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Exchange Student Experience Essay Structure

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For some students who wish to study abroad, the statement of purpose can be one of the most daunting components of the program application. The good news: it’s not as difficult as it may seem at first! After all, you’ve come this far in the study abroad research process, so chances are you’ve already given thought to what the essay requires you to write about. As long as you don’t rush and take the time to create a solid outline, your study abroad application statement of purpose will truly shine.

Common statement of purpose requirements

Although each program application may have program-specific essay requirements to address, most will ask students to address the following two components:

  1. Goals for studying abroad (i.e. academic, career, and personal) – Most likely, you will have to briefly describe your goals, outlining specific ways in which studying abroad will help you achieve these goals.
  2. Reason you chose this program/location – This aspect of the statement of purpose is more specific to why, out of all the programs and locations on Earth to study, you’re applying to this one.

Creating an outline

Before rushing into writing out your statement of purpose, make sure you’ve carefully read the instructions and prompts for the essay. The worst way to sabotage an otherwise excellent essay is to miss a key requirement outlined in the instructions. To help keep essay requirements fresh in your mind, consider copying and pasting the requirements at the top of essay document so that they are there for quick reference.

After you fully understand what points you are required to touch on in your statement of purpose, drafting an outline will help keep your essay organized, clear, and succinct. Consider following the steps below to help make this process easy and straight-forward.

Open up a blank Word document, and get down the general essay components:


Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3


Now that you have the foundation laid out, you can complete your outline by creating a couple compelling sentences for each paragraph. Having these sentences drafted will help you quickly move forward after your outline is complete. Let’s take a look at each paragraph, and sample sentences for each.

Introduction – Create a strong thesis sentence that sums up your overall purpose for studying abroad.

  • Example: Studying abroad at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid will be a monumental step in realizing my personal, academic, and career goals to my highest potential.

This thesis sentence portrays to the reader that you have identified personal, academic, and career goals in relation to studying abroad in a specific program, and will describe them below.

Paragraphs 1-3 – Draft a sentence that sums up your response to the each point, then a second sentence that provides a specific outcome that this study abroad program will provide.

Paragraph 1 (e.g. personal reason/goal for studying abroad in this program):

  • Example: My grandfather migrated to the United States from Madrid, and since an early age I’ve wanted to see and experience the city and culture he grew up in. By the end of my study abroad program, I plan to have developed a deeper understanding and appreciation for my family heritage by becoming more fluent in Spanish and familiar with Spanish customs and cultural practices.

Paragraph 2 (e.g. academic reason/goal for studying abroad in this program):

  • Example: As a history major, I plan to utilize my time in Spain to contribute to my overall academic success and focus within the history program at my home university. Throughout my time studying abroad, I will visit historical sites around Spain relevant to my intended topic for my graduate thesis topic: Moorish architectural and cultural influences in modern Spanish society.

Paragraph 3 (e.g. career reason/goal for studying abroad in this program):

  • Example: I plan to one day teach Spanish history and culture at the college level, and this program will give me the first-hand experience I believe necessary to be qualified and successful in this position. By being completely immersed in the Spanish culture, and by having access to a large number of relevant historical sites and resources, I will enter this study abroad experience with my career development in mind.

For the conclusion, come up with a strong sentence to sum-up (again) why this program and location is the best choice.

  • Example: After extensive research of all possible programs, I am convinced that studying history and Spanish culture at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid is an ideal match for my personal, academic, and career goals outlined above.

Drafting suggestions

Now that you have a strong outline, filling in the rest should come easily and naturally. As would be normally expected in college-level essays, it’s important to make sure that each sentence you write relates directly to the main sentences in its respective paragraph you came up with in the outline.

After you’ve written your completed first draft of your study abroad application statement of purpose, save the document and take a break for a week. After you’ve had some time to clear your mind, you’ll likely come back to edit your essay with a fresh perspective and as a result more easily catch mistakes you may not have otherwise caught!

Finally, before you send it off, double (and triple) check to make sure that you haven’t overlooked any requirements for the statement of purpose. Also, consider having at least one other person look at your essay – your campus’s writing center is a great resource you might consider utilizing!

