How many can genuinely claim to take a 4-month vacation and travel the world after starting their respective jobs and before they retire? The most that can be managed is a 2-week vacation. Be it for traveling to exotic locales or meeting new people or experiencing new cultures or just escaping from campus, student exchange programme can help you get closer to your dream of that extended vacation. But before you start packing, let's have a look at some issues of going on student exchange.
# "So how much is this going to cost me?" - Money
The most important question for many. Money usually makes or breaks this dream. Have no doubts, this adventure will cost quite a bit. Unless you decide to act in a way which is embarrassing to yourself and to people traveling with you, you are looking at a minimal outlay of Rs. 2 lakhs for locales such as Philippines to around Rs. 3 to 4 lakhs for Europe and USA.
If you have taken a loan, then the 25% EMI hike is something which can be handled in most cases. If you are paying for your education without a loan, this is an extra cost which needs to be factored in.
# "What about my job?" - Placements
In most cases the placement activities should start once everyone on student exchange is back on campus. There might be a few exceptions where the company visits the campus when you are not back yet. Although the chances of that happening are remote, you should be ready to miss a company or two. Sometimes companies might conduct some competitions or hold pre-placement talks during this time. In my experience, you don't miss much by. In any case, you can always ask friends for a quick summary.
The bigger problem I want to highlight is that of preparation for placements, or the lack thereof. With all the traveling and meeting new people, it becomes very difficult to keep track of news/current affairs back home. It is very easy to become lax and be completely unprepared for the first few companies on campus. You will have to make up for lost time and hit the ground running when you get back. It’s not a bad idea to save the news items for the last 4 months that you were away and read it once you are back.
# "What about my studies?" - Academics
On every campus, there are a few professors and few courses which are exceptional. Unfortunately for you, many of these courses are floated in the term when you are on exchange. You could try to get these courses shifted to an earlier term or a later one, but in most cases this is not possible. Similarly, you might have to repeat some courses on your exchange term. This is usually because of the uncertainty in the courses on offer in the partner university. Try to find out what were the courses floated last year and try to eliminate as many repeated courses as possible.
The quality and pedagogy is almost similar to what we are used to. There will be some excellent professors there and some mediocre ones.
# "I will be missing my college festivals" - Positions of Responsibility
For many this is just a heading in the official CV format given by the placement committee. But for a few, this is a genuine opportunity to get involved in the activities of the college and to give something back. Since you won't be around, in most cases you might not be allowed to hold for any positions of responsibility.
There might be a few posts which will allow you to contribute even if you are not physically present, but in my experience, the paucity of time while you are on student exchange does not allow for any meaningful contribution. It is better to hold positions of responsibility when you are in your first year where you contribute in a meaningful way.
# "So what did you do there?" - Friends
As much as we would like to keep in touch with our friends back on campus, we need to be ready for the fact that it is will be very difficult to do so. You will be chatting with them when you get the chance, but you will be missing out on a large part of the experience that you were used to when you were on campus. If you are going on student exchange in your second year, you will also not be able to interact with the incoming batch. This is again a huge gap and forms a large part of the networking experience in most 2 year programmes.
Once back, it will feel strange and alien and it will take a few days for life to settle down and get back to the old routine, to pick up the lost threads, remember the old faces and continue with the life. The silver lining is that you will have tons of interesting stories to tell and thousands of pictures to show. It is very easy to bore your friends with your tales of adventure, so instead, sometimes listen to their stories, they are equally interesting.
# "I won Rs. 1 lakh!!!" - Competitions/College Festivals
Most IIMs and other MBA colleges in India have their student exchange term from September to December. Unfortunately this is the time when most college festivals happen. That means you lose out on two counts.
- Hosting your own event in your college festival What this means is that you will not be organizing any events for your college festival. There are ways to counter this disadvantage. You can be very active during the first year, organizing and being part of as many activities as possible. This can be slightly overwhelming and you have to cope with the additional responsibilities while at the same time get acclimatized to the college culture.
- Participating in other colleges festivals By not participating in any competitions you can reasonably conclude that you won't be winning any either. You can again counter this by participating in as many competitions as you can handle in the first year. This is tough because you have not been taught the necessary concepts yet. You can also try to be part of some seniors’ teams or take part in some online only competitions.
I have tried to throw light on some of the concerns associated with going on student exchange. Some are fairly obvious and some less so. If you understand the sacrifices and you are willing to bear the costs, then it’s time to start applying and look forward to one of the best experiences of your life.
- Koganti Greeshmanth
(The writer is an alumnus of IIM Indore - Class of 2011. He has worked with Akamai and HCL Infosystems post-MBA and has now started his own venture. )