As she began her sophomore year, Caroline Phillips knew something was missing from her collegiate experience.
“I had friends, was a member of various organizations, and was doing fine academically,” she recalls. “But I thought I needed something more.”
After some initial research, Caroline decided to pursue an exchange program. She would enroll for a semester at one of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ six international exchange partner institutions, paying her normal UGA tuition, and earning UGA credits for the courses she completed.
“I wanted to do something new,” she said. “You hear a lot about students participating in study abroad programs to places like Oxford or Costa Rica, but not as many people know about the student exchange program."
To learn more, Caroline began meeting with Amanda Stephens, CAES associate director for student engagement, who helped her to choose a program and complete the paperwork required, ensuring that the courses would be accepted by UGA.
“Exchange programs are one of the college’s best-kept secrets,” according to Stephens, a CAES alumna who participated in a semester-long program in Vienna, Austria, as an undergraduate. “Our students return from them with more confidence, independence, language and critical thinking skills.”
Although UGA students take classes taught in English, they are fully immersed in the culture and daily life of the countries, including living in student housing with people from all over the world and learning to navigate through their host cities.
“Most students approach their exchange program with a mix of excitement and trepidation,” Stephens said. “Some students worry about not being able to communicate, but once they arrive and begin their programs, it’s a challenge they are able to overcome.”
One of several roles Stephens plays is calming students and assuring them that they will be able to handle the culture shock they’ll experience.
“Because I spent a semester at BOKU (the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna, Austria), I understand what it’s like to be an exchange student,” Stephens said. “I also know what amazing opportunities they’ll have to earn a world-class education in an exciting and new environment.
“One of the many things students learn through an exchange program is what it’s like to be a stranger. Now, when I meet international people living temporarily or permanently in the U.S., I can empathize with them and welcome them in a way that continues to build bridges between cultures.”
Caroline ultimately decided to apply to ETH Zürich, a choice that was both exciting and intimidating.
“In terms of academic difficulty, ETH is similar to Harvard – and I’ve never considered myself very strong academically,” Caroline said. “Amanda emphasized that I would have to learn time management to stay up with my classes, which made me a little unsure. But I decided to bite the bullet and give it a try.”
Caroline’s original plans were to attend ETH for the spring 2016 semester, but she loved the experience so much that she extended her stay for a full year – returning to ETH in August and enrolling for fall semester as well.
Exchange programs are more affordable than most people realize. UGA students who participate in exchange programs pay in-state tuition and can use their HOPE or Zell Miller scholarships to help cover the costs. In addition, CAES has a variety of additional scholarships and grants available that can be used to alleviate living expenses associated with the programs.
“The benefits students receive are endless,” Stephens said. “They have the opportunity to learn about global issues from people with different political, economic and religious views from a variety of other countries. In addition, our students come back having increased their problem-solving skills and they are ready to take on the next adventure.”
Caroline is now in the second semester of her junior year with a major in agricultural business. She returned from Switzerland with 24 credit hours.
“Before I attended ETH, I was interested in working for a local agriculture business or in the seed industry. Now, I’m more interested in seed processing, health and nutrition, and the food industry. My studies definitely expanded my professional goals,” she said.
Three exchange programs have dedicated scholarships for participating students to defray living expenses or to travel and participate in extra-curricular activities.
- Erasmus+ funding provides more than $5,000 to students exchanging to the Public University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain.
- The Baden Württemberg Scholarship provides more than $3,000 to students who attend the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany.
- The CAES Deans’ Promise scholarship provides $3,000 to students participating in the ETH Zürich exchange program in Switzerland.
Anyone interested in learning more about exchange programs, scholarships, or study abroad in general, should contact Amanda Stephens at email@example.com for more information.
(Denise Horton is a contracted writer for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Office of Global Programs.)