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A Guide to Studying Abroad

Written by Rachel Murphy, who spent her third year at Sciences Po in Paris studying in English.

1. Application Process & Preparing To Go

Studying abroad is a fantastic experience, and one that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone considering it, but it does require a certain amount of organisation and planning.


Choosing Where to Go

Deciding where to apply to is very difficult, and needs a lot of careful consideration. The first decision you will need to make is whether to study in Europe, or go further afield. Those who study in Europe will benefit from a generous Erasmus+ grant, the value of which will vary slightly depending on the country you study in (for advice about this and much more see the Erasmus+ website at:


The next step is to decide which university you would like to go to. For many of you, you will already have a country in mind, but may be able to choose from several universities within that country. Something to bear in mind when applying to France/Germany/Spain is that there may be places available to students who do not study law with a language, but most will be reserved for languages students. I studied in Paris, but was able to take all my classes in English (not being a law with French student), so do be aware that this might be possible.


There are many factors to take into account when choosing which university to attend. I found that the best resources for this were the questionnaires filled out by returned students, which are made available through moodle. These cover things such as:

  • Living costs: how much on average the student spent each month on living costs. This can vary considerably, and is important to think about before applying.
  • Accommodation: many universities will offer accommodation to students, which will usually be student halls, however this will not always be the case. Being aware of how accommodation will work is very important in deciding where to go; if you don’t want to have to deal with private renting you should look at universities offering accommodation. The university I studied at in Paris did not offer accommodation (due to the lack of space and cost of property in the city centre), and though some help was offered it was largely up to students to find their own private accommodation. Knowing this well in advance meant that I had time to contact landlords and get something arranged before I arrived which takes a lot of the stress out of moving. However, there were many students who had not organised anything who waited until they got there, and though it was stressful for some of them, they all found accommodation in the end, so don’t worry too much! Whether the university provides accommodation or not, it is useful to join the Facebook groups of the university prior to going (there may be a group for exchange students), as this is where people will find someone to flat-share with, or find out who is in their halls ahead of moving.
  • Cost of rent: be it private or through the university, it is good to get a rough idea of how much rent will cost as this is likely to be your biggest monthly expenditure. In Paris rent costs are very high, though you can apply to have this subsidised by the French government through CAF.
  • Life outside uni: this concerns a variety of things including; how safe students felt in the area, travel opportunities, social events organised by the university, and availability of part-time work. My experience of all of these things in Paris was good. Personal safety in all big cities is an issue but so long as you are aware of this and are careful you don’t need to worry too much. Travel opportunities from most exchange universities will be good, be it in continental Europe, Australia, the US or elsewhere. One thing I found during my time abroad was that other students were very keen to travel to other countries (particularly those coming from the US or Asia), but there will probably be a lot to see and do in your local vicinity, so make sure to make the most of that too! As for social events, it is a good idea to attend any welcome weeks/inductions offered, but also to look into sports teams and societies, particularly if you want to make friends outside of the ‘Erasmus bubble’ (home students). During my first semester I spent Wednesday afternoons teaching English to a French child, which was a fun experience and looks good on the CV, not to mention the extra pocket money. I would recommend looking into this sort of option.


2. Once You Know Where You Are Going

Finding out which university you have been allocated is very exciting, but also very daunting as this is when the process becomes real. I would recommend being organised and not leaving things until the last minute. This is when you have to start thinking of the logistics of studying abroad. This includes things likes finance, how to open a bank account in the country you will be studying in, visas for some of you, researching phone contracts, and picking courses. This can seem overwhelming, which is why it is important to get as much done as possible at an early stage.

In my case, opening a bank account in France was difficult and ended up taking two months from when I arrived. I suddenly realised a week before I left that unless I wanted to take a lot of cash over, I might have to end up using my UK card abroad which would incur charges. To avoid this I got a travel money card, which you can top up from your UK bank account (often via a phone app) and use like a debit card abroad as the currency is changed. I would highly recommend this type of thing even if you have a bank account sorted as it is a good back up should you run into any issues . There are many to choose from, and I still use mine when I go abroad and need Euros.

