Study horizons widen
Hong Kong has numerous tertiary institutions, and many of them are highly regarded. Not everyone qualifies for admission, however, and even those who do qualify sometimes prefer to study overseas.
Sometimes there’s no choice. A student’s desired field of study may not be offered in Hong Kong, so studying abroad is a no-brainer. At other times, students feel that academic standards might be higher overseas, that the manner of delivery may be more suitable, or that they want to become fluent in a foreign language. But often, the real impetus for studying abroad has as much to do with gaining independence and widening horizons as getting a degree.
“Students take the plunge to study abroad for several reasons,” says John Lai, associate director of Global Business Studies (GBS), associate director of the International Business and Chinese Enterprise (IBCE), and associate director of Integrated Bachelor of Business Administration (IBBA) Programs at the Department of Management of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“One of the most obvious reasons is that leaving home will open up wider horizons about the world. It will create opportunities for the student to visit places in the vicinity and develop acquaintances with people from all over the world. It is an immense way to experience and learn about foreign cultures,” he says.
At the same time, studying abroad can help students develop some of the soft skills that are prized by employers.
“Studying abroad is considered to be a great ‘out of class’ learning experience that will shape a student’s personal development by developing their self-confidence and leadership ability, moulding their adaptability in a new environment, developing their independence and interpersonal abilities, and acquiring language capability,” Lai says.
Graduating from an overseas institution is seen as boosting a student’s credibility while enhancing their career prospects. A foreign university – especially a top school – looks good on a résumé.
“This is particularly true when students opt for top ranked and globally respected institutions,” Lai says. “It is sometimes not what you know but where you graduate from that will make a difference.”
Students often experience culture shock when they arrive in a new country. They therefore need to be open-minded and willing to adjust to their new environment.
“It is a whole new experience with different people, a different way of life, and a different way of doing things,” Lai says. “I remember my time as a graduate student in Australia, where they have a different interpretation of the meaning of ‘urgent’. I was expecting feedback the day after tomorrow, but the answer only came back a week later. It took a little while for me to understand and respect the local way of doing things. A little later, I truly enjoyed taking things more slowly.”
This can result in reverse culture shock when returning. “I have had students tell me that they look forward to heading back home, but when they get there, it doesn’t feel like home anymore. There will be a transition period to re-adjust,” Lai adds.
Some experts believe that rather than waiting until graduating from secondary school to study abroad, middle school students should get their feet wet on short study trips during their summer break. This has the added advantage of allowing them to make sure that the country in which they are thinking about going to university is really the right fit.
This trend has been picking up steam in recent years. Younger students tend to start with destinations close to home, heading further afield when they get older.
“Junior secondary students usually choose short trips to countries of closer proximity, such as Taiwan, the mainland and Singapore, while more senior students, who are more capable of independent living, would prefer longer-haul visits to the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and other European countries,” says Vickie Liu, director of external relations at Senate House Education Centre.
“Unlike university students, who study overseas for additional academic points or internship experience, secondary students possess much broader and less specific objectives,” Liu says. “Still several years before their university applications, secondary students use this time lapse to explore countries of interest. A student on a study tour to the UK may confirm their earlier desires to attend tertiary education there as the culture, lifestyle, university choices and subjects available appeal to them,” Liu says.
Tours with an emphasis on educational values let students experience authentic student life, both in and out of class, through experiential learning.
“The more academically oriented programmes offer training and insight sharing on university applications such as portfolio construction, personal-statement drafting and university practice,” Liu adds. “The knowledge enrichment experience is crucial as it puts things into perspective to them about the importance and complexity of university applications.”