Are you thinking about a semester abroad? We conducted a comparison between an exchange and Startuplifers experience to help you find your perfect match.


It’s the time of the year when everybody is browsing through fascinating countries and interesting universities, wondering if they would like to spend an exchange semester there. Maybe also you have considered going for an exchange during the upcoming year? Exchange is often seen as a central part of the study years at the university and no wonder! It is a great opportunity to try out living abroad, studying in a new environment, traveling and getting international friends.

Many of our alumni have been thinking quite a lot on whether to go on exchange or apply for Startuplifers. Some of them have even done both! Both experiences offer somewhat similar aspects, so how to decide which one could be the right one for you? We asked two of our alumni to compare their times in exchange and Startuplifers internship.

Alex Colb is currently working in Singapore as a developer. A couple of years ago he was in the city also as an exchange student.

Pauliina Alanen spent 18 months in San Francisco, working as a marketer. Before that she spent 10 months in Spain as an Erasmus exchange student.

Let’s hear what they have to say.


Pauliina: “Learning never ends and the best way to give it a boost is to go abroad! I genuinely recommend anyone to try it out, whether in exchange or working as a Startuplifer. After you go abroad once, everything will be so much easier after, be it speaking a foreign language, making new friends, designing your life or career or perhaps even founding your own company.”

Alex: “As a Startuplifer I’ve gained very concrete skills and job experience in my work. I’ve had chances to learn a lot about startup culture and the local way of working. This is (of course) quite different to an exchange, where you mostly gain academic knowledge.”


Alex: “As a Lifer you get to live just like any other local, since you aren’t living at the campus, surrounded by other exchange students. So it kind of gives you a better perspective on the real Singaporeans life. However, it was maybe a bit easier to come here as an exchange student, since there was a thorough orientation waiting for me. When I came to Singapore as a Lifer, there weren’t any other lifers yet, so in this case, I’d say that it was easier to settle down as an exchange student.”

Pauliina:“Both exchange year and working abroad will get you into a whole new country where many experiences await. I’d say you will get more merged with the local culture if you work for a local company. However, working isn’t the only way, since getting to know the culture also depends on 1) where you are 2) how interested in the culture you are.

As you will be in a new place, you will have to make some research. You might want to find a shared flat with locals, as I did in Spain as an exchange student. That led to learning fluent Spanish, visiting my lovely roommate’s family in Murcia during the 2 weeks Easter break and still nowadays getting to visit her and show her my country instead. In San Francisco, I tried to meet people who had lived there longer than I had, to understand what they celebrated, how they passed their free time or considered as “sanfranciscan”.”


Pauliina:“You can’t avoid making new, wonderful friends during your time abroad – and this is perhaps one of the main things you’re looking up to (or perhaps, most afraid of not making). As with anything, you will have to plan ways of meeting new people, especially outside your university or work. In San Francisco, it’s quite easy to make friends at work, as many people have also moved there from elsewhere. Some of my dearest local (American) friends initially were my colleagues.

I met new people regularly through choosing social hobbies both during my exchange year in Spain as in San Francisco. In the latter it sort of came as a realization that jogging and going to the gym on my own just wasn’t enough: I needed to break the bubble and there it came in form of Contemporary dance.

Alex: “I’d say that in exchange you get to know people around the world, and often end up hanging out mostly with other exchange students since that is made super easy. As a Lifer, you actually learn to know the locals much better, since most of your colleagues are locals.”



Alex:“In exchange traveling was quite a central part of the experience. Since the most central part of the Lifer experience is working, there is naturally less time for traveling. However, since weekends are not full of travels and student activities, it gives a lot more time for actually getting to know the city and the areas nearby.

Pauliina:“If you like traveling, there’s nothing like living in another country within which and from which you can travel. As an exchange student, you will probably get involved in many student-friendly trips with plenty of discounts. While working in a company, you may end up going on work trips, even alone, as I did in the States.

Living abroad is traveling in itself. You will never deep dive into another world so deeply than living somewhere else and trying to figure out whether Whole Foods sells normal yogurt at all, or getting way too excited about burritos. This immersive experience will likely happen both on exchange and working abroad.


All in all, both experiences are amazing ways to get out of your comfort zone and get an adventure of a lifetime. If working abroad is what sounded perfect for you, Startuplifers sure is an easy way to do that!

Check out our tips for perfecting your LinkedIn profile and writing a killer job application. The Startuplifers team is also thrilled to help you, contact us!