Student Blog | How To Research Study Abroad
As of the end of summer I am going to be heading out to Amsterdam for a semester to kick start work for my second year as an English Literature undergraduate at York St. John. This is simultaneously extremely exciting and scary because it is going to be a whole new experience in itself, very different to anything I have been used to before. But in spite of those mixed feelings when it comes to moving away from home, I am 100% sure of my decision to do half a year studying at a university abroad. The biggest reason for this is that beforehand I did a lot of research and, whilst there were definitely cons, the number of pros far outweighed them.
When it comes to deciding whether or not study abroad is the right move for you, it really does depend largely upon the amount of time and research you put into it. But that said the research element is particularly difficult as the process is different for every university across the UK, so the options change depending on what course you might be studying and the procedures differ each year. When it comes to researching, you'll often find yourself in that frustrating loop of reading article after article which only gives you a glimpse into what you want to know. But from my own experience, there are certain ways you can make that researching a bit easier. The first of which is to make sure you keep a few notes as you go through this myriad of information. If things are kept organised, it makes it much easier to return to later when trying to find a way of answering any questions that may have arisen as a result.
Begin with the direct research as this will provide you with both a starting point and a summary of the basic information. By direct research I mean reading the information offered by your university, from the web pages to any emails that may have been sent out by the study abroad department. For me this meant being able to find access to the Vrije Universiteit website where there were lists of modules, assessments, and entry requirements. Whilst a place itself may suit you, it is equally important that the modules on offer work well for you too because this is content you are going to be studying for the foreseeable future and presumably want to do well in. I'm greatly intrigued by everything to do with the Netherlands, from the culture and language to the history and architecture, all of which are a big part of the module selection. Wanting to learn more about all these things fits very well with the exchange students programme available, which meant it seemed a natural fit to go and learn about these things there. Studying the literature of a location in the place itself brings a whole other dimension to what you are learning.
As well as learning about the modules, I also initially came across the requirements I would need to meet to secure myself a place on the programme. They were quite demanding but this was something I was happy to work towards as what was on offer seemed a just reward. Whilst it will likely be slightly different for you, the requirements usually centre around getting specific grades (or at least no fails or non-submissions) and maintaining a high average attendance. If you remain motivated and focused upon your goal, it is not so difficult a feat to get up for those early morning lectures and enter with a positive mindset. If anything, knowing that I had to meet these conditions made me work even harder because once my decision was made up I wanted to do well for more than one reason.
After you have done some initial research of the university, the modules and the entry requirements, I highly suggest that you research more specifically to the area. Open days will be harder to attend if you are far away (though they are worth getting to if you can) so the best way you can get to know the campus and the environment is through, you guessed it...more researching. The university in my case offers a virtual tour, so you can see much of the campus and what it is like. I am super excited for the bike racks which might sound odd but it is the size of a multi-story car park! The library and study areas also look very open which will be perfect for the longer days as my accommodation is quite far away. Alongside looking further into the structure and layout of the university, I also did this for the local area in terms of supermarkets, parks and so on. In addition to finding out where the location is, it has been incredibly valuable to find out the prices of things so that I can begin planning groceries and the like. This has been valuable when planning whether I will be able to practice swimming every day or be able to have a regular budget food wise (I have a nut allergy so this can change a lot). For those of you currently researching or considering heading out to the Netherlands, I hugely recommend the I-Amsterdam website as they have so much research for exchange + international students. One example being the tip to buy a museum card which allows you access to all exhibition spaces in the area, saving you so much money and time which would otherwise be spent queuing.
Of course, researching will not grant you all the answers to the bigger questions you face. Only you can make that final decision of whether this is going to be the best move for you in the long-run. The information you find will stretch what you know and give you answers to the smaller things which might be worrying you but at the end of the day, this is a personal choice which is all about you. And there is no guide book to that, only estimates - kind of like a human weather forecast. It might help to learn about other students’ experiences of life in your chosen location and to hear about their individual reactions to life studying abroad. You might hear about these in person with older students at your university in the UK or perhaps through a YouTube video. There are plenty of blogs too which students write around the world about their lives as international students. Try all of them out to see if they work, keep soaking it all in and give yourself time. Rome wasn't built in a day and decisions aren't instant either. Your lightbulb moment will come but until then, I hope this blog has helped you to think from a new angle about where you might find the information you seek. And remember the wise words of J.K. Rowling - 'Anything is possible if you've got enough nerve'.