Working on Exchange

When I was planning my exchange, I had the idea that I wanted to get a part time job while I was living in Edinburgh. I figured I’d need extra money for adventures and travelling (and for the unexpectedly high cost of living in the UK!) I ended up not looking for work after all, mostly because I got this wonderful blogging gig. But lot’s of my fellow exchange students here in Edinburgh have landed part time jobs and are loving it.

I’m sure if you’re planning on doing an exchange, questions about work and money are on your mind. So I thought I’d put together a list, based on my experiences and the experiences of my happily employed exchange student friends, of things to keep in mind when you’re weighing up the option of getting a job while you study abroad.

  1. Think about your visa. You’ll probably need a student visa to go on exchange, and you should find out whether your student visa let’s you work while you study. In the UK, student visas generally allow you to work a limited number of hours as well as study, but this will vary for different countries. The important thing is that if you want to work, you need to make sure your visa allows you to. And even if you’re not planning to get a job, a visa that let’s you work as well as study might be a good option, just as a back up – I’ve never used the work provisions of my visa, but it’s nice to know they exist.
  1. Update your resume and cover letters. When I arrived in Edinburgh, I noticed the University Career Centre offered some seminars on CV writing for international students. I went along to one of the seminars, and I was really surprised by how much they emphasized that employers in the UK would probably be looking for different things in a job application, from CV formatting conventions, to cover letter writing style, to buzzwords. Some googling will probably help you figure out what employers in your country are looking for.
  1. Think about your priorities. Even though a lot of exchange students I’ve met have been happy working a few hours a week, one of my friends told me that she really regretted getting a job while she was doing her exchange. She felt like she didn’t have enough time to balance work, school, and fun, so she didn’t get everything out of her exchange that she wanted to. Keep in mind that your exchange will fly by – it’s only 4 to 8 months after all – and you might end up feeling like you didn’t have enough time to do things that are important to you.
  1. Don’t take on too much. Exchanges are really exciting. When I first arrived in Edinburgh I was so excited and I felt like I had all the energy and enthusiasm in the world. But then reality set in, and I realized that I still had to go to school and do all the other daily life things that can lead to major stress build up. I was all gung-ho about taking on a job when I first got here, because I was excited about everything. That’s an awesome feeling, but it can also lead to you biting off more than you can chew. There’s nothing worse than being so stressed out that you can’t enjoy your time on exchange.

There you have it: my list of the essential things to think about when you’re pondering the question of whether you want to get a job while you study abroad. A final note to add, though, is that if it’s not fun, there’s no point in doing it – an exchange is supposed to be awesome and exciting. If a job adds to that, I say go for it!

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