Studying a year abroad: finding the perfect exchange programme

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5 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Student in Alma Mater Studiorum - Università di Bologna

Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience. It allows you to learn about a new culture, build confidence, broaden your perspectives, meet new friends, as well as study new elements of your chosen field that may not be offered at your home university. Every university in the UK has its own list of partnerships with institutions around the globe, so wherever you decide to go, it will be a time of your life you’ll never forget.

Does your course offer a year abroad?

Most three-year undergraduate courses will allow you to go on exchange, but it’s important to look out for ‘with a year abroad’ or ‘international’ attached to the course name when you’re applying to universities.

If information about a year abroad isn’t clearly visible on the course website, contact the department and they should be able to give you a clear idea on whether it is an option or not.

When it comes to food-related courses specifically, you should bear in mind that not all universities and departments allow students the opportunity to study abroad, with many offering a year in the industry instead.

Where you can go

Several UK universities do encourage food students to take up the opportunity of an exchange. At the University of Leeds School of Food Science and Nutrition for instance, all its undergraduate courses offer students an extra academic year abroad if they want to take it.

Leeds is partnered with more than 300 universities around the world in locations including Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Latin America, Canada and the USA. Where a university teaches in another language, the University of Leeds Language Centre offers additional classes to help students reach a suitable fluency level before they travel.

Some popular universities partnered with Leeds which have high-ranking courses in food science include Monash University in Australia, as well as the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA, and McGill University, Dalhousie University, Carleton University, and the University of Toronto in Canada. Leeds’s School of Food Science and Nutrition also has a partnership with Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland.

Elsewhere, the University of East Anglia offers Environmental Sciences and Natural Sciences students the chance to study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – a university which has just recently launched a class dedicated to cellular agriculture.

Some universities also offer exchange opportunities with a fixed destination. Glasgow Caledonian University for instance offers BSc Food Science students the chance to study abroad for a trimester at the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam, where they can take a course that challenges them to develop innovative ideas for a food product which could be sold to the European food market.

If you’re interested in studying Dietetics, you should note the only spot in the UK which offers a study abroad option is the University of Hertfordshire. This university has partnerships with several institutions with esteemed courses in food science and nutrition including RMIT University in Melbourne, the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, the Memorial University of Newfoundland, and Kansas State University.

Alternatives to a year abroad

Many UK universities also offer shorter summer courses which can take place anywhere from nearby European countries, to as far afield as Asia and Latin America. These programmes tend to involve a mixture of cultural and academic experiences.

This might include learning a new language or developing your confidence with one you already know – if you’re in a country where English isn’t the dominant language – or having the opportunity to study a short course you might not be able to at your home university.

Managing the travel/study balance

For many courses, you just need to pass the year and the grades you achieve on your year abroad won’t count towards your final degree. This allows you more time to travel and explore the country – or continent – you’re in.

Other courses, however, do take them into account, so be sure you know what your department’s stance is, and keep this in mind when you plan out your trips while you’re away. For some departments, even if the grades don’t count, if you’ve done really well, this is sometimes taken into consideration if your overall final grade borders between two classifications (between a 2:1 and a 1:1 for instance.)

How to finance it

While a year abroad is certainly worth every penny spent, it is important to bear in mind how much living in another country might cost you. Universities typically do not make you pay the host university’s fees for the year, which is great news for students looking to study at universities which have expensive international fees, such as the US. Instead, you pay a reduced tuition fee to your home university. Depending on where you go however, you may be required to pay for other things like health insurance, student union membership and transport passes. If needed, the price of flights or train tickets and getting things shipped over should also be kept in mind.

If you already receive support from Student Finance England (or the equivalent for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), you can apply for full funding for the maintenance loan. You can also apply for a full-time Travel Grant if you are receiving student finance which is dependent on your family’s household income. You must be studying abroad for at least half of both academic terms, regardless of whether the exchange is an optional or compulsory part of your course.

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