Study Abroad

The New Zealander's & Australian's Guide to Choosing a Study Abroad Program

Elen Turner

Elen Turner is a writer and editor based on New Zealand's South Island. She was born in the UK, moved to New Zealand as a teenager, studied abroad in...

Studying abroad can be one of the highlights of your university education. It’s a time for exploration and fun, and while the academic side of the experience shouldn’t be overlooked, there is as much to be gained outside the classroom as within it when studying abroad.

But, choosing a program and a destination is not always easy. Some Australian and New Zealand universities have well-established programs for their students, while others don’t. Plus, search “study abroad programs” and you’re likely to find a whole lot of advice tailored to US students. Some of that information will be applicable to you, but some won’t, as we have different educational needs and expectations.

I spent a semester in Prague as an undergrad, studying Czech literature (in translation!), theatre, and art history. It was one of the most valuable experiences of my undergrad years, and I received great guidance from the exchange office at my university in New Zealand. But I made some mistakes during the planning process because I didn’t consider all the factors I should have. Take the advice of someone who’s been there, done that!

Australia and New Zealand are attractive study abroad destinations themselves, and most of us will have encountered many exchange students in our undergrad classes. But for those of you wanting to leave the antipodes, you need some tailored advice. Here are a few things for Aussie and Kiwi students to consider when choosing a study abroad program.

Step 1: Consider Your Academic Needs & Interests

One of the most exciting parts about planning a study abroad experience is choosing a destination, but for some students, your major or course of study will partly make this decision for you. That is, students studying particular subjects are encouraged or required to choose certain types of study abroad programs.

Modern Languages

If you’re majoring in a modern language--whether that’s French, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, or something else--there’s a high chance that your uni requires you to study abroad at some point. Even if you’re just minoring in that language, there may be similar opportunities but without the requirements.

Many modern language departments have arrangements with colleges or language institutes in other countries, and systems in place for facilitating their students’ study with those partners. You might be able to join a summer course abroad with your whole class, or study independently for an entire year.

If you’re majoring in a language other than English, the first point of contact for checking out a study abroad program should be your department. If they don’t have a program to suit your timing or other preferences, then programs run by third-party providers or even directly with the institution might be an option.

Health Sciences & Medicine

Similarly, if you’re studying medicine or other health-related subjects, you may be required or strongly encouraged to complete a placement abroad. Such opportunities are usually tailor-made for your needs, so discuss these options with your department first.

Broad Humanities, Sciences, & Commerce

If you’re studying for a more general degree in the humanities, sciences, or commerce, you might have wider options. Usually in the second and third years of a bachelor’s degree you are free to choose a wide range of electives that don’t have to be from your major subject. Many generic courses offered abroad will be easily transferable into credits at home. For example, if you’re an English major and interested in studying in Denmark, you’ll probably find that a wide range of humanities courses can be transferred into credits for your home degree.

Special Interests

If you have a particular interest, it makes sense to try to align your study abroad destination and institution with that interest, even if it’s not required for your degree. For example, you may be a sociology major with an interest in classical history or fine arts. In which case, consider a study abroad program somewhere like Italy, France, or Greece.

If you’re studying economics or technology or fine arts, then keep an eye out for tailored economics or technology or arts institutions abroad. Australia and New Zealand are small countries with fewer different types of higher education providers, but you might be surprised by how specialized you can go at foreign institutions, even at the undergrad level.

Step 2: Choose a Destination

Choosing a destination may be the easiest part of the decision-making process for studying abroad, or it may not. If you know you’ve always wanted to study in Spain and you find a suitable program, then great! Decision made. But, if you have other academic considerations (such as those mentioned above) or budget requirements, then choosing a study abroad destination may not be that straightforward.

Study in a Non-English-Speaking Country

One major factor is whether you want to study in a country where English isn’t the first language. You don’t have to be a foreign-language major to study abroad in a non-English-speaking country. Many universities around the world offer courses in English, both for foreign students and for domestic ones. This tradition is strongest in Europe, especially the Nordic countries, but you may be able to find courses in English all around the world.

