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Beyond Erasmus: International Exchanges - Asia

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Reading time: 6 minutes
This article is the first interview of many, where we look at different mobility opportunities and how people handled them.
entrance of a japanese shop

There’s a lot of change happening in the world of mobility programmes right now. The new Erasmus+ Programme 2021-27 has been launched, with twice the budget of the last one , and a complete makeover of the funding allowances. It also has key priorities, including: inclusion and diversity, digital transformation, and the environment.

However, this isn’t the only new mobility programme. Following the Brexit agreement and the UK Government deciding not to continue associating with the Erasmus+ Programme, they set up their own - the Turing Scheme. This programme will provide funding for international opportunities in education and training, allowing students studying in the UK to travel farther afield and with higher funding than the Erasmus+ programme previously allowed. In addition to this is the Welsh mobility scheme, and there is wind of the Scottish Government setting up their own to support all other internationalisation programmes provided at universities across Scotland…

And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of mobility opportunities available for students!

Going through the confusing transition of UK mobility programmes from the old to the new, I wanted to write a series of interviews from people that have taken part in non-Erasmus+ mobility opportunities. My hope is that it will educate people on just about in how many different ways you can go on exchange, and you really can go (almost) anywhere! Therefore, I interviewed a number of people, and they’ve kindly shared how they found their designated mobility programme, how they funded their life abroad for a few months, their most memorable experiences, and more.

If you are someone who went on exchange and want to share your experience, let us know in the comments below!

The Interview

Olivia - went from Germany to South Korea

Sofia - went from the UK to Singapore 

Freija - went from Finland to Japan

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Photo by Swapnil Bapat | Unsplash

The Essentials:

What kind of exchange programme did you take part in on your mobility experience?

Olivia: I went on an international mobility exchange through my university, arranged by the international office.

Sofia: I heard about it from the exchange coordinator in my department at university. I think it was an international exchange where the uni has partner universities across the world.

Freija: A bilateral exchange between universities. I heard about it in the exchange information presentation in my home university.

How long were you on exchange for?

Olivia: One semester.

Sofia: One academic year, from August to May.

Freija: One academic year.

How did you support yourself financially?

Olivia: I managed to get a scholarship to help pay for my time abroad.

Sofia: I covered all expenses myself.

Freija: I secured a study grant from the government, a scholarship from the university, used my own savings, and took out a personal loan to cover the rest of the year. I was also able to work a little while I was on exchange.

The Experience:

What did you enjoy the most during your exchange?

Olivia: Going to South Korea and being so far away from home really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. This was an experience I really valued, as well as being able to travel through East Asia! The best place I went to was definitely Jeonju (a very old and traditional city) during Chuseok (Korean national holiday week).

Sofia: Making friends worldwide and travelling around with them. My all-time favourite place that I went to was the Philippines, although I also really enjoyed Indonesia and Thailand.

Freija: Learning about the Japanese culture first-hand and meeting new people. The country itself is also stunning and it is pretty magical to be surrounded by it.

aerial photography of forest mountain during daytime
Photo by AR | Unsplash

Did you have a once-in-a-lifetime moment that you wouldn’t have found on Erasmus+?

Olivia: Absolutely! East Asia is culturally much more distant than any Erasmus+ Programme country, so there were countless moments like this. Most mobility in Asia happens between Asian countries, so exchange students from the West are rare - I never would've felt that "out of place" (in a great way) in Europe.

Also, the fact that the trip home is around 800€ and takes close to 24 hours forced me to fully commit. If I had stayed in Europe, I probably would've made the trip home once or twice.

Sofia: The Asian culture is very different from the European and getting to know so many different countries and their way of living was invaluable and incredibly inspiring. Here in Europe, we all share quite similar habits and countries are generally much more developed compared to the ones I got to travel around in South-East Asia. 

Also, being able to explore Asia as a student with just a backpack made me realise that I have so much stuff I really don't need and could definitely live with less as a result of the consumer society we have in Europe.

Freija: Yes - I was able to experience the unique Japanese university system! Their education system differs quite a bit from that of many European universities I have experienced, especially that of Finland. It is a very intense method of learning, with a LOT of seminar classes back-to-back - very different to the Socratic discussions and group work that is more popular in Finland, not to mention the class division of teacher-student…

Otherwise, learning about the local culture and language. Working while in Japan gave me a real insight into some elements of the culture you would otherwise never have the opportunity to experience if merely travelling there on holiday. 

man in the middle of the road
Photo by Evan Krause | Unsplash


What food did you miss the most?

Olivia: Fresh bread. It isn’t a thing there - the only thing you can get remotely close in the supermarkets is toast.

Sofia: As a Spaniard, I really missed any kind of traditional Spanish food - especially tortilla española.

Freija: I didn’t miss Western food too much, but when I returned to my home university, I sorely missed ramen (especially the proper tonkatsu ramen)! I haven’t been able to find a good one yet outside of Japan.

What was the weirdest thing you ate?

Olivia: Chicken feet…

Sofia: ‘Chicken’ soup, although the meat in the dish didn’t taste (or look) remotely like the chicken I am used to…

Freija: Either jellyfish or pig ears. I also tried chicken stomach, intestines and heart...there were so many different kinds of food that I tried in Japan that there are probably a lot more!

What elements of your host country did you bring back home?

Olivia: A lot of the cuisine, and even more K-Pop.

Sofia: I learnt to appreciate the great food variety Singapore has, and also living with less. I now try to cook some of their dishes on occasion and gave so much of the stuff I had to charity.

Freija: Politeness and appreciating aesthetics also in your daily life and routines. There are many others also but those are some of the top ones I really miss.

lighted city skyline at night
Photo by Yohan Cho | Unsplash

The Big Questions:

Would you recommend this exchange country to others?

Olivia: I actually planned a trip to go back, but COVID got in the way…

I'm going on another exchange to Japan as soon as the pandemic ends, and I am planning to visit Seoul as soon as the borders reopen since it is quite close. I couldn’t recommend visiting the country highly enough, and you can probably tell it really made a positive impact on me!

Sofia: Let’s just say, as soon as I save up enough money for tickets, I am on that first flight back to Singapore!

Freija: 100% - any form of mobility is such an eye-opener, but especially one that is so culturally different to your own. Immersing yourself in a completely new culture and atmosphere, as well as forming relationships that may last for the rest of your life, opens some incredible doors you may not realise now but will thank yourself for doing so in the future. Plus, everyone should try some proper Japanese ramen at some point in their life...