Sunday, May 19Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Written from a dorm room in Hong Kong

What International Exchange can do for you and the application process

Eight months ago, I sprinted through Zurich Airport and boarded a twelve-hour flight. After fourteen days of quarantine, filled with temperature checks and Covid-19 tests, I was finally able to start my life in Hong Kong. I am incredibly grateful for my experiences here, which have led me to consider Hong Kong a second home. I have thrived in the education system, though the same could not be said for the summer heat. I have tried several new hobbies including bouldering and aerial yoga and continued my love of hiking in a place where the view of the city from the mountains is unlike any other. 

Thanks to the friends I have made in Hong Kong, I have spent countless hours playing Mahjong and eating Dim Sum. Beyond that I have also discovered Soju and Korean BBQ thanks to my Korean Friends. I have had my first Thanksgiving, witnessed a friend’s addiction to Milk Tea, tried Vietnamese food and bonded over my love of potato salad with my German friend. The list goes on. This type of exchange is invaluable, being able to share and learn from other people, embracing all their cultures and lifestyles is endlessly enriching. I have learned to communicate with people with very different traditions, values, and understandings in a completely organic and very fun way. 

Perhaps it goes without saying that an international year can enhance one’s CV. Studying abroad is a demonstration of resourcefulness, adaptability, and communication to name a few. It can also give you an interesting and engaging topic for interviews, networking, or just general conversation with people. One of the most crucial, yet often overlooked, benefits to studying abroad is the new perspective it offers. Viewing your home country and University from a different standpoint is enlightening and educational. Putting thousands of miles between yourself and your home and relationships can be challenging yet incredibly conducive to growth. 

‘Once you have had the opportunity to experience something wholly different, you become charged with the ability and duty to question what you know.

International Exchange is not a decision to be taken lightly. Nevertheless, it is something that all students should actively consider. The opportunity to immerse oneself in a different culture, education system and potentially language is an invaluable experience, one that may not have always been within reach for some students. I would not have been able to afford the best part of a year in Hong Kong without the support of the International Exchange Program, the Turing Scheme and quite a lot of overtime. The way I see it, this was an opportunity I had to take. Never would it be easier to travel so far. 

It can seem impossible to some students, with the cost of flights, accommodation, and daily life in another country. On top of that, students abroad this year had to foot the bill for up to 21 days in Quarantine hotels, spending a significant part of their summer confined to a room, before being able to explore their new home. Nevertheless, it can be manageable and there is a lot of support available to students to help them take this step. 

Finances aside, International Exchange is an additional year in your degree. An opportunity for additional education, exposure to a different curriculum and learning style and, let’s face it, an additional year to think about your future and figure things out for yourself. In my year abroad I have improved exponentially and have had the opportunity to study several different subjects such as Philosophy and Ethics, Psychology, Politics, and International Relations in addition to several History courses that are wildly different to those offered at Royal Holloway.

How does the process work?

Initial Application – The initial application to study abroad is to enter the selection process conducted by your home university. The following things are involved in this application:

  1. Your choices of up to 5 universities that you would like to attend from the selection of partner universities. These need to be ranked in order of which you would like to go to the most.
  2. Supporting statement – This is a document that sets out why you want to study abroad and which universities you would like to go to and why.
  3. Provisional Study Plan – You will have to research the courses you want to take at each of the universities and produce a study plan that must be approved by the department advisor for International Exchange.
  4. Staff references – You need to get two members of the department to write a reference that supports your application (It is a good idea to make an effort with tutors and lecturers from the offset, so you have people who are likely to support you and say positive things about you in your reference).
  5. Departmental approval – You need to get approval from your department/s for your year abroad.

Interviews – If you have been successful following the submission of all of the above and are seen to be a good candidate, you receive an invitation to an interview. The interview is usually quite short and serves the purpose of checking that you have done your research. It is also there to ensure that you will represent the university well and realise the necessary steps to achieve your study abroad plans. 

Selection – If you pass the interview, you will be told which university you will be nominated to. This will be one of the choices you submitted, or if they feel you would be suited to an entirely different place then you might be asked if you are willing to accept being nominated to a completely different location.

Prep Meetings – Once your place has been awarded, compulsory meetings that help you prepare for the rest of the process will take place. This will prepare you for things such as applying for Visas and other important procedures. 

Applying to your University abroad – Once being selected on behalf of your own university, you must then apply to the university abroad. Each process is a bit different and has a different timeline, but this will involve some or all of the following:

  • Study Plan
  • Statement as to why you want to study at that University
  • Proof of Identification
  • Visa application
  • Accommodation application

The Timeline: 

The promotional period starts in October each year, so look out for information about the arrangements on the Royal Holloway App!

An information evening is open to all interested students in November and then the application opens (to be shortlisted) in mid-November, giving roughly four weeks to complete the application and submit in time for the deadline of the last day of term 1.

If you would like to make any inquiries, please use the following email:  [email protected] 

The process requires effort and dedication, but the rewards are most definitely worth it. I wish you all the best of luck!

Sofia Bajerova 

Photo by Simon Zhu on Unsplash