The prospect of exchange sounds exciting, but sometimes you need just that little bit more certainty before you can make a concrete decision. What is it like and what should you expect? Here’s my advice based on a semester-long exchange in Austria.
When should I go?
I was full of energy and enthusiasm for my degree when I first started, and being the impulsive and impatient person that I am, I decided to go on exchange as soon as possible. Right after first semester, I was accepted to go to Karl Frazens University in Graz. This meant that I departed half way through my second year of university. I never looked back. Going on exchange early in your degree means that you aren’t worrying about clerkship applications, getting tangled in difficult subjects yet, or using up any electives.
How can I get the most out of my exchange?
First and foremost, you should think of exchange as a ‘package deal’. I encourage you to travel as much as possible while on exchange! If you’re like me and imagine HECS debt as an imaginary concept that you don’t have to pay attention to until you’re an adult, God forbid, then an OS-HELP loan is the way to go. This should get you to at least $6500. Further, consider applying for exchange scholarships with your university or saving the rest. I’d recommend about $10K for one semester to live and travel comfortably, but always keep conversion rates in mind!
I lived in Austria, which was a great location not only because it was beautiful and I had the opportunity to learn a new language (which I absolutely recommend), but also because crossing the border into neighbouring countries to explore on weekends was very affordable. Another hot tip is to research the surroundings of your accommodation and ensure that it’s in the vicinity of important amenities.
I only had one class a week per subject, and they weren’t all compulsory. If possible, leave Fridays free so you can make long weekends for travelling. This is how the stories you’ll reminisce upon when wrestling with the tough times in your degree (like maybe in the last thirty minutes of your remedies final exam) are born. Also, don’t forget to get to know your town and savour their food, their architecture, and their stories!
What subjects should I take?
You should look to add three types of subjects to your academic repertoire whilst on exchange. Ideally, you want a mix of subjects: the ‘wow’ factor subjects, typical study abroad subjects, and ‘chill’ subjects. I studied ‘The Law on Torture’ as my ‘wow’ subject. Generally, you can bring these out in interviews because they give you something interesting to talk about. Secondly, you want something like ‘International Law’ or ‘Human Rights Law. These are great for a well-rounded education, and demonstrate an international perspective on the law. Lastly, give yourself a break - unless all-round rigorous study, even abroad, is your thing. Choose some subjects that might count towards your arts double degree, or ‘non-law electives’. These subjects are great because they’re light hearted and allow you to engage with university culture without getting too worried about the content. I chose ‘History of Turkey’ because it was taught by an attractive professor from Oxford (you would’ve done the same) and ‘World Englishes’ because my friends were in it and it was funny most of the time. On that note, exchange is an opportunity to forge new friendships, so take it by the reins!
What will it be like when I come home?
When my train slowly pulled away from the platform on which my two best friends stood, I pondered whether I was going home or leaving it all over again. Don’t underestimate the relationships you’ll form while on exchange and the way you’ll feel connected to a place you previously never knew existed. You might feel sad or even existential for a while, and that’s okay. If you need to, speak to someone - there’s always someone ready to listen: join alumni networks, and mentor prospective exchange students from your university upon your return It made me think really deeply about my degree and whether law was what I really wanted to do. Reflect on your experience and keep in touch with the friends you made while you were there. While it was hard to come home, I would’ve regretted never leaving.
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