In just a few days, semesters will begin for the 2022/23 winter semester. For many students, the question arises of how to organize their studies as a whole, what to plan for how and when, and whether they prefer to gain experience abroad or in practice. Malika Yunus, a communications design student at the University of Europe for Applied Sciences, summarizes why a semester abroad is always a good idea and what you can take with you for life in seven inspiring tips based on her own recent experience:
1. Get out of your comfort zone, into real life
"The most important thing is to step out of your comfort zone! That encompasses many things, but basically, try to do things you're drawn to but not yet familiar with. That means talking to new people, trying new experiences and foods, and tackling new projects. For example, I happened to be at a cryptocurrency networking event and tried to attend the conference the next day. It didn't work out, but the whole experience was unforgettable."
2. Going on a journey of discovery
"Go on a journey of discovery and try not to fall into comfortable habits too quickly! Because time is short. I would advise seeing what's going on at the place of study, what events there are. I think if you don't have enough variety, you're more likely to feel isolated and homesick, even though you're basically comfortable. I hosted monthly game nights with a steady group of friends, but invited one or two new people I met each time. I also hosted a few vegan cookouts and an iftar for Ramadan. These activities were some of my favourite moments because my close friends became sort of like family away from home."
3. Take advantage of offers and gain inspiration
"Definitely take advantage of facilities like the Erasmus Student Network! They provided us with useful information, fun activities, meetings and experiences. Many students participated in all the activities in the first few weeks and then none later. My advice is not to participate in everything, but to choose the activities that you really like. It's great that there are offerings like this, so you should take advantage of them and get inspired about what to look for. For example, last month there was a presentation on people's culture and food that few people attended - but for me it was still one of my favourite activities."
4. Make a good bed
"Take advantage of accommodation offers! If there is a possibility to get accommodation provided by the university or the supervising organization, I advise to take advantage of this offer. I almost made the mistake of looking for an apartment on my own, thinking I would get a better offer. But on the recommendation of a friend, I decided to go with the dorm. It was a good thing because not only was it convenient, cheap and central, I had great roommates who were also on semester abroad. My friends who were looking for housing on their own wasted a lot of time searching and most were unhappy with their housing."
5. Network and use regional online groups
"It pays to network extensively! There are online groups (Facebook, Whatsapp) for exchange students who sell useful used items such as stoves and household goods. This is a good opportunity to get useful stuff cheaply from students leaving the country. They can also give tips or answer questions.
6. Get out of the bubble
"Move outside the exchange community! Even if it is very tight-knit and you enjoy being there, it is worth getting to know the local culture and making friends with locals because it allows for even more insight and unique experiences. The stay abroad is so short that it is possible to spend the semester in the international bubble - but that would be a shame.
One of the greatest experiences I had was when I went canoeing at a friend's house. She lived on the outskirts of Amsterdam and I was amazed to see that people in those areas had parts of the canal in their own backyard. My friend and I capsized in knee-deep mud, which made the experience even more memorable."
7. Writing wish list
"In the last month of my stay, I made a list of things I wanted to do before I left - and that last month was full of fun and adventure. For example, jumping into a part of Amsterdam's canals at night that had been cleared for swimming. Knowing the place and taking advice from locals, I would recommend making a "bucket list of things". I focused on what I could only do in Amsterdam and tried not to waste time or mental energy on things that were less important or would have made my stay unnecessarily stressful."
Malika Yunus is 23 years old, an Australian Uzbek and is studying communication design in her seventh semester at the University of Europe for Applied Sciences. She currently lives in Berlin and has already done one practical semester and one semester abroad. In Amsterdam, she took the minor "Makers Lab" in the Department of Communication and Multimedia Design at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam.
Overall, the trend to spend a semester abroad is on the rise again, something that was not very attractive or, if at all, only possible under more difficult conditions in the last two years due to the pandemic. An international survey conducted by QS Quacquarelli Symonds 2020 revealed that almost half of the students surveyed had postponed their stay abroad due to the consequences of the coronavirus, and around one in ten had completely abandoned plans they had already made. In the winter semester, for example, some students at the University of Europe for Applied Sciences will again take on the adventure of a semester abroad, in which they currently prefer to spend time in the USA or in Europe, especially in France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, England or Finland. The top partner universities are San Diego State University, California State University Northridge, Dublin Business School, ISCTE - Instituto Universitario de Lisboa, ESCE France and Universidad CEU San Pablo, TAMK - Tampere University of Applied Sciences.
Demand for semesters abroad in Australia, New Zealand, Asia and South America has decreased overall, with budget and the pandemic and its challenges cited as limiting factors here. Since in some study programs at UE it is possible to choose whether students want to do a semester abroad or an internship, the majority of students from abroad opt for an internship. Also, more and more use is being made of the option to combine both. UE students from Germany, on the other hand, often prefer a semester abroad.
Experience, but safely
For those students who want to go wherever, UE provides full support. The team of the private university is in regular exchange with the students during a semester abroad and should there be any problems, individual solutions are always sought and together with the examination board alternative achievements are sought. UE aims to provide students with a solid and future-oriented education and a realistic learning experience. This includes dealing with adverse circumstances and finding alternatives - for example, students who could not do a semester abroad during the pandemic were able to do an internship or take interdisciplinary courses from other UE study areas as an alternative. This continues to be anchored in the curricula.