Travels with The Stag as an Exchange Student By Rosie Willoughby

This is the first in The Stag's new Travel series, 'Travels with The Stag', where we’ll be encouraging our readers to get out there and see the world. We want it to be accessible to students, with budgeting tips, travel advice and anything else we think will help you.

If you have any pitches for contributions, get in touch with us on ussu.thestag@surrey.ac.uk. Today we'll start with an opportunity available to Surrey students: study abroad!

Welcome back to Surrey! I hope you spent the summer seeing friends, travelling, and all that fun stuff. I’m not sure about you all - but I’m feeling a little nervous starting university again this September. The summer break is long, and it feels like I’ve forgotten all the most important knowledge from the last two years of uni, like how to check out a book from the library or find the best clubcard deals.

Most of all, I feel nervous because as we go into the winter again- back to assignment deadlines and exams- I forget what I love to do most: travel.

This past year I went on placement - and on a study abroad semester to Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand. Having returned, I can’t keep the place out of my head. The opportunities, the travelling, hiking, friendships and memories from six months in Aotearoa are precious. So, as part of The Stag’s new Travel series, I am here to convince you to visit anywhere in the world!

We’re lucky here at the University of Surrey to have access to exchange partnerships based all over the globe. I can’t stress enough how positive that experience is. It teaches you a lot about yourself, improves your resilience and gives you the opportunity to explore an entirely new country. Many of us will have never had the chance to do this before, and a study exchange is maybe the easiest it will ever be for us to try it out.

It teaches you a lot about yourself, improves your resilience and gives you the opportunity to explore an entirely new country.

First things first, where do you want to go? And how long do you want to go for? Depending on your degree, there are different options for where to go, and when in your degree you can do it. Check out Surrey’s MoveON Exchange Opportunities page and type in your degree programme to find out where you can go. As a Media and Communications student, I could have chosen from universities in the US, Australia, China and more. I did an exchange semester during my placement year, but you can also study for the full year, or go for a summer school.

I would advise booking in a meeting with your department's study abroad advisor. You can find out who it is by contacting your personal tutor, and they’ll point you in the right direction. The study abroad advisor can help you with choosing the three options that you apply to.

The build up to leaving - applying, sorting visas, choosing modules at the university - feels tough. It’ll take perseverance and it will involve some extra work that your friends going on work placements within the UK won’t have to do. But it’ll be worth it! Here’s why:

You’ll have between two and twelve months (depending on your exchange) to live in an entirely new place, and with that comes the opportunity to explore your exchange country, and neighbouring ones too! Go hiking (if you go to New Zealand - hike everywhere!), swimming, city sightseeing, to museums, art galleries or parliaments. The university you attend will most likely organise trips for international students, who will all want to make the most of their time in the host country as well, so you’ll have someone to explore with!

That being said, it’s the perfect chance to meet new friends. It’s cliché to say, but everyone is in the same boat. All universities offer activities for incoming exchange students to meet each other, and if you’re staying in a university hall you will meet people from day one. You never know, you might end up being friends for life. The friends I made in New Zealand, though we are all back in our home countries, hope to meet up soon! The experience doesn’t end just because you finish your semester.

You never know, you might end up being friends for life.

Studying in a different place will also give you insight into how university life differs between Surrey and others around the world. There can be more variety in choosing subjects that interest you outside of your specific degree subject. If you’re going on an exchange during your placement year, it also gives you extra time before final year and your dissertation to learn more about how you study and what you’d like to do after university.

All round, it’s a wonderful experience I’d recommend to everyone.

It can also be more affordable than you might think. The Turing Scheme allocates students a weekly rate that depends on the cost of living in your host country and the length of placement. It offers additional funding to students who would benefit from widening access, including an additional grant to cover travel to the host destination. It will all be explained to you when you speak to your exchange coordinator. You can apply to Santander for their study abroad grant (make sure to check when applications open). The university also has a number of scholarships listed on their website. I recommend applying to as many scholarships and funding opportunities as you can.

Most of all, when it comes to organising your exchange, I recommend doing everything as early as you can, asking for clarification when you’re confused and not being afraid to reach out to anyone who you think can help you. At the beginning of the process, it feels overwhelming, but before you know it you could be on the other side of the world and having the best time.

It might sound scary, but it’s also exciting! There is a whole world beyond Surrey that is in reach and we might as well go for it while we have the chance to study abroad. And if I can do it, you most certainly can too.