Traveling abroad was once considered a luxury for the majority of students. Studying abroad was an even greater luxury, out of reach for all but the brightest scholarship recipients and the wealthy. However, more students are now studying abroad. Higher education is regarded as essential for obtaining a good job. Parents are willing to spend their hard-earned money to send their children abroad for an education, especially if their children were not accepted into the local university or polytechnic.
Those who are fortunate usually travel to western countries with established educational institutions, such as the United States or the United Kingdom. Australia and New Zealand are also gaining popularity. Graduating from these universities would usually mean an edge over their local counterparts who have not studied overseas as an overseas education is seen by some employers favorably.
Many of these institutions, as well as those that offer courses at the secondary or primary levels, have a less regimented study culture. Unlike Asian countries, which place a high value on grades from important exams and tests, Western institutions value teamwork and project work, as well as a climate of creativity and open discussion. Teachers are viewed as collaborators in learning rather than authority figures and knowledge transmitters. As a result, Asian students find it very liberating to be able to express themselves freely in this environment. They can also choose when they want to graduate on their own terms. They are permitted to drop out of their courses in order to work and then resume them later.
It is up to them to direct their studies. Without the mollycoddling and interference of well-meaning parents, many hardworking Asian students have graduated in less time than they would have in their home countries. In four years of study, my cousin earned a Master of Engineering. He worked as a checkout cashier in a supermarket and even had time to travel across America. All of these achievements would not have been possible in his home country of Malaysia. He was constantly irritated by the constrictive classroom methods, which caused him stress, and he was spoiled at home by his mother and maid.
That brings me to the next point. My cousin had a sudden taste of independence thrust on him. Like most overseas students, he had to learn to rely on himself for his daily household needs, meals and budgeting. He learned to be responsible for his own time and to prioritize his activities. Like many students, he realized that it was a privilege to study overseas and that he was consuming his parents’ hard-earned savings. It was his responsibility to study and to use his time wisely so as to earn his parents’ faith in him.
However, not all international students are Asian. To survive, non-Asians, like Westerners and Africans, learn the cultures of their host countries. Hopefully, by the time they return to their home countries, they will have understood and appreciated the cultures of the countries they studied in, allowing them to be good ambassadors for these. However, there are some drawbacks to studying abroad. It entails significant costs, and many families must scrimp and save to fund their loved one’s education.
A student who is not social may be homesick. It is difficult to adapt and live in a foreign country when you are suddenly separated from your comforting network of family, relatives, and friends. Some lonely students who are under pressure to perform well in school may develop developmental disorders. Recently, there was a case of a mainland Chinese man who felt mocked by his peers and teachers. He was lonely, so he retaliated by shooting several of his peers and teachers.
Some students may miss their parents’ and friends’ moral guidance. If they are left alone, they may associate with the wrong crowd. There have been reports of students partying, using drugs, ignoring their studies, and going over their budgets. Some students engage in questionable moral practices, particularly on more liberal Western campuses. Finally, whether students benefit from their overseas studies is heavily dependent on their personalities and how they use their newfound independence. An issue, like many others in life, has both pros and cons.