Take a chance and take a semester abroad

Marianne Bom & Rie Jerichow, Publicér

Interview: if you are unsure about moving to another area temporarily and studying abroad, then read on.

It is kind of a kinder egg to spend a part of your study abroad. At least if you ask Morten Overgaard, head of office in the Department for Education and Students at DTU. “It gives a strengthened professionalism, and you develop as a person, and later, you will be stronger on the business market, as you have international experience with you,” he says.

He answers a long list of the questions that you may have when you are considering your options.

Morten Overgaard, head of office in the Department for Education and Students at DTU, studied abroad 25 years ago and encourages everyone to do the same. “It sounds so cliché to say that it is the experience of a lifetime, but it is the case here,” he says. Private photo.

Why should you study abroad?
“A trip abroad strengthens both professional and personal competences. Education abroad has some other perspectives and a different content than in Denmark, and it puts the knowledge you have from home into perspective. We generally hear from the students that their trip abroad has strengthened them in their studies and given them strengthened professionalism.

Before the students go abroad, they are typically preoccupied with the professional value of the trip, but when they come home, they highlight their personal development just as much. There is no doubt that a trip abroad gives intercultural competences. You experience how diverse the world is and that everything can be done in many ways.

Finally, you get a better résumé when you include a trip abroad. From the point of the university, we think we prepare the students much better by also giving them that component in their education. Many will experience that there are a lot of parties and fun when doing a semester abroad, but there is also a lot of technical learning. It is not our experience that it is one or the other.”

As a student, you have a lot of chances to go abroad as a part of your education – everything from a semester in Shanghai to a planned study period in Stockholm.

Exchange: an exchange period is an obvious choice, if you want to go abroad for one or two semesters during your study. Both DTU and Aalborg University have a long list of partner universities to choose from – some are among the best universities in the world.

Summer school abroad: a summer school course is ideal if you want to earn 5 or 10 ECTS points and would like to try a new university culture and the life as an exchange student in a shorter period of time. Summer schools usually happens in June, July, or August and take three to four weeks.

International joint educations: an international joint education is an obvious choice, if you want to strengthen your professional profile and gain competences from some of the world’s best universities during a structured period.

Internship abroad: if you study bachelor of engineering, internship is an obligatory part of the education. If you would like to get some professional, international perspectives as a part of your education, it may be an idea to look into the possibility of doing your internship abroad. If you study master of science in engineering, internship is not
a required part of the education, but you can choose to plan an internship abroad – usually in the last part of your education.

Self-planned trip abroad: if you have the courage, it is also a possibility to arrange a trip abroad by yourself. It may be especially relevant if you want to write your thesis abroad, or if your dream university is not on the list of the university’s partner universities.

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You can bring your SU and SU-loan abroad if:

  • The study trip is part of a Danish education.
  • Your Danish place of education approves that the study trip grants full merit. This means that the study trip will replace a part of your education in Denmark 1:1.

If the study trip does not give full merit, you cannot get SU during the entire trip. If, for instance, a study trip that takes a year only grants half a year’s worth of merit, you can only get SU for half a year. Your university decides how much merit the trip abroad grants.

At what point during the study should you consider a semester abroad?
“There are some times during the study where it is more relevant to go abroad than others. At DTU, for instance, that would be the fifth semester during the bachelor. This is where the education is structured to make room for freedom to choose.

If you want to go abroad within the frames of an agreement that the university has with a partner university, then you have to apply a year in advance. That means that if you have an idea of going abroad during your studies, you have to start planning it when you have been studying for a year. On the master program, most go on the second to last semester, or write their thesis abroad, but you also have to start planning this some time in advance.”

There are many opportunities when going abroad. How do you decide what to choose?
“To find out what fits your interests and wishes, it is a good idea to talk to an international guidance counsellor and talk to other students who have tried it to hear of their experiences.

Many will probably think that a ‘regular exchange’ is the easiest option, because it is a structured period that is planned in advance, and you meet other students from both your own university and other universities in the world. But this may still be challenging. If you are very independent and feel a need to test yourself, there is no doubt that you will learn a lot from an internship abroad. And if you for instance see yourself as becoming a researcher and might later pursue a PhD, it can make a lot of sense to write your thesis abroad, because you will establish a network with professors and an international research environment more easily than during an exchange period.”

What should you consider before starting to plan a semester abroad?
“You should first of all consider what you will use the trip for and how it can improve your education. The times where you could just come home from a semester abroad and say you had gone abroad and expect that your future employer would clap their hands have passed. You should be able to accurately describe what you got out of it to stand stronger. Many employers, especially in larger corporations, may even expect you to have gone abroad during your studies. On the other hand, they will appreciate it if you can precisely tell them what you got out of it. This is worth considering when you are out there. I definitely think that you should think about that situation in the future and write down for yourself while you are gone what you get out of it here and now. A semester is only four months, and they can pass quite quickly.”

What if you are not tempted to go abroad?
“From DTU’s perspective, we urge everyone to seriously consider it, but there may of course be personal reasons why you do not want to, and there is of course room for this, too. No one is forced to go. But our message is that it is not that difficult and may actually be a lot easier than many think. The university is here to help the students – first and foremost for the sake of the students, but also because the university gets a lot in return. When we send a lot of students into the world, we also get a lot of international students, and it creates a strong study environment.

I believe that you should definitely grab the chance and go. It sounds so cliché to say that it is the experience of a lifetime, but it is the case here. I went abroad 25 years ago, and I look back on it with fondness. It is very, very rare for us to hear the opposite.”