Madeleine Gome explains why a Semester Exchange is worth waiting for

At the moment overseas travel feels a world away. While we don’t currently know when it will be possible to travel internationally, it is never too early to start planning your exchange experience – I promise it’s worth waiting.

Visiting Meteora in Greece before starting my semester on exchange

I was fortunate enough to spend Semester 2, 2019 at the University of Oslo in Norway as part of my Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts degree. Having visited family in Norway in 2017, I fell in love with the country. I felt at home in the city, I wanted to learn the lyrical language and I felt I could learn a lot from Norwegian society and culture, particularly in relation to gender equality and social support. On this initial trip to Norway I saw the Northern Lights; that kind of fortune makes you want to come back!

Seeing the Northern Lights in Tromsø in 2017 made me want to come back to Norway on exchange

I loved every aspect of my exchange. I lived with six other students, each of us coming from a different country, in a student village located five minutes’ walk from a spectacular lake surrounded by woods boasting popular hiking trails. In the summer people swim in the lake, and in winter it freezes over; its looks like something out of a fairy tale.

Looking over Oslo after a hike with friends which began at my student village
The lake behind my student accommodation

I made friends from all over the world, many of whom I am still in contact with two years later. I learnt a lot about different approaches to learning and developed a true passion for cross-cultural experiences. My lectures were held in the old law campus of Oslo University, which is located right in the center of town, two minutes’ walk from the harbour, palace, parliament and many cafés and restaurants.

The law campus where I studied during my exchange
Starting a hike with friends from the lake behind my student accommodation

One of the most novel exchange experiences was the ability to jump on a plane, train or bus and be in another country in a matter of hours. Many of these options were also very cheap. I travelled a lot during my six months in Europe, not only around Norway, but to Sweden, France, Poland, Greece, Croatia, Germany and Austria. Some of the highlights of these travels were seeing the midnight sun in northern Norway, visiting Svalbard, an archipelago of islands where there are more polar bears than people, and hiking the Calanques in the south of France during mid-semester break.

Hiking the Calanques in the south of France
A snow hike in Svalbard, where there are more polar bears than people
Visiting Paris in my mid-semester break
The midnight sun
Weekend trip to Gothenburg

I was very fortunate to receive a $7,000 Academic Mobility Scholarship from La Trobe, which covered many of the basic costs of living such as accommodation, utilities and groceries. If the affordability of exchange is a concern, I highly recommend researching funding options on La Trobe Abroad’s website, or speaking to someone over at La Trobe Abroad directly. There are a range of financial support options available, so there is probably one that will cover a significant proportion of the experience for you.

Oslo Christmas market

While we don’t know exactly when we will be able to get back overseas, it is definitely an opportunity worth waiting for. You will learn so much about yourself and your capacity for independence and adaptability, you will learn about different cultures and social norms and practices, and hopefully make lifelong friends. The six months I spent overseas were the highlight of my degree.

While you’re waiting to find out when you can book a flight, there are so many things you can do to prepare right now. Look at your study plan and work out how you might fit in an exchange: what subjects are you allowed to take overseas? Can you move core subjects around to save enough electives for exchange? Which host universities offer the courses you are interested in? If you’re not sure how an overseas experience might fit into your degree, go and speak to La Trobe Abroad, Ask La Trobe, or your course coordinator to find out. The world awaits!