Of course, if you’re living in a country it’s always a good idea to learn some of the local language, whether that’s Finnish or Japanese, and there will probably be opportunities for you to take language classes. But, you don’t necessarily have to immerse yourself in full-time study in that language.

Get a Visa (or Don’t)

Another important consideration that might not have occurred to you is how easy (or difficult) it will be for you to get a study visa for your chosen destination.

If you have an Australian or New Zealand passport and are studying abroad through a recognized institution then it won’t be too difficult for you to get a study visa for much of the world.

But, some countries make it easier than others. For example, getting a student visa for the USA often requires an interview at the US embassy. That might be fine if you live in Wellington or Canberra or a major city with a consulate, but less convenient if you live elsewhere. The extra waiting time and expense may end up making the USA a less attractive option than other countries with more straightforward processes.

Some countries don’t even require you to get a student visa if you’re studying for less than a certain amount of time. Always check the requirements of the country you want to study in, but you may be able to attend classes just on a tourist visa.

Also, many Aussies and Kiwis are entitled to (or already hold) a second passport due to ancestry connections. If you have a British or European passport, you’re likely to be able to study in those countries visa-free, which may increase their attractiveness as destinations. Although many Asian countries don’t allow dual citizenship, you may find it easier to study abroad in an Asian country if you have family, ancestral, or linguistic ties to that place.

Study Across the Ditch

Don’t forget how relatively easy it is to travel across the ditch. Think “study abroad” and a year in Paris might come to mind. But, Aussies and Kiwis have the right to live, work, and study in each others’ countries. Whichever side of the ditch you’re currently on, don’t overlook possibilities for studying abroad across the Tasman.

Study Abroad Online

Another consideration for Aussie and Kiwi students is whether an online program is available. Although you may assume that the whole point is to study abroad, a virtual study abroad program via a foreign institution may be a better option for some students. For example, parents, caregivers, students with a disability, or students on a very limited budget may not be able to have the typical study abroad experience. It is possible to draw some of the benefits of learning from another culture and education system without needing to physically travel.

Step 3: Consider the Cost

Cost is a major consideration for most students considering study abroad. Although Aussies and Kiwis usually pay much less than Americans for their higher education, we’re still often burdened by student loans, and a pricey study abroad experience might be beyond the reach of some students. Make sure to keep these factors in mind when choosing a program.

Ask About Fee-Reciprocity Agreements

Many universities have reciprocity agreements with foreign institutions, so that fees are waived for exchange students. That means you may be able to just pay your domestic fees to study abroad, and not worry about paying fees directly to a foreign institution. The first port of call for this type of information is your university’s exchange office, if they have one.

Research the Cost of Living in Your Chosen Destination

Some countries are simply cheaper to live and study in than others. Even if you benefit from no, low, or domestic-level fees, you’ll still have to pay to live. European and North American countries are generally much more expensive to live in than Asian or Central and South American countries.

Read more: How Much Does it Cost to Study Abroad?

If you’re on a tighter budget and have flexibility in terms of program of study, consider choosing a country with a lower cost of living, or a city within a higher-cost country that may be cheaper. For example, New York City is always going to be expensive, whereas some Mid-Western cities may not be.

Take Travel Costs into Consideration

Remember, flights can be very expensive! A flight from Auckland to Sydney is significantly cheaper than one from Auckland to London. You might prefer to put the extra thousand dollars (plus) towards activities and experiences at your destination, rather than simply getting there.

No Matter Where You Go, Enjoy the Experience

Aussies and Kiwis are known the world over for our love of travel and adventure, and we’re not afraid to get out into the world and explore it. Make the most of your once-in-a-lifetime study abroad experience by planning it right. But one of the most important pieces of advice from someone who has been there, done that? After you’ve made the big decisions about destination, cost, and program, just go with the flow. Studying abroad will give you experiences and opportunities that you couldn’t plan for. Enjoy seeing where the adventure takes you!

Recommended Programs