Explore the world with Study Abroad: Just do it

[Lashara van Heerden | Contributing Writer]

Many more students are now traveling overseas for their education. Global student mobility is on the rise due to fast growing wealth that funds international study and travel. It’s just about the norm for students around the world to take a gap year or study abroad, but what appeals to students that are travelling abroad to study? According to a paper published by the UN (United Nations), foreign student numbers have increased fivefold since 1975, why is this?

Patrick Ogbonna, a previous Computer Science student from Lagos, Nigeria is one of many other foreign students travelling abroad for better academic or work opportunities, as well as to enhance his language skills. Patrick is now a Mass Communications student at the University of Hertfordshire.

“There is a thing in Nigeria called Strike, like where the schools go on strike and the students protest,” he said. “You have to pay for the extra year. So the cost, you’re meant to do four years, but in the end it might be five years.”

Ogbonna explained: “I was in my third year, about to go for internship, then the whole strike issue came about – this one was going to be very long, they had an issue earlier on and it wasn’t resolved.”

Ogbonna had never been overseas before he had the opportunity to come to the UK.

“I was at school and my mom called me, I think on the Saturday, she was telling me that since they were going on strike, her friend told her about this school that her son is in,” he said. “They were taking admissions that time and she wanted to know: What do I think? Do I want to go? Do I actually just what to come to the UK and continue my course? Or do I want to stay back in Nigeria? Which I was actually not sure if I was going to finish in my final year, because of the whole strike thing.”

Torstein and Sheona
Torstein and Sheona

More than just a degree

Torstein Midtlien and Sheona Innes are a couple who have who met through a Study Abroad program, but have also been able to be together for four years through International student visas and determination to pursue an academic career.

Sheona is a South African student living in Norway with Torstein, who has been a foreign student in Australia and South Africa. They met while Torstein was living in a township in South Africa for a year with his University.

“We were writing assignments and sending them back, we had supervisors back in Norway and I was working as a sports volunteer,” Torstein explained. “A lot of practical work in an NGO, but on the other side we had the theoretical bigger picture that really helped us to widen our perspective when it comes to sport and development. To be able to see what the big picture is in the field.”

The rise of internationally mobile students

Universities are competing in the international arena for the expanding foreign student market by offering an assortment of courses that are suitable. The UIS (Unesco Institute for Statistics) reports that the countries hosting the largest number of internationally mobile students are in North America and Western Europe (58%), East Asia and the Pacific (21%), and Central and Eastern Europe (9%).

International students fees generate higher revenues per student compared to local students. Average International student fees range from around £9500 up to £25500 at the higher-ranking Universities like Oxford, in comparison to UK and EU students that pay around £5500 upwards to £12000. The is the world’s second largest (13% of the market) and fastest growing (6% p.a.) provider of international education with the UK’s education exports being worth approximately £18bn to our economy, reported the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee).

Many students are migrating to work opportunities or experiences in an international community. Kealie Mardell, a local student from Hertfordshire, studied abroad at California State University, Long Beach, as part of her Mass Communications degree.

Long Beach - Kealie Mardell
Long Beach | Kealie Mardell

“I decided to take more of a focus during my study abroad year and mainly took journalism modules,” she said. However, she was surprised by the difference in academic standards in the US.

“I didn’t feel like it was pushing me further in my career,” she said. “I got to write for new publications and getting published abroad was really valuable, but the actual academic side of it was lacking.”

Enhancing the experience

Torstein said: “You learn so much and it gets you out of your comfort zone, you make lots of new contacts and friends. When I was studying in Lillehammer it was quite close to where I grew up, like a 20 minutes drive, and I never really got to interact with the student crowd in my first university. But when you go abroad suddenly you have to make a whole new contact circle – you are much more social.”

Sheona adds that her experience was a little different, as she had someone to come to.

“It was a bit of a culture shock moving from South Africa with like 500 different cultures and suddenly you come to a place where the entire country eats bread and cheese for breakfast and lunch- and you kind of go, what do you mean you all do the same thing?” she said.

Sheona went on to say: “You make friends with Norwegians and because I look so similar, there is an expectation that I will just know what to do and know what Norwegian culture is.”

Kealie depicts her student involvement as: ‘I was always on the go, I was always doing things. We did have a lot of support as international students, but I think it was down mainly to you.”

She said: “We were travelling and going exploring, finding different places. I met lots of interesting people, which is a big part of study abroad. Everyone says you meet friends for life, which is definitely true.”

Studying abroad can also be valuable for employability. Kealie said: “Having that experience of different publications and website, and have those industry contacts can definitely help and might hopefully lead to a job one day. While studying abroad I got a taste for the industry and the lifestyle, but it is really tough to get a job over there.”

For Torstein and Sheona studying abroad is an integral part of their relationship. Sheona explained: “Travelling has helped allow me to continue studying. The need for a visa extended my study career by two years. So at home I would have finished my honours, done a masters and who knows. But here I did an extra year here and there and now I am finally doing my Masters. But I had two years extra practice which was quite fun.”

Live the Dream | Kealie Mardell
Live the Dream | Kealie Mardell

A true around the world experience

The international experience seems to be what impacts people the most. Sheona said: “It depends entirely on where you are from. If you are a European student – go to Africa. If you’re an African student – go to Europe. Norway has the advantage that it is free, but the university I went to, UCT (University of Cape Town), has 25,000 people and it is just one of the most diverse universities in the world.”

She explained: “The opportunity there is huge. You should go somewhere different to where you are from. You get to see how the other half live.”

“You also meet your future wife,” Sheona teases, and Torstein agrees: “That too!”

The international student market is expanding with increasing wealth and growing opportunities. Many students feel that the experience of living abroad is invaluable. It is a way of expanding your social awareness, learning a language, interacting with other likeminded individuals in a new and engaging manner.

The benefits seem endless from learning to be independent, making new friends, getting ready for an international job, learning language skills and travelling within our global hub. Most of the students I spoke to encourage the mentality – ‘Just do it’.

If you’re studying abroad next year and would like to blog for Trident Media about your experiences, please email print.editor@tridentmedia.org! 

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Explore the world with Study Abroad: Just do it