Studying Abroad (while abroad) Part 1: From Japan to Switzerland
At the end of my third year, I was able to go on a life-changing journey of self-discovery—studying abroad in Switzerland through APU’s international exchange program. This program allows you to study from one semester to a year at one of APU’s global partner universities. And one of the best parts about it: you can study in a completely different environment but continue to pay APU’s tuition for the program. Also, if you have the APU Tuition Reduction Scholarship, you can continue to receive it even during your time on exchange!
I first found out about the exchange program while I was applying to APU, and immediately wanted to participate in it as I would get to experience multiple education systems all within the comfort of APU’s four-year undergrad program.
The time when I decided to apply finally came during my fourth semester, and I chose three universities in the U.K. as my target destinations. Sadly, I did not pass the screening process as I wasn’t able to provide my IELTS (English proficiency test) score in time.
Each exchange partner university has its own set of requirements including a minimum GPA, English proficiency test score, and the submission of a few essays. Also, depending on your major, there may also be accreditation requirements (of the partner university) as well. Looking back now, I would definitely recommend looking over the exchange partner list and requirements as early as possible and then getting all the application documents in order at least a year in advance to avoid making the same mistake I did.
When I found out that I wouldn’t be going abroad, I was heartbroken, to say the least. I had already planned out what to do with my apartment here in Beppu and even the things I would do once I came back from the program. To be frank, it even made me lose interest in studying abroad altogether.
Even when my fifth semester came around, I was still uninterested in reapplying. Luckily my mother was not about to let me give up. She kept telling me how this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and that it would be even harder to experience something like this once I graduated from university.
Truth be told, I was afraid of getting rejected again, but I guess mothers know best, right? I finally built up the courage to reapply, but unfortunately, this time I couldn’t apply to the UK, because UK schools only accept exchange students during the fall semester.
Each year, APU provides a list of all the different exchange partner schools, with some universities only accepting students in the spring or fall, or sometimes both semesters. This is why, as I mentioned before, starting the application process a year (or more) in advance is crucial!
Something caught my eye as I went through the list of exchange partner schools. It was an opening for an exchange to a university in Switzerland. Never in my life had I thought about visiting Switzerland, let alone studying there. But with the chance to live for a few months in one of the “world’s happiest countries,” I went for it.
I submitted my application and this time I passed! It was now on to the interview round. My heart was racing as I sat with two other students in front of three Academic Office staff for the interview. They asked me, “Why Switzerland? What do you want to study there? How would you like to use this experience to complement your studies at APU?” These were questions that I had already answered for the written application, so thankfully I was able to answer honestly and with little hesitation.
Looking back, I am actually grateful that I had to pick a new destination because the situation forced me to use the application process to reflect on the reason why I wanted to go on exchange and more specifically, how my chosen university fit into my academic goals.
And this is why I wholeheartedly recommend looking at more than just the country or university name when choosing an exchange destination. Without the initial setback, I may not have been as inclined to research the partner universities’ programs and find the ones that were suited for my area of study.
Almost three weeks passed before I finally got a message on APU’s Campus Terminal, with a subject that read “Student Exchange Program Final Results.” I opened the PDF file attached to the message and scanned through the results looking for my student ID number. My heart stopped when I, at last, saw those familiar 8 digits towards the end of the list.
After more than a year of applications, failure, dejection, and being so close to giving up, I was finally accepted for a one semester exchange program to the School of Management and Law at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW)! I was so excited to be able to finally go on this exchange program, something I had wanted to do since applying to APU. To say that I was just happy is a complete understatement.
But the application journey wasn’t finished just yet. After getting the official notification of my acceptance, I was contacted by the exchange advisor at ZHAW, who helped me with student accommodations and registration for their school system.
Next was the visa application, which can be a very tricky process. Although the application procedures differ from country to country, generally you will need to gather a handful of documents and take them to the appropriate embassy or consulate. In my case, I had to go to the Swiss embassy in Tokyo, and before going, I had to quickly prepare the required documents. This included things such as my parents’ bank statement, a copy of my high school diploma, my letter of admission from ZHAW, and a payment receipt of my accommodations.
After submitting my application to the embassy it only took about two weeks for the visa to get approved and after that, I was able to continue on with my preparations to move to Switzerland.
This brings me to my last tip, waste no time in preparing for your visa application! Most of the required documents will take weeks to get, so make sure you have enough time to prepare them all before your scheduled departure.
The end of my fifth semester came around and after a few tearful goodbyes to my friends in Beppu, I hopped on a 19-hour flight to Switzerland.
I finally found myself in Zurich Airport, waiting for my Swiss buddy to pick me up and go to the dormitory. Some schools (including APU!) conduct a buddy system where incoming exchange students are partnered up with local students so that they can ask questions and also get help settling into the new environment.
“Wow, I'm officially a ZHAW student,” I thought to myself, and then it was off to my new home for the next five months.
After a whirlwind ride, my application journey came to a fruitful end. It definitely wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine, but despite all the hardships, I'm glad to say I was able to overcome it in the end.
But, alas, this was just the beginning of my exchange experience. When I got to Switzerland, I faced a few more twists and turns, but we’ll get to that in my follow-up blog, Studying Abroad (while abroad) Part 2: Overcoming Self-doubt in the Swiss Alps.
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