The English Way to Study Abroad: Why English Students Choose Not To Be Foreign Students
After two internships and a rather intense couple of years of six-day weeks, I’ve been taking a break and doing some of the things that I haven’t had time to do, such as going to London Huayu, the volunteer-run Chinese Radio station, and sharing with them some of the salient community management insights that I learned during my internships. I’ve also started learning Japanese. Actually, I wanted to brush up on my French, but I’m yet to meet a French person who isn’t absolutely mortified by my bad pronunciation so I wimped out and went for Japanese.
I enjoy learning languages. Actually, I’m not sure if I actually enjoy it, but I feel inclined to spend a lot of time on it. If I were younger and hadn’t already spent so many years in higher education I’d go and do a degree abroad in any subject that took my fancy to get a full on immersive experience. By the end of the degree I’d expect to have a mastery of the language and a new field of knowledge to boot. But studying abroad isn’t just an interesting way to learn a language, it looks like a very viable way for young English people to get a degree without the ridiculous fees that universities are preparing to impose.
I’m sure you’ve noticed articles in the news occasionally about this very possibility. You may also have noticed that they focus on two options:
1. Study in an English-speaking country
2. Do a degree that is taught in English in a non-English speaking country
Surely there’s a third option missing here.
Some may say that studying in a non-native language is far too challenging after a few years of learning it in high-school education, but that does seem to put off the hundreds of thousands of foreign teenagers doing degrees in England after just studying English during high school. I’ve lived in France and in China as well as England, and I’ve met only a handful of my compatriots who did their bachelor’s degree abroad, and non of those did it until their mid-20s after several years in the country. I’m not saying that there aren’t any English students studying abroad, but clearly they are much much fewer in number than the non-native English speakers studying in England.
So why is this?
My hypotheses were:
1. Language teaching in English schools sucks
2. There’s a myth that English people suck at languages, so no one thinks its a good idea to recommend studying abroad to teenagers.
3. Many English people believe you can’t speak a language until you have reached the proficiency of a native speaker, and thus feel that they’d be unready for studying abroad.
4. People think that most foreign universities aren’t up to the standards of UK universities.
Then last week, when the gainfully employed worked and I lunched, I had the opportunity to pose my questions to two wonderful academics - a lecturer from a UK uni and a department head from a French uni - and I got some unexpected answers.
One main reason is that foreign universities don’t aggressively market overseas for students like English universities do. Foreign students are the cash cows of our university industry, but in not in egalitarian France where foreign students also enjoy tuition fees of just a few hundred euros a year.
Another insight was that English students want to get a first or a 2:1, but it’s difficult to get top marks when all your lectures and reading material are in a foreign language.
Valid point. In many countries it gives you a huge advantage to have a degree for a UK university, no matter which and no matter what mark you get. I wonder how UK employers view overseas degrees.
It’s an interesting topic that merits further investigation, and it brings on a whole host of related questions, such as whether British universities should adapt their teaching materials to better suit non-native speakers, how foreign high schools teach languages so that the pupils can actually speak them, etc.
Feel free to add your views, hypotheses and insights. On the topic, not the post. One day I’ll write about my theories on the link between writing about language learning and getting flamed/trolled.