Every panic you’ll have before going on exchange and how to deal with them

Your year abroad jolly is a lot more stressful than it seems

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Go on a year abroad, they said. It'll be fun, they said. Going on a year abroad is a huge opportunity and could be one of the best experiences of your life. However, there is the small matter of organising this monumental trip. Along with this comes several things to stress you out. Here are a few, with some tips on how to manage them:

Picking your courses

As if picking courses wasn't stressful enough at your home institution. When you go abroad you need to keep in mind transferring credits. For those of you going on ERASMUS+ exchanges, it's a straightforward transfer of credits. However, if you're going further afield, there is a lot more to take into consideration, as different universities have different credit requirements.

Don't panic. As long as you make sure you're certain of the credit transfer requirements from your home and host universities, everything will be fine. It might take some research, but it's better to have everything ready than to get to the end of your year abroad to find out that you haven't studied enough units to make up your credit points.

Similarly, when picking units make sure you communicate with your exchange coordinators so that you take any courses that are compulsory for your degree subject, and that you are clear of what is expected of you while you are away. Some subjects will ask you not to repeat material, so it's important that you check in with your exchange coordinators so you don't end up taking a course that you're not really allowed to take.

Check with your Go Abroad team about credits. The University of Edinburgh has a great spreadsheet explaining each exchange partner and their credit conversions

Finding somewhere to live

The thought of going back into halls as a third year isn't everyone's cup of tea, but going abroad for a year almost guarantees this. Depending on your host university, applying for accommodation can either be straightforward or confusing. If you're going away for a year, and the academic year is the same as the UK, applying for accommodation should be straight forward. If you're doing your year backwards, so starting in Semester 2 of the host institution and then doing Semester 1, in places like Australia, applying for accommodation can be more problematic. There is no guarantee that you'll get university accommodation for the entire year, considering you'll be there over their summer break.

However, fear not. There are ways around this issue. You can either rent privately, or look into the general consensus on extending your contract once you arrive. Either way, organising accommodation is not as scary as it may seem at the time, as long as you follow the instructions given by your host institution, it'll be fine.

Sorting a visa

Depending on where you're going, visa applications can be stressful, so here are some tips on how to stay calm.

Contacting your host university is always a good place to start. Government websites are another good reference point, as they provide official advice for applying for student visas. As long as you know what documents you need and when your application needs handed in by, then applying for a visa should be a doddle.

Make sure your passport is in date as well to save a last minute trip to the passport office.

Getting insurance

Chances are you will need insurance for your time abroad. Some institutions have specific companies that they prefer you to use, while others will organise your insurance for you if you ask them to. Just be sure that if you are sorting your insurance yourself, you pick the right cover. You may also want to be aware that the insurance that you are required to have by your host institution is most likely to be health insurance, so will not likely include travel insurance which you will have to organise yourself, especially if you plan to travel about while you're abroad. It's better to be fully covered than to get caught out in a sticky situation.

Organising your travel plans

Organising travel sounds like so much fun, but it won't take long for panic to ensue when you realise that long distance travel is complicated. Do you go for straight through flights? Do you stop a million times just to save money? The options are endless.

International travel is no easy feat, so make sure you plan ahead to avoid paying through the nose for flights.

If you're a nervous traveller, it may also be worth trying to select your seat ahead of time so that you're not put somewhere you're not comfortable. The same goes for those of you with dietary requirements. Make sure that all of this is sorted before you fly – it will save you so much hassle and reduce your stress levels.

Suitcases are the most important travel essential

Bringing yourself to pack

Packing is one major cause of stress for exchange students. You could be away for up to a year, and you need to fit your belongings into a couple of suitcases. The key here is to be strategic in your packing. Pack only what you need. If something comes up that you weren't expecting, you can always buy it when you arrive at your destination. The likelihood of needing skiing gear when you're in Australia is low, so you don't need to pack that.

Make sure you know how much luggage allowance you have before you fly. This will save any nasty surprise charges. It may even be worth booking an extra bag ahead of time so that you have more room than you need. Some airlines do not take kindly to passengers who decide to book extra bags once they check-in, and can charge you extortionate prices, so beware.

It may also be worth investing in some quality luggage so that you don't arrive at your destination with your clothes and toiletries strewn all over the luggage belt for the whole terminal to see because your suitcases weren't sturdy enough.

Where do I even start?

What if I get there and decide I don't like it?

This is all down to personal preferences, but my advice would to be to throw yourself into as many activities as possible. You're not going to make friends by confining yourself to your room. Of course, making friends is only one part of it. If you do arrive and you decide that you really aren't enjoying it, there are procedures that need following. Make sure you know what agreements you have signed with your host institution, and make sure you communicate with both host and home institutions to resolve any issues that you may be having.

At the end of the day, exchange is what you make it, so be proactive, and you should have the time of your life. It's an added bonus that you will have loads of fun stories to tell everyone in earshot when you return.