Studying abroad: Take a far-flung place in the sun
Posted on May 19, 2011
Whether aiming for the Antipodes or the Lion City, intrepid students can find excitement and adventure on the other side of the world, says Chris Alden.
Make no mistake, studying far away from home takes courage. But if you are yearning to experience a new culture or lifestyle, and you want a quality education that prepares you for today’s international workplace, Asia or the Pacific could be the place for you.
Your reasons for taking the plunge might range from an appreciation of the laid-back Aussie lifestyle to a passion for Chinese culture or, perhaps, the economic opportunities offered by Asian business hubs such as Hong Kong, Tokyo or Singapore.
Natalie Sikand, who is now in her third year at the University of Sydney, won a place to study astrophysics at Birmingham but had a change of heart two weeks before she was due to start. Instead, she rapidly began applying to Australian institutions.
For Sikand, who is from London, it was a calculated decision. She has a parent in Australia and had previously attended an open day at the University of Sydney where she established that her predicted grades were satisfactory. Nevertheless, she admits, she then faced a “nervous three months” while she waited to see if she had secured a place.
One appealing aspect of studying in Australia is that the academic year doesn’t start until February or March. That means it’s possible to have a “mini gap year” between your A-levels and the start of your Australian course — or even, as Sikand did, delay your application until after you have your A-level results, then begin the “coming” academic year.
When Sikand arrived in Sydney in March, she knew she had made the right decision. “It’s a beautiful old campus. March is the end of their summer and there was brilliant sunshine and a compelling atmosphere. I couldn’t help but feel delighted to be there.”
She explains it was the more relaxed lifestyle in Sydney that finally made her take the plunge. “I would hate to say that it’s just down to the weather, but sunshine does seem to bring out the best in people,” she says.
Sikand is certainly making the most of the opportunities in Australia. She has learned to scuba-dive and plans to take advantage of her newly acquired skill on a visit to Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. Currently majoring in geophysics, she is also about to leave for a two-week field trip camping in the bush, as “Australia has a lot of rocks to study”. Thanks to the flexible curriculum, she also manages to study Spanish on the side.
Sikand is unsure of her future career plans but is considering sustainability in the mining industry.
Sarah Nash, director of Study Options — the official UK representative for all eight New Zealand universities and 18 of the 40 Australian universities, including all of the top-end “group of eight” (featuring the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University in Canberra) — says that the quality of education on offer in Australia and New Zealand is a major incentive for international students.
“There is good professional recognition of Australian and New Zealand degrees, so if you qualify as a vet, for example, you can go straight to the UK to work,” adds Nash. Study Options is organising open days in June for Australian and New Zealand universities, so students can find out more about the opportunities available.
Studying abroad also meant a change of plan for Briton David Tring, who majors in modern Chinese studies and history at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). He finished school in South Africa and had been planning to return to the UK to pursue Chinese Studies at London’s School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) after a gap year in Beijing.
It was during that year that he decided not to take up his place at SOAS, reasoning that it might be a better idea to stay in Asia. “I thought that I would gain a more in-depth experience of China and have greater access to information by studying in Hong Kong than I would in the UK,” he says.
Now in his third year, he enthuses about Hong Kong: “It’s incredibly international. There’s a great mix of Western and Asian culture. The city is on China’s doorstep, and is the gateway to much of Asia. My last trip was to Bali.”
Prof John Spinks, senior advisor to the vice-chancellor at the University of Hong Kong, says students are often attracted by the Asian economy and job opportunities. “Our employment rate for graduates last year was 99.8 per cent for HKU — and that’s the advantage of a truly international education.
“Universities in Hong Kong have extensive exchange arrangements,” adds Spinks. “A UK citizen could get a degree in Hong Kong, do a year in the US on exchange, go off to India to do community work during the summer, and head to Shanghai on an internship for another summer. That kind of CV would be the envy of many.”
Hong Kong’s international outlook means scholarships are available. “These are merit-based and range from a few thousand pounds a year to full tuition fees, accommodation and living expenses and a laptop, for example,” says Spinks.
Of course, if you’re going to be studying abroad then you’ll need to budget not only for tuition fees and accommodation but also for trips home, which may not be possible very often.
Nash, from Study Options, says students in Australia or New Zealand typically spend Christmas and New Year back home, then return “pretty sharpish” to travel during the rest of the southern hemisphere’s summer, before spending all of the academic year abroad.
“I think it’s realistic to plan for just one trip a year. That’s a big factor — a student has to be happy with that idea.”
18 May 2011
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