Congratulate yourself

After you’ve sent in your essay, congratulate yourself! You are well on your way to one of the most exciting journeys of your life, and you certainly deserve to be proud of this accomplishment.

View the 200 most international universities in the world 2016

Stella Sakellaridou shares her story and experience as an international student:

I am from Athens, Greece, and am currently a PhD law candidate at the University of Geneva (UNIGE). My first contact with UNIGE dates back to 2010 when, as an undergraduate law student at the University of Athens, I had applied for an exchange semester abroad through the Erasmus programme. Due to my keen interest in the field of international law, the University of Geneva ranked at the top of my choices, as Geneva – host city for so many international organisations, and the United Nations – offered the ideal environment for studying international law. Completely satisfied with my short-term exchange experience, after the acquisition of my LL.B. (2012) I decided to return and further advance my legal studies here. So far, I have completed two study programmes: a certificate in transnational law and an LL.M. in international dispute settlement (MIDS) offered jointly by the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. 

The international experience

My experience as an international student has, overall, been positive; any challenges I meet are outside the academic programme, namely affordable housing and the general cost of living. First, Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in the world, so it is by no means student-budget friendly. Second, as Geneva hosts many students, interns at international organisations and young professionals in mobility, finding a place to stay is a time- and money-consuming process. Student residences remain the most affordable option – definitely not enough for the number of applicants – or there is flat sharing, which is rarely a “value for money” option. The rent is high in comparison with many other European student cities. On the other hand, student residences (private or of the university) are often not able to take in the incoming students. I hadn’t found a place until one week before my initial arrival in Geneva. On the positive side, I must mention the broad academic curriculum offered within a high-quality education system, the efficiently operating administration and infrastructure, and, above all, the international environment.

The social environment

Geneva offers an ideal multiculti environment. Socialising with my international classmates was quite easy at the start, and I soon expanded my social network by joining several student or interns’ groups via Facebook that often organise events and activities: fun and good times guaranteed! I am still friends with people from different countries whom I had met during my exchange term – and it’s been more than five years since then. However, socialising with the local students seemed to be more complicated, perhaps because of the “temporary” status of the international students. With regards to my compatriots, Greeks, I have met only a few, so there have not been many chances to frequently communicate in Greek. As a matter of fact, this turned out to be a plus, because this way I managed to substantially improve my skills in French and English.

University support

As mentioned before, the University of Geneva has a very efficient administration structure that goes beyond the enrolment procedure. The competent staff were also very helpful with issues to do with official documents, such as the residence permit and other procedural issues. Well in advance of my arrival they had provided me with practical information and guidance, including lists of student residences and particular renting rooms to apply to.

Upon arrival, we were welcomed and properly guided through well-organised orientation days, informative sessions, as well as language-advancing courses. 

The academic experience

As I progressed with my studies from undergraduate to the LL.M. level and further, I mostly appreciated courses and classes being interactive and not purely theoretical, with opportunities for written essay assignments, educational trips, moot courts and conferences. During my exchange programme, as well as the certificate in transnational law, the majority of courses were taught in French while only a number of them were offered in English. In the MIDS LL.M. the working language was exclusively in English with optional courses in French. The professors, either locals or internationals – especially during my LL.M. – were very renowned and highly esteemed in their field.

Living in Geneva

I would describe Geneva as a relatively small “metropolis” – an international business centre, where so many global organisations and private companies operate. Yet, despite all this business activity, Geneva remains human-scaled and friendly to its inhabitants who, any time and only by travelling a short distance, may easily benefit from calm open areas and the incomparable lakefront. 

The quality of life and the vast professional and academic activity attract a great number of expats for work or studies. Personally, in the context of my studies, I had the opportunity to gain substantial professional experience in my area of interest. So far, I have successfully completed internships at the Permanent Mission of Greece at the United Nations, and I have worked with the international arbitration groups of renowned Geneva-based law firms.

The University of Geneva is fifth in the ranking of the world’s most international universities.

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