Multi-Country-Tasking: How to be an international student in two different countries

As I began writing this post just one week ago*, trying to wistfully ponder that allusive first sentence that would capture the spirit of my bohemian, artistic mood of the moment, I found myself distracted by something shiny. As I peered through my window, shading my eyes from the sun’s fearsome burning rays, I moved in closer to the glass. My eyes widened with disbelief. I gasped open-mouthed. ‘It must be a mirage; a distortion of my vision’ I thought. But it was not. The rumours were true!

It was snow. Flurries of snow were cascading before my very eyes. The sun was still shining. It was April.

No dearest readers, you have not gone back in time to January (my time machine being mine…. ALL MINE!). The reason for my experiencing of such weather is that I am not actually in Denmark at the moment. For this semester only, one half of your ever faithful International Extraordinaire team has escaped the clutches of the Viking Barbarians and has landed itself far, far away in the depths of Eastern Europe: Estonia.**

Charting my European journey from West to East

(Because I love maps and diagrams, here is a nice little pictorial display of my moves from one country to another this decade. You’ll know which one is Denmark because I drew an awesome viking hat to show you. My drawing is so skilful, sometimes it’s hard to believe that I didn’t become an artist).

So right now I am residing in the former Eastern bloc and on exchange at the University of Tartu (UT for short, and one of Northern Europe’s oldest universities I’ll have you know). More specifically I’m an exchange student at their Department of Semiotics, which might just be the world’s most famous semiotic school.

…Yes, there is such a thing as a famous school for semiotics. Ask any semiotician!

Ahhhhh, but enough about my Baltic adventures! The crux of this post is to tell you all about what international full-degrees at AU should do if they decide they need to experience herring*** beyond being pickled and in a jar, and want to have another international adventure on top of their original international adventure. It’s meta-internationalising!

For me, knowing that I could go on exchange as an international student at AU was not something I was hugely aware of. As is usual at AU, this sort of information isn’t overtly given, but is talked about in half-whispers by the cover of dark halls and candlelight (preferably during a full moon). Furthermore, until recently this information was only available in Danish: but thanks to the (small) efforts of myself and one other fellow semiotician (who shall not be named but without his initiative to get this exchange off the ground, I would not be in cold and grey Estonia today), this info is slowly being translated into a language available to us internationals.  So don’t despair, and don’t be put off by what at first appears to be a tricky and impenetrable task! Any international full-degreer has the same rights as a Danish full-degree student to go on exchange for a semester (or possibly even 2) and I can vouch that it is a very rewarding, academically viable, and beneficial, endeavour.

Even if you are thinking ‘But Marcia, this is crazy talk! I’m already a student in a foreign country! Why would I want to go through that again?!’, don’t discount the option. AU is all about supporting international escapades, and being an international student already, you’ve already done the hard work of moving abroad once, so the second time will be half as easy! Furthermore, if you go on exchange to an EU country, you are most likely to be given money by the European Commission’s Erasmus programme for your troubles.

Now, if free money isn’t an incentive to go, I don’t know what is!

What? Free money for me?!

If going on exchange is something that you fancy doing, then there are a variety of steps you need to undertake early on in the semester, and there are some specific aspects of going abroad from DK for a certain amount of time that you need to be aware of. I’m going to put a disclaimer now that I cannot speak for all circumstances (despite my general omnipotence) and therefore you should always contact your own academic department first if you want to go on exchange. However, this should act as an initial guide to wet your interest in the whole exchange business and provide you with the basics of what you need to know.

