To Exchange or Not To Exchange
March 11, 2007 6:31 AM   Subscribe

Should I go on exchange next year?

I am an international student (Bangladeshi passport, Malaysian PR, considered Malaysian for all purposes except immigration) studying in QUT in Brisbane, Australia. Currently I am doing a Bachelors in Creative Industries (Interdisplinary), submajoring in Creative Writing and Creative Industries Management.

My university offers students an opportunity to go on an exchange for a semester-a year with their partner universities worldwide. I'm thinking about taking up the opportunity, but I'm not entirely sure if I should.

Now I'm an exchange nut. I've always wanted to be an exchange student in some fashion. One and a half years ago I travelled around the world on a global education program and had the time of my life. I should be jumping for joy at this opportunity, but there are some things that are making me second-guess it.

1. It's exchange! Travel! Learning! New experiences! Just my thing!
2. I can obtain an "International Exchange" minor from this, which may actually help with my career goals.
3. I don't have to pay the overseas uni; I just pay my usual uni fees. I'm on a scholarship (which covers half my usual fees) so that helps.
4. There is a system in place and I will get credit transferred.
5. It fits with my visa guidelines (as long as I am here for my final semester I'm fine - I'm planning to go in early 2008).
6. I have a semester full of electives, which I can use to study just about anything - I'm hoping to do something related to education or social work.

1. The partner universities don't seem very appealing. I'm quite the "alternative nontraditional education" girl (think Hampshire or Semester at Sea) and the unis they have there are more on the traditional side. (It was telling when I asked people for recommendations, listing my preferences and the unis available, and I got so many recs for UC Berkeley - which is NOT a partner uni.)
2. The more interesting countries have a language requirement, which I can't fulfill. Or they don't quite have the courses I want. Which leaves me with UK, USA, Ireland, or Canada. There is one uni in the US (The College of New Jersey) that has piqued my interest, HOWEVER...
3. ...the US is weird in that I have to go back to Malaysia to get a student visa (I already have a tourist visa). Other countries let me get visas at the Australian embassy. I don't know if I'll have the time or resources for that.
4. I'm not sure I'll be able to support myself or be supported financially. I still depend on my parents to a large extent (my part-time job doesn't pay all that much) and they already paid for my round-the-world trip, so this would be a hard sell.
5. I have a boyfriend, whom I loathe to leave behind. He's actually encouraging me to go on exchange, he thinks it'll be good for me. But it'll still be hard. We spent 3 months apart for hols and it was still hard!

One complicating factor is that my friends are adamant about going to South America during the summer/end-year holidays - fun idea, but between getting the visas for everywhere and getting my paperwork sorted, it is a logistics nightmare.

Mainly, though, it's the lack of any super-interesting partner universities that's bumming me out. There's none there that make me go "OH I MUST GO". I would much rather travel on a program like The Scholarship or Semester at Sea or wherever, or do an internship for a semester, but that involves taking a Leave of Absence, which can be really iffy on my credit transfer and with my student visa. Also, I'll have to pay full fee, which could suck.

What should I do? Any suggestions? There's gonna be an exchange fair in the next couple of days, but what other options do I have?
posted by divabat to Education (15 answers total)
If you don't mind my asking, what is it about TCNJ that seemed particularly interesting for you? I can't say that I know much about it, but I haven't really heard anything good about it, either, just visited once. On the other hand, it is midway between Philadelphia and NYC, both great places to spend weekends.

Your choices are indeed drab. My first thought when I saw Trinity College in Dublin as a choice was "that one!" but then realized it's just the business faculty (though I'd recommend it if "creative industries" somehow qualifies you; it's a traditional place, but Dublin in particular and Ireland in general are interesting places, and friends that have studied abroad there have loved it). San Jose State is intriguing, as it's so close to San Francisco, and...

Ah, just found something. Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. One of the most liberal colleges in the country, it's like the Hampshire of the west coast. Probably close to your school ideal. It's rural Northern California, though, so not close to anything industrial really, or even a city. It's part of the Cal State system. Maybe someone else can talk about the school itself, but everyone I've met that's gone there has been a unique interesting person.
posted by The Michael The at 7:08 AM on March 11, 2007

San Jose is actually a pretty nice area.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:37 AM on March 11, 2007

I'll admit that don't know a ton about Bishop's, which is on your university's list, but it would seem to be a potential fit for you. Bishop's is small, with lots of individual attention, and it describes itself as "liberal" on its homepage (and Canada is quite liberal to begin with). You would meet an interesting mix of people there, too.

From what you say, TCNJ does not sound like your kind of place, although the location is great, as The Michael The says.

As for whether you should go at all, that's tricky. I decided against doing a regular semester abroad as an undergraduate -- in large part because I didn't want to miss out on any of the great undergraduate experience that I was having at my university in Canada -- but I did two two extra undergraduate summer semesters abroad, in Germany (thus also completing my full programme at my own university). The two summers had a huge impact on me, academically and personally, and more than compensated for any related hardships.
posted by sueinnyc at 8:33 AM on March 11, 2007

I hate reading long posts, but I have three responses...
Exchange for the sake of exchange is indeed enough of a reason to give it a go. I did a Junior-Year-Abroad in the UK from an American uni and it was a great experience, even though it was just "normal uni". I don't know how the system works where you are, but I had the choice of going with a large group and staying in an "international house" or by myself and staying in the dorms. I chose the latter, and I can't imagine having done it differently. Going with a large group seemed like cheating to me. Yes, you should do it.
Leaving a boy/girlfriend for awhile is not a bad idea. A fresh perspective will either remind you why you're together or make you realize that you're just together because it's convenient. Win-win.
Humboldt State in Arcata is a great choice. I live just a few hours away and it's my wife's and my go to place to relax and find civilization. You've reminded me to visit one more time before moving back to the rockies. Thanks.
posted by monkeymadness at 8:39 AM on March 11, 2007

Well, if I had to choose any of the UK uni's listed, I'd choose Leeds. Overall it has a good reputation, although I don't know about the particular departments you might be interested in.

