From this source:
If you leave the United States for more than five months and are not able to remain enrolled at your U.S., SEVP-certified school, you will not be able to maintain your student status. To resume your studies in the United States, you will need to seek readmission in initial status, which includes obtaining a new Form I-20 and paying the I-901 SEVIS fee again. To seek readmission, please speak with your designated school official.
Does it mean that if I (a grad student on F1) am absent from the US for, say, 10 months (studying abroad as an exchange student) and if I'm enrolled in 8 credit hours (which is, I believe, the minimal number of credit hours for graduate students to maintain their F1 status), then I can re-enter the US on the same F1 visa that I had before leaving the US (provided it remains valid)? Or does the above mean that regardless of anything, if I'm absent for more than 5 months, then I'm automatically not maintaining my F1 status and I need to apply for a new F1 visa with a new I-20 after the exchange program is over?
Also, can I enter the US during the above-mentioned hypothetical 10-month period on the same F1 visa that I had before leaving the US (if it's valid)?