  1. Firstly, you should find somewhere that you want to go study for a semester or two. For me it was easy (there aren’t exactly many places to go study semiotics), but if you don’t have somewhere particular in mind, then you should check out AU’s site for a list of places that AU has an agreement of exchange with. If you go within the Nordic countries then you are likely to receive some support from the Nord+ scheme, and if you go to other countries within Europe then you are likely to receive assistance from the Erasmus programme (as mentioned above). Please be aware that any money you may receive isn’t to fully support all your studyingacademic, travelling, drinking adventures, but is just a small pot of financial support at the end of the student exchange rainbow in order to make things that bit easier. For instance, I receive just about enough money to cover my rent in Estonia every month, but of course I am studying in one of the cheaper European countries and this would in no way cover my rent in DK… If you decide that you want to go study outside of Europe, however, then it is a whole different ball game. In this case it’s unlikely that you will receive any travel money, but if you study at one of the non-European universities that AU has an agreement with, then you can avoid paying tuition fees, hurrah! Check it out here for what the exact rules are about studying outside of our cosy continent…
  2. Most likely in combination with where you want to study is choosing which semester to go. Such a decision may of course be connected with which university you wish to study at (as if there are particular courses that you wish/have to take, they are likely to be available only once a year and therefore dictate which semester you go). However, if you have a little more freedom, then deciding which semester to go may come down to what classes you would be missing at AU and if/what you can replace them with. You should check with your course supervisor as each course has its own requirements and without your course supervisor’s approval you won’t be able to go. For Master’s students it is most common to go on their third semester. Personally, I’m on exchange during my fourth semester, but unless you plan to spend an additional semester writing your thesis after you’ve gone abroad, this would not be a recommended course of action.
  3. Additionally, you will need to figure out what the requirements are of the particular study abroad option you are considering. Depending on whether you are going to a Nordic country, an EU one, a non-EU one and whether or not they have a study abroad agreement with AU, there will be different requirements for your studying there. It might be that you take no ECTS credits there at all but just ‘audit’ classes – learning just for learnin’s sake. It might be that you have to take 30 ECTS credits (the normal amount for one semester if you haven’t figured that out) but perhaps AU will not accept the grade and will just turn it into a pass/fail course. I don’t know all the answers, but this is something that must also factor into your decision.
      • For instance: If you are going on the EU Erasmus Exchange, then you will need to take at least 20 ECTS in order to go on the programme. Whilst AU has courses in 10-credit denominations, not all universities in Europe do (for instance, I’m having to take courses that are 3 and 6 credits in order to fill my 20 ECTS requirements), and you will need all these courses to be pre-approved by AU to replace the courses totalling 20 ECTS at AU (and the courses I am replacing at AU had to be approved and matched with a suitable course at UT).
Now, back to business! Whilst that is all very important stuff, what’s even more important is that if you want to actually have a chance of studying abroad, then you need to sort out all the administrative stuff on time! So here is a list of what you need to do:
    • When you have all the study stuff sorted out, you need to fill in a learning agreement, which details what courses you will be taking at your exchange institution and what courses they will be be replacing at AU. This has to be signed by the departmental and international coordinator at AU.
    • This is then sent off with your application form to study at the exchange institution and your transcripts printed off from AU self-service, and then you need to send all three documents to the exchange institution.
    • I’m a little unsure what exactly happens then, but basically the exchange institution will let you know if they agree with you studying there or not, and if they agree then the departmental and international coordinator at the exchange institution will sign the learning agreement. Therefore this totals 5 signatures on the learning agreement (yours, 2 from AU and 2 from mysterious other university). This is then your contract between yourself, AU and the exchange institution of your right to go on and study abroad.
    • Then you are done! Apart from the whole housing, booking flights, moving abroad, possibly subletting your own apartment issue, but hey, I can’t do everything for you: that you’ll have to figure out on your own 🙂
All of this must be completed by the application deadlines. Please note!  AU has some rather early application dates for studying abroad, which you should be very aware of! 
Erasmus and Nordplus
  • For applying to study abroad for the entire next academic year (whether winter or spring semester), the application date is the 15 February. This means that if you are applying to study abroad in the spring semester, you need to apply essentially a year in advance.
  • However, there is also a second round of applications due 15 September for the following spring semester, if there are still available places left.
Outside of Europe
  • For applying to study abroad for the entire next academic year (whether winter or spring semester), the application date is the 15 JanuarySome universities also have a second round, but not all.
Well, that’s pretty much everything covered for now! But, let me leave you one final note. Being an exchange student is vastly different to being a international full-degreer, and with that comes both good and bad things:
  • Like being at AU, you shall drink lots of beer (Denmark familiarity win!). However, you will find that this tends to be much more organised beer, because exchange students generally have a lot fuller social calendars than full-degree internationals – especially when compared to AU. The universities tend to provide many, many, activities for exchange students to get constantly caught up in, and to generally make you forget that you ever came there to study in the first place…
    • The bad part of this is that it is generally very difficult to meet the local students as an exchange student. Understandably, possibly through your own experience of being a full-degreer, exchange students come and go whilst you stay put, and when you become one of those pesky, free-wheeling nomads, anyone staying put beyond your semester there can be quite suspicious about spending time with you. However, a good way to solve this is to get yourself into a language exchange or attend student activities that involve both internationals and locals. That way you can just charm your way into their lives!
  • Because you are just a visiting student, you tend to not be involved in a department in the same way you are at AU. You are just one of many additional students taking their classes, and not one of their own, per se. Whilst this is good because you have some additional freedom to check out all the other different academic activities happening around the university, it can just be a little bit of a shock getting used to this more free-floating type of academic learning. It’s up to you how involved you make yourself in the academics of your exchange institution, because all that AU requires from you at the end of the day is that you complete whatever is on the learning agreement.
Well, that is pretty much the lowdown! All I can say is that going on exchange has been totally worth it in my book: so go forth and explore!
*OK, possibly 2 weeks by the time I actually posted, but hey, it takes a long time to come up with stuff of this calibre!

**hence why I have not been so visual on the hey you, au! blog recently, and why you should all send my colleague Jessica props and chocolate and other such goodies for being so awesome the last 3 months. Yay Jessica!

***this part is not actually obligatory. Danish immigration policy does not insist that you eat pickled herring in order to step foot on Danish soil. Yet.

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