbound) as well if you have queries about their experiences. Leveraging this knowledge pool is one of the most useful and authentic ways to get information and many of us are happy to share our experiences with you. Last but not least, enjoy the ride and have the best time!

**If you’re thinking of going on exchange to Stockholm in the future or if you have any further queries while considering a semester abroad or just for travel tips in general, feel free to reach out to me via social media or you can follow my adventures on Instagram at @jess.wat or at my travel blog @wat_intheworld_