AmiexExchange 03: Walkthrough for Student Exchange Administrative Preparation

Walkthrough for Student Exchange Administrative Preparation

Before successfully putting myself on a flight and leaving for exchange, I felt like it was a never-ending trail of work to do - I couldn't see the end. That feeling of finally crossing the red tape hurdles... whoosh, that was a huge relief. I write this list from the perspective of my own exchange going from NTU to University of Melbourne. All of it, or part of it, may be relevant to your experience. Or you might have some extra stuff you need to take note of because of whichever country you are going to.
I'm writing this because I wished someone has written something like this/ I've read something like this before I threw myself headlong, bat-blind into preparing for exchange. Being the youngest of the family, I've always had my sisters pioneering the way across life's different experiences, so I had little need to forge through unbeaten paths. Even in the age of technology like this... I couldn't find a proper list of what sort of administrative work I need to go through (and what bills/ unforeseen receipts)! It's good to have some kind of mental preparation before you start, so here it is.

1. Before applying

The very arbitrary, crude steps of choosing your destination go like this:

(A) Where on earth? (Asia, Australia/New Zealand, Europe, Americas, Middle East)
Choose this based on your budget (unless you are filthy rich, in that case go away), interests in their culture, and personality-fit.

(B) Which university?
I am lazy, and therefore ploughing through each university's pros and cons is too much for me. I tried doing that, but there was too much information to process. I recommend that you look at the university rankings for a quick cheat sheet on which universities to apply. Another important point is to ensure that you can properly match the modules you would like to clear on exchange. Some universities offer a limited range of modules. You do not want to apply to a university and then realize you can't match those modules. You risk facing the dilemma of dropping your whole exchange plan, which will be very disappointing.

(C) Budgeting
Money will be a realistic and important consideration. You cannot shun away from putting all your money on the table (borrowed, earned or stolen) when it comes to planning for exchange. Do this even before you start anything. If you have $12,000 to spare (or wherever you can grasp from), you are good to go. With this amount, it still means you have to 'go budget', 'go easy on your shopping' and stay in hostels/couchsurf, but you will have a safe buffer to work with.

Walkthrough for Student Exchange Administrative Preparation

2. Application - first steps

(A) Application to NTU
NTU is very realistic and rigid, they will look at your GPA and that's about it (3.5< is safe zone, otherwise, consult your friendly exchange coordinators). You will then apply for a few universities and rank them from 1-5. There will be vacancies per university indicated, so if your GPA isn't too strong, choose universities with more vacancies for a better chance... vice versa. You can take a gamble for universities you really, really want if their vacancies are low, just make sure that you are comfortable with your second and third choices as well. You can ask around who's applying what (and correspondingly, the awkward question of 'What's your GPA?') before choosing how you want to rank them. That's how the system works, so your call on how you want to choose your host university.

Other than the common information collection like your Name/Passport Number/Guardian Contact Information/ Past Academic Performances, the application includes a 500-word essay on why you want to go for exchange (also known as GEM-Explorer in NTU). Urban legend has it that the essay has little implications on your application, but don't take my word for it. Write it seriously; it's a good chance to reflect too. Some inspiration on what you can write: comfort zone, contributions to NTU when you return, cultural interchanges, how you fit into your preferred university, and to fill up the rest of the word count, humble-brag about your qualifications, CCAs, relevant work experiences and more.

Walkthrough for Student Exchange Administrative Preparation

3. Application - to your host university

(A1) Course Matching
This is a sub-part to the application package (to your host university) because it is the slightly more complex part of the system. For NTU students, you should head onto Studentlink > Academic Matters > Student Exchange > GEM Explorer Online Course Matching Module. At this stage, you need to look at what modules you want to clear on exchange. You also need to find out how many core modules/ units you are allowed to clear on exchange - varies across majors. Then you start looking at the host university modules through their website and try to match them based on course content compatibility. Imaginary examples: Childhood Psychology vs Mindsets of Children. There is a page link somewhere that tells you what are the successful courses matched by your predecessors. It should be in one of the emails they sent, look out for it. The system is quite self-explanatory.

Tip: Spam as many matches as possible. The more you have, the greater flexibility you will have when you need to structure your class schedules later.

Note: Course matching goes through two rounds - one by NTU (or your current university), another by your host university. So again - the more the merrier because they will reject some of your suggestions eventually.

(A2) Application Package to Host University
After a few weeks (check out for their deadlines), they will send you an email indicating which university you got in. Congratulations, you've entered Phase 2 of the Red Tape Swamp. You will need to prepare something called the Application Package. Inside the package, you will need (in accordance, top to bottom as a stack):
- The checklist provided in email
- Application Form of Host University (to be downloaded from the host university's website)
- Course List: List of current courses you have + 10 courses you intend to take at host university
- NTU Official Transcript (to be requested from the NTU office, lead time: 5 working days)
- Photocopy of your passport
- Passport Sized Photos (1 to the application form, 2 in the package) - prepare more, you might need it along the way.
- A Level certificate as proof of English proficiency
- Any other items that host university may require possibly including a Bank Statement (to prove your financial capabilities, lead time: at least 1 week)

(B) Online Application to Host University (Again)
After another few days/ weeks (varies across universities), you will receive an email indicating that the host university has accepted your application. This is when you wean off the exchange coordinators from NTU and start your applications on the host university's system. It is pretty much the same of whatever you've done in the application package, so bear with the system a bit. They may require you to upload some of digital copies of your transcript, A Level certificate, and passport copy. Keep a folder of all these documents, you never know when it will come in handy.

