When you’re a student and are in your early twenties, there’s always one thing you want to do more and one thing you want to do less: more travel, less studying. For most students, however, combining travels with studies remains an unattainable dream – that is unless you have enough personal/family funds to afford bohemian student travel lifestyle. I, as sung by Lorde, didn’t come from money, and yet for me travelling as a student wasn’t a luxury. I actually managed to study abroad and even get paid to do it.
So how did I study abroad for free?
For starters, I was already enrolled into university. I was studying English Philology at the University of Latvia, located in my beautiful hometown Riga, and I desperately wanted to get out of there and see the world. But how do you do that if, apart from financial obstacles, you’re studying full-time, with 70% mandatory attendance, and your school doesn’t offer distance learning? You do what I did and look for student exchange programs.
In Europe, there’s a bunch of such programs: Erasmus, Leonardo da Vinci, Gruntvig, Tempus, and many others. These are all agreements between universities that receive foreign students and send their own abroad for a semester or two (up to 1 academic year). The amount of exchange programs and the number of partner institutions depend on each university. Usually, the more recognized it is, the more student exchange opportunities it offers. Plus, a lot depends on your subject of studies. For example, when I applied, I was offered only 5 European universities: one in Turkey, one in Noway, one in the UK, and two in Germany. I picked the great and mighty Deutschland and decided to go to Leipzig, Saxony.
First, of course, I had to go through application and selection processes that included submitting motivation and recommendation letters, my academic transcripts, and surviving an interview. Now, what is important to note is that even if you successfully complete the selection procedure, you might not necessarily get a scholarship – and this is something that was a deal breaker for me. So before applying I made sure I was a good student with good reputation among professors. Excellent academic achievements is the only way to get a scholarship, so I made sure there was no possibility to critisize my GPA score.
Next, there was waiting.
And then finally, I officially became an Erasmus student with a 600 eur/month scholarship! Nice! 90% of that money I received with the first payment. EVEN NICER. I bought my plane ticket, applied for dorms, arranged my first couchsurfing stay for a week before uni started (and before I received my dorm room key), and bid adieu to my friends, family, and my hometown. Studying abroad was probably the most exciting thing I did as a student: to live in a new city, in a new country, to have your own space, to study at Germany’s second oldest university, and all of that basically for free – who wouldn’t dream of it?
So I encourage everybody to research into student exchange programs. Some of them, unlike Erasmus, offer even better scholarships that really free your hands and allow you to study abroad for free, to travel to a new country, and to get unforgettable life experiences.
Did you ever study abroad? Share your experiences in the comments below!