What are university exchange programmes?
This is the first of three chapters about Exchange Programmes. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Introduce the concept of a foreign exchange programme
– Discuss the benefits of enrolling on academic exchanges
– Explore the differences between short-term and long-term exchanges on student experiences
New university students often spend a good amount of time researching their bachelor’s degree and the extra-curricular activities on offer through their university’s various clubs and societies. One opportunity that new academics often overlook, however, is the foreign exchange programme. The many exciting programmes on offer provide students with the opportunity to study, travel and live abroad long before their careers or finances would normally afford.
Because such exchange programmes tend to remove students from the security and familiarity of family, friends and culture, this three-chapter reader aims to demystify the experience by exploring the basics of exchange programmes (Chapter 1), their benefits (Chapter 2) and their key considerations (Chapter 3). Hopefully, this will better inform anyone who’s thinking of signing up to a worthwhile but potentially life-changing experience.
What is an exchange programme?
Broadly speaking, the term ‘exchange programme’ refers to the opportunity for students to study temporarily at a foreign institute, usually for one or two semesters. Though called an ‘exchange’, this doesn’t mean that students themselves must find a counterpart to swap with or that there is a direct swapping of students. Rather, universities and colleges tend to have reciprocal agreements with partner institutes or third-party companies that support and encourage placing students abroad.
What are the different types of programme?
Exchange programmes tend to vary in length and in purpose. How long the period of study is and whether that period is considered a part of a student’s degree (and final grade) or simply a complement to it depends on the type of programme on offer. Commonly, when universities or higher-education academies talk about ‘exchange programmes’ they may be referring to one of two common types: the short/intensive exchange and the long-term exchange.
Type 1: Short/Intensive Programmes
Short-term exchanges are those which last anywhere from one week to about two months. As such, these short programmes often take place during the long university summer break or during a portion of the Spring or Autumn semester. One of the most popular destinations for such exchanges (especially for native English speakers) is Europe, with countries such as Spain and Italy being exceptionally popular. For non-native speakers however, it is common to seek similar exchange programmes in native-English speaking countries such as the USA or the UK. In these cases, language learning is often the main motivating factor for a brief period of study abroad.
In short-term exchanges, students rarely take classes for their major. Rather, they are more likely to participate in the range of extra-curricular activities arranged by their host institute, with the possibility of some credit-bearing language classes too. These types of exchange programmes also tend to commonly place students into homestays (a local family’s home) to enhance the cultural experience, with daily meals included in the price. Given the social nature of short-term exchanges, students usually participate in these types of experiences earlier on in their bachelor’s degree, leaving the busier and more intensive later years of study for focusing primarily on their major.
Type 2: Long-term Exchanges
Unsurprisingly, long-term exchanges are generally those that cover at least a full semester and often a whole academic year. In these programmes, students are provided with the opportunity to take classes at partner institutes in their major area of study. As these programmes are in place of studying at their enrolled university, the seminars and assessments taken abroad will normally count toward the final grade of a student’s overall degree. However, how these grades are precisely calculated does tend to vary, with students reporting that assessments may be harder or easier at their adopted institute yet still produce the same grade (something that will be on our list of six considerations in Chapter 3). As with short-term exchanges, the motivation behind longer exchanges can still be cultural, but may also offer additional benefits for that particular major – such as when an archaeology student takes a semester in Athens, one of the world’s most historically fascinating cities. Such programmes can also allow a student access to a more prestigious institute than their normal qualifications or funding would allow.
Ultimately, most universities offer support for a variety of short- and long-term exchanges for their enrolled students. Some majors such as International Relations may, in fact, even make such an exchange a prerequisite for graduating. Although the descriptions in this chapter are quite general, they should give students an idea of what types of experiences are available to them. To explore in more detail the benefits of exchange programmes and why signing up to one may be the best decision a student can make during their degree, read on to find out about the key eight benefits in Chapter 2.
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