As for selecting courses while abroad, this is done via a ‘learning agreement’ which must be signed by both Glasgow and your exchange university before you go (although if this is not possible there is some leeway). I would strongly advise being tactical about which courses you do abroad. Remember that you will have to count the best half towards your honours grade, but that you will want to have as much fun as possible while you are away. Be careful not to take on too much. I would advise looking into the requirements of each course and how they are examined, bearing in mind that you may have to adapt to a different teaching style. In my first semester I was landed with a ‘maximum 20 pages’ essay for a course which is equivalent to a 10 credit course at Glasgow, the essay being worth 20% of my grade. This was less than ideal when it seemed like everyone else was out having fun, but ended up being my second highest grade. That said, if you are going to a non-English-speaking country I would recommend making use of the option to do language classes as part of your 120 Glasgow-equivalent credits.

3. While You Are There

Have fun! Try to put yourself out there as much as possible. I truly believe that when it comes to studying abroad, you get out of it what you put in. You will really benefit throughout your whole stay from going along to a lot of social events at the beginning of the semester. Everyone there is keen to make friends, and you will probably find that you are in with a lot of likeminded people. You might meet your best friends in the first week, or you might meet them later on through the people you met in the first week, or through classes. The Erasmus communities at the universities tend to be quite tight-knit and inclusive. Everyone that I know who has studied abroad has met great people during their stay, many of whom they are still in touch with. The more people you keep in touch with the more people’s couches you can crash on, should you fancy a weekend in Munich/Southern Spain/Amsterdam... so bear this in mind!

One tip I wish I had been given is to be strategic in who you do group work with in classes. Be aware that for many lucky students their year abroad is pass/fail, so they may not need to get a good grade like you do. This makes for tricky joint essays. Don’t be afraid to be upfront about this- they will understand. I suggest only doing group work with students in a similar boat to us Glasgow students.

You will likely be surprised by your ability to adapt to new situations, and studying abroad will almost certainly make you more outgoing. Though most of your year or semester abroad will hopefully go smoothly, there may be the odd hiccup or worry, which is only natural. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with Glasgow Law School about it. I myself emailed a number of times and I know people who were in touch more than I was. Don’t wait until it’s too late to fix a problem. It is also a good idea to actively stay up-to-date with things back home. This is particularly true when it comes to the dissertation, as if you are away for the second semester you will have to submit your two proposals from abroad. All information will be put on moodle, so it is just a case of staying up-to-date with this. Also, be aware of internship application deadlines. Whether it’s vacation schemes (for which applications generally close throughout January), or something else, stay on top of these if you wish to have something set up for the proceeding summer. I applied for vacation schemes and was able to interview over the phone. Some firms will use Skype, or maybe even pay for a trip home. You should not be at a disadvantage in this respect.

Most importantly: make the most of every minute of it.


4. Returning to the Motherland

I remember attending a talk before setting off on my year abroad in which it was mentioned that ‘re-adjusting’ or ‘reverse culture shock’ can be difficult, and thinking that was a bit ridiculous. While I would still not call it difficult, it is a bit strange. Particularly if you have gone for a year, coming home and going straight back to normal life is an odd experience. I myself felt like I had been away forever, and yet not a single thing had changed when I got home.

I would recommend having someone help you move back, where possible. I would NOT recommend single-handedly dragging a total of 61kg through the Paris metro system all the way to the airport. This is also helpful in terms of getting everything packed up and all your affairs in order before you leave. I won’t get into trying to close the bank account I spent two long months opening…

Once you and your belongings have made it home safely, all that is left to do is to finish off the remaining paperwork and (for those returning from Europe) wait for the all-too-welcome last installment of the Erasmus grant.

Finally, make sure to include details of your year abroad in internship and graduate job applications. This looks great, and will hopefully make you stand out. I have also found that it is something that will almost definitely be brought up in interviews and it is very easy to talk about. 

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