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Beyond Erasmus: International Exchanges - English Speaking Destinations

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Usually when one thinks of a university exchange, the thing that comes to mind is European countries and foreign languages.
laptop, open notebook and bag on floor
credit: Matt Ragland

Although this is most likely the majority of people in ESN due to the Erasmus programme, there are some amazing non-Erasmus destinations that are also popular. What is more, if learning a new language isn’t for you, there are countries you could go to where the official language is English!

The Interview

Sophie - went from the UK to the USA

Mattie - went from the UK to Australia

Dana - went from Switzerland to England

Christie - went from the UK to Canada

The Essentials:

What kind of exchange did you take part in?

Sophie: My home university had a few international partnerships with non-Erasmus programme countries, in case you wanted to explore further afield, like America!

Mattie: It was a university partnership.

Dana: SEMP, the Swiss equivalent to Erasmus+. It is the only form of exchange you can go on through university in Switzerland.

Christie: It was an international exchange, arranged by my university. 

How long were you on exchange for?

Sophie: 4 months, which was equivalent to one semester.

Mattie: The full year - since Australia’s seasons are opposite to Europe’s, their second term starts in August and the first term finishes in July, and I thought I might as well do the full thing to experience their first semester, which takes place during our second.

Dana: 2 semesters.

Christie: 1 semester.

city view
credit: Mike Benna on Unsplash

How did you support yourself financially?

Sophie: My tuition fees were covered by the university due to it being a bilateral exchange, and everything else was self-funded through savings and work.

Mattie: I was very lucky to have financially stable parents who could lend me the money for the year, on the basis that in Scotland we don’t pay university fees.

Dana: In Switzerland, there is a grant that comes with participating in the national exchange programme. I also had a government grant for studies to support myself.
Christie: It was self-funded, with help from my Scottish student finance.

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credit: Christine Roy on Unsplash

The Experience:

Was there much of an international feeling abroad as you would get on the Erasmus programme?

Sophie: Yes, I was actually grouped with seven other international students for my time at my school. The university itself has a massive international student body, bigger than my home university or what I would have expected.

Mattie: I think Melbourne, where I was, is fairly metropolitan so I would say it was quite international (especially compared to Scotland). There were lots of people from Asia that come over regularly, and Australians seem to be quite travelled which also adds to the atmosphere.

Dana: I went to London when the UK was still a participant in the Erasmus+ programme, and it was a very popular destination to go to. Although they now have their own exchange programme (the Turing Scheme), I don’t think the international culture will differ, especially in London which attracts people from all around the world for studies and tourism. It is an incredibly liveable international city.

Christie: Absolutely! The exchange student club especially was really my life when I was over there, with (at least) weekly socials and monthly trips. I think there were around 200 members of the exchange club when I was there, probably more exchangers overall, and many more international students. 

Can you describe your once-in-a-lifetime moment?

Sophie: Visiting the Great Lakes of Minnesota. It is something I would never have spent time going to see when otherwise going to America on holiday.

Mattie: I think every country is going to have something different to offer, and so wherever I go, I try to experience as much as possible. However, if forced to pick something I enjoyed, it was experiencing a culture less centred around alcohol, as Scotland is. It was really refreshing, just to experience freshers week without it being fully alcohol-focused.

Dana: Honestly, the whole experience was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. For me, I loved exploring the country that is so much smaller than my own, especially my trip to Edinburgh.

Christie: Absolutely! Obviously, there were places I went to, such as the Rocky Mountains, which were incredible and could only be experienced in this location. As well as this though, there were some distinctly North American experiences such as attending homecoming, (American) football and ice hockey games, and frat parties in the Greek village (!) that I don’t think I would have found the same in Europe.

Have you been there since?

Sophie: I actually loved it so much that I enrolled in a 2 year Masters programme in Denver.

Mattie: Unfortunately Australia is quite expensive and far to get to, and once you are there you feel like you should stay for a few weeks to justify the cost and time of the journey. But, once I get enough savings, I definitely will.

Dana: Not yet, but soon.

Christie: Yes! I went on exchange in late 2017 and visited Vancouver again in August 2018. I haven’t been back again since but this is mostly due to Covid; it still holds a place in my heart and I’ll definitely be back sometime when I can! 

city view
credit: Photoholgic on Unsplash

The Big Question:

Do you think you missed out on any cultural experiences having gone to a native English speaking country?

Sophie: For me, no, because the reason I studied abroad was for the musical connections and for me, there was only one school in a non-English speaking country that was an option for me and so going to America was the right choice academically and socially - I was able to make friends easier and the music culture in the states certainly felt much different and I got to fully immerse myself in that. I think the only thing I missed out on if you can even really call it that, is the adjustment phase because the cultural shift felt less abrupt but I don't feel like I really missed out on anything.

Mattie: It is more challenging to do so. When living in a country where there is a language barrier, you are forced to embrace it and immerse yourself in the language and culture, whereas in Australia, as everyone speaks my native language I had to make more of an active effort to learn about it and embrace it. It wasn’t lacking in cultural experiences, but they are more similar to my own native ‘British’ cultural experiences.

Dana: I wouldn’t exactly say I missed out on anything - while being in London, I was immersed in a highly multicultural environment from the start, living with the other exchange students and internationals or meeting them through ESN. Plus, the UK has Scottish, Welsh, English and Northern Irish culture, and I was lucky enough to visit both Scotland and Wales so I wasn't lacking in cultural experiences.

Christie: I wouldn’t say so! While English speaking, Canada’s culture was still different to my home country (Scotland) and I, therefore, had completely new experiences there - I ‘missed’ cultural experiences I could have had if I’d gone somewhere else only in the same way that if I’d gone to France I would have missed the cultural experiences of Spain. All in all, a completely new country with completely new ‘international’ experiences.