Leeds is a big city with lots going on, and everyone I know who's been there has enjoyed it.

Of the other UK universities on the list, none of them are terrible, but none of them are particularly stand out either...

I'm not sure the kind of non-traditional teaching you're looking for exists at a university level in the UK. But if you look hard enough, there are departments, and more likely, individual courses that will give you that, but you do have to hunt for them.
posted by Helga-woo at 9:36 AM on March 11, 2007

Addendum: By "long posts" I meant mine, not divabat's. Sorry.
posted by monkeymadness at 10:04 AM on March 11, 2007

I would have another look at Scandinavian countries. I don't know if you have more information than the website you linked regarding the language requirements, but many universities in scandinavia offer a range of subjects in english, and certainly through UQ you can usually go there without any language requirement. For example, one of your options is Malmo University, which has subjects like Social Work and Public Health in Third World Development (as well as many other courses) taught in english.

For all the rest of it - I don't know anyone (of a very large sample size) who has regretted going on exchange, no matter what boyfriend they left behind or how many crappy jobs they had to work in the snow in bare feet etc etc. It's really that good.

biases: I just got back from exchange and am desperately imagining ways I could possibly go again before I graduate. Also, I find scandinavia fascinating.
posted by jacalata at 10:07 AM on March 11, 2007

Leeds is good. Email's in profile if you want to know more.
posted by handee at 11:25 AM on March 11, 2007

YES. I regret not going while I was in college. Half the point of doing an exchange semester is going out and seeing the world (even if it is New Jersey!). And you should do it now before you get stuck in a job that won't let you go anywhere.

Plus, when else can you even THINK about looking up scholarships to travel? Certainly don't have that at my workplace.
posted by kitalea at 12:46 PM on March 11, 2007

For what it's worth, TCNJ would put you close to NYC, which is, like, the center of the US fashion universe.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:24 PM on March 11, 2007

Response by poster: The Michael The: I was recommended TCNJ by some others and I am intrigued by their project-based approach to things. I don't really know much about any of the unis on the list though, so I'm not sure. Creative Industries (arts basically) and Business are two different faculties, so I don't qualify for Trinity unfortunately! Thanks for the note on Humblot, I'll look it up.

miss lynnster: Do you know anything about the university?

sueinnyc: Bishop's is apparently super popular with the exchange crowd! They get about 10 applicants and they can only send 3. It is worth a shot (though honestly the website kinda put me off!)

helgawoo: Not a big fan of the UK! The only thing going for it (for me) is that my sister's there, but otherwise it's not really a big choice.

jacalata: I'm in QUT, not UQ - UQ got all the nice partner unis (including Berkeley!!!). My faculty actually has a special arrangement with Malmo, so I could look them up to.

kitalea: I wish I could look up more! Australia's weird about scholarships especially with international students, and I think I don't qualify for any more because my current scholarship gives me over $2k a semester, bah.

Afroblanco: Haha, not interested in fashion, but NYC seems a good place to be regardless.

thanks people, keep them coming!
posted by divabat at 9:08 PM on March 11, 2007

I can think of many Canadian universities/departments which could really be good places to go. Also, Canadian universities (like most places) can vary greatly from department to department also. I'm a prof at liberal arts campus and I teach with a nonformal education exchange program (with Mexico). Over the years I've known many exchange students coming to Canada and having really good experiences across the country.

Generally, I'd recommend an exchange program. Beyond this, I would find out the specifics of which department you'd be in on which campus. I'd look at class size and campus size as a suggestion of what kinds of social interactions you'd likely have access to. If you're of an alternative bent, look at the kinds of courses you'd take, and more importantly, who would teach them. I would avoid making generalizations such as urban, big university = 'liberal'/good. Look at the specifics. Go for it!
posted by kch at 9:21 PM on March 11, 2007

divabat - oops - I totally misread this sentence :

I've always wanted to be an exchange student in some fashion.

I guess my eyes just left out the 'some.'

But you should come to the east coast anyway.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:11 PM on March 11, 2007

Response by poster: kch: It's the specifics that are overwhelming me! There's a list I have to choose from (I think Bishop's is the only Canadian one I'm eligible for) and trying to figure out what works is confusing. It seems the unis that are really good matches for me aren't partnered. Bah!
posted by divabat at 12:14 AM on March 12, 2007

I've heard good things from people going to Bishop's. Also, it's not too far from Montreal, which is a positively great city. I guess focusing on the list and working systematically through the pros/cons of actual options might be one way to make it not quite so overwhelming. Another thought, could there ever be an exchange option that was so bad that even given some unknown risks it wouldn't be worth doing? Good luck!
posted by kch at 10:34 PM on March 13, 2007

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