How to prepare for a semester abroad – learning from my mistakes

So many places to go to. Photo: Hannah Riemann

After applying for the exchange program of the FAU with the Duke University in North Carolina, USA, I was more than excited to find out in March, that I was accepted along with two other FAU-Students. What I did not know was all the preparation work that comes with an exchange semester, so here I will write down what hurdles I stumbled upon, so you don’t make the same mistakes.

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork

First of all, there is all the paperwork to deal with. The program I applied for came with a DAAD-scholarship and there were all the papers I had to sign to make sure that everything with the scholarship runs smoothly, because to be honest, I could not afford paying 50,000$ to study at an American university. Most scholarships come with obligations: Students have to take a certain amount of credit points at the exchange-university and have to write several reports on how their stay is. Keep that in mind and note down the due dates, because when you sign an agreement that wants you to hand in a report six months later, it is easy to forget it.

After dealing with the first bunch of paperwork, some host-universities still want the student to apply separately. So even though I was already accepted by my home university I still had to apply directly to the American university. I had to go through the entire process and also had to ask some professors to write me letters of recommendation in English. I had to hand in more paperwork, and the process this time was even longer, because I had to send it to the States via mail and it felt like it was taking ages. So, make sure to start your paperwork as soon as possible, because it all takes longer than you’d expect.

Applying for a visa

Once you get your visa accepted by the Embassy and you are good to go, it is time for a celebratory bagel and coffee. Photo: Hannah Riemann

After I received the acceptance letter from Duke University and several important visa-documents, it was time to apply for my student visa. But easier said than done! After filling out endless questions about my personal life and what I am planning to do in the States and paying several application fees, I still had to go down to Munich for an interview at the American embassy in Munich. Finally – only three weeks before my trip started – I got my visa!

There are two important things to keep in mind: Everything takes a reaaaally long time, so the earlier you start getting all the paperwork done, the better. Even though most student visas get accepted, do not make the mistake of booking your fight before you have your visa in your hands. You never know what might happen and I know a few people, who for some unknown reason did not get a visa.


When it comes to housing I have so far always been very lucky and never had any problems. The first step usually is to ask the host university if they can help you to find housing. They often have their own websites, in which students post rooms or sometimes even find rooms for exchange students. It also always makes sense to get in touch with the people from your home university that already did the exchange. They might know people who are looking for a roommate or you might even get the chance to take over their room. Usually the professor in charge of the program will help you out getting in touch with them.

After all the work, you are in for a treat

Studying a semester abroad does come with a lot of planning, organization and paper work, but it is totally worth it. If you are more organized than I am, you will most likely not struggle as much as I did and find it super easy.

At the end of the day usually everything works out well and you are in for a treat: one of the best times of your life!

It comes with a lot of work in advance, but it is totally worth it!


Hannah Riemann