(C1) Flight tickets
Check out your school's academic schedules and orientation week to determine when you need to fly in. Book your flight tickets decisively so the rest of your administrative work can proceed.

(C2) Accommodation (Lead time: 2 weeks< depends on luck)
If you don't have compulsory university hostels, start looking out for accommodations. For those looking for Australia accommodation, here are some websites you can consider:
- (Share-housing)
- (Share-housing)
- (Share-housing)
- LeStudent8, UniLodge, Urbanest, RMITVillage (Student hostels)
- Facebook page of your university exchange group, or similar (Share-housing or vary)

- require premium access before you can contact the newer (read: better) listings, which is pretty annoying. However, it is more systematic and easy to browse than the others though, and has more reasonable prices. Their users are also quite responsive even though most of them prefer to do short-term rentals and/or would prefer to confirm very close to the dates. You wouldn't want that because there would be a lot of uncertainty in your planning that would delay other parts of your administrative work.
- Airbnb is where I found my accommodation, though don't bet on that because it was a really lucky and rare find. Airbnb is often regarded as very expensive, especially if you're staying for half a year/ one year. However, make use of the price marker and see if there's any that fits your budget. There just might be one! The best thing about Airbnb is that you are living with someone who already has the basic things set up in a house rather than a basic, plain room where you will need to start up from scratch
- Gumtree users are quite unresponsive and the site is quite disorganized. I hate using this but you can give it a go. You never know.
- Try looking at student hostels if you'd like. It's good because you have a community and a ready pool of humans for friendship and contacts.
- Facebook pages are excellent platforms to search for potential accommodation because you can get better prices if you made friends with them first (-wink-) and/or they'd feel safer knowing you are a (harmless) exchange student.

While searching for accommodation, my priority list goes like this:
- Distance from university: Dependent on how good the transport system is, how expensive the transport system is, what the weather will be like, safety levels. If the transport system is expensive, I don't mind paying a bit more for a location where I can walk to the university.
- Distance from civilisation: This can be grocery stores, city centres, nightlife, parks, bookstores. It depends on your interests, but for the practical people, grocery stores or food supply should be prioritized.
- Price per week: Browse more to get a general feel of how much each type of room should cost (Single vs Double, Good Location vs Isolated Location, Near vs Far). If you manage to get an accommodation at a good price, you'd be able to streamline your budget a lot more. So spend a bit more time on this!
- Decorations/ Facilities: I like my room to be functional more than decorative, and room views don't matter to me much... and therefore my window faces a road and a brick wall. If aesthetics and picture-taking is important to you, prepare to spend a bit more. I wouldn't recommend that though, every dollar you save means more travelling opportunities.

Note: Beware of scams. Look up forums about accommodation scams - telltale signs include pressurizing you into paying up before you reach, dodgy pushy emails... keep your scam-radar alert. If you have a friend /contact who lives in the city, get them to help you view the place first if possible. Otherwise, do the usual Internet stalking to ensure that the accommodation you have is legit... as well as the authenticity of reviews. (Google Maps Street View is not enough.)

(D) Visa (Lead time: 1 month)
Part of the application process will require you to prove that you have completed your visa application. Give sufficient lead time for this step because the administrative work can be quite inefficient. For the Visa, you will need to pay quite a bit depending on which country you are going. Look up the fees (Australia: $500+) before you apply for the country/university. There may be hidden costs inside including a health checkup (additional $100+, lead time: 2 weeks - some clinics require appointments and they may be all filled up, weeks ahead) and health insurance (additional $200+, no lead time if you have the money). Figures are based on my experiences, they can vary a lot. Research accordingly.

Walkthrough for Student Exchange Administrative Preparation

4. Final Touches...

(A) Travel Insurance
You can do this last-minute, but it's better to do it once you've got your flight tickets settled in case you forget about it.

(B) Check in with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
More of a precautionary measure in case you go missing somehow - just register your name and address at the MFA website. It takes approximately 5 minutes if you type fast.

(C) Grab offline maps from Google Maps/ HERE app of your area
Especially important for people who are bad with directions or do not plan ahead.

(D) Arrangements after landing
Find out about airport transfers and if your university provides that.

(E) On surviving-enjoying your first few days
Find out about the weather, transportation network, attractions, good restaurants of your destination. TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet guides and obviously, Google, will be extremely helpful.

(F) Go to the money changer (Lead time: 1 month)
Observe the changes and potential trends before deciding when to change your money.

(G) Packing your bag (Lead time: 1 month)
Read the packing for exchange guide here. Or at least, find out what can be bought and what cannot be bought at wherever you are headed. Take note of what your destination country allows into the borders and what it doesn't.

(H) Set up an excel spreadsheet of your expenses
Make sure you know where all your money goes and allocate sufficiently for everything you may need to spend on... in case you suddenly realized that you're left with a hundred bucks for the last two months of your stay.

Some of the key items that you'd need to divide your budget for:
Food, Transport, Accommodation, Internet Services/ Phone Bills, Flight Tickets (if you intend to travel around), Toiletries/Kitchen Appliances, Shopping, Big Ticket Items (day trips, tours, performances, plays).

You are more or less good to go. I'm recalling this from memory, so if you have anything to add to this list, leave a comment here! Good luck to all applying for your exchanges.

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a travel and food blogger with a constant longing to be somewhere to makes her feel alive ☆ life's an adventure


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