Most expat articles focus on those travelling the world in order to work. Hitting the office might not be the prime reason to up sticks and trot around the globe, but for many expats the job is enables them to have a taste of adventure.
Of course, there are people living overseas who aren’t beholden to a boss or devoted to a desk. A whole tribe of students live overseas, studying away from their home country alongside others of all nationalities.A growing number of students are choosing to pack up their books and grab a seat in classrooms around the world. A British Council survey from last year shows that 30% of students aged 16 to 30 were interested in studying overseas.
Whether striking out on their own as adventurous young adults or following parents abroad, thousands of expat kids are finding themselves in schools and universities that are very different from their lessons at home.
For many this can be a daunting prospect, not only leaving friends and familiarity, but being thrust headlong into a totally alien educational system as well as being the new kid in class. But this experience doesn’t need to be a nightmare scenario.
Studying overseas can be a great way to learn core subjects and a new language, and to experience an entirely different culture that is off-limits to friends back home.
In addition to scoffing exotic foods and exploring foreign landscapes, the classroom can offer a range of exciting opportunities. Many schools and universities around the world offer up subjects, qualifications and a campus lifestyle that just aren’t available at home.
Only in America can students feel the electric buzz of high school football, perfect their kanji in Japan, get a taste for wine and philosophy studying at Paris’ Sorbonne or take a walk through the history books at York.
There are a whole host of reasons for expats teens to get excited about studying and schooling overseas; we’ve listed just ten of them below.
Getting a global perspective
For a lot of students their world begins and ends with social structures and the desire to be one of the ‘cool kids’. Apart from being a distraction from academic achievement, this stressful learning environment is rarely remembered fondly by as we grow older.
Learning overseas is a sure fire way to expand young horizons and give a little perspective on the world. Even for adults, the first encounter with a new culture can be an overwhelming shock that gives way to curiosity and exploration.
The teenage years are a perfect time to live abroad in a supportive environment. Youngsters are a quick to adapt to and then adopt a culture, becoming equally comfortable with their native and adopted worlds.
This process is an incredible way to keep an open mind and realise that the world is a rich and varied place, to be enjoyed and explored rather than afraid of.
As well as exploring a new culture, expat children get to know themselves.
Facing the challenges of living and studying abroad means students of all levels are forced to problem solve and conquer challenges. In doing so, they need to consider the beliefs they hold dear.
In days gone by, this phenomenon would be described as ‘character building’. Students will learn to appreciate the small luxuries in life and be brought closer to their families.
Overcoming even small adversities and knowing what you value is the quickest way to a confident and mature level of independence.
You’re never too young to start polishing your CV, and even as a teenager you can be supercharging your resume with experience.
Studying abroad is rare at all levels, in all countries. Only 4% of students from the USA have studied abroad, yet employers all over the world are looking for staff with international experience.
The business world is becoming more and more globalised, meaning bosses want staff who can appreciate working with other cultures. Whilst the school years don’t tend to involve masterminding million-dollar trade deals, demonstrating you can get by in another country, overcome language barriers and conquer challenges are useful life skills.
These valuable skills also translate across cultures, so even studying in France can demonstrate to future employers the ability to adapt to working in China or Chile.
Of course, an overseas student can rely on having twice the contacts when it comes to job hunting. Not only can you call on friends from home for references and tip-offs on top jobs, but you’ll have a similar network in an entirely different country.
The career boost given to expat students is recognised by Professor Rebecca Hughes, director of education at the British Council. “The UK needs graduates who have the skills and confidence to compete globally, and can compete against foreign talent that may speak more languages and have wider international experience”.
Greater funding opportunities
University study can be expensive. In many countries there are capped fees for domestic students, but a much higher limit or none at all for overseas students. Consequently expat scholars can find themselves staring down the barrel of giant debts on graduation.
Luckily there is a rapidly growing list of scholarships, bursaries and tuition funds available. It takes a considerable amount of research to find out exactly what you may be eligible for, but universities, charities and government groups are offering pots of money to support foreign students. Contacting university admissions offices will be a good first step to finding funding.
Even expensive private schools will offer cash to support students that fit certain criteria. Much like in universities around the world, high performing academics or sportspeople can find themselves offered a place at exclusive schools.
International funds also exist to promote science, technology, engineering and maths. Picking a course in these specialities will boost the number of scholarships available.
Many expat youngsters worry about not making friends in their new schools. But for many the opposite is true: being the new, foreign kid makes for instant popularity.
Friendships made overseas often become life-long, whether that be with local people or with fellow expats. Obviously, not everyone will become an instant best buddy, but when you find something to bond over that crosses cultural boundaries, the experience is all the more meaningful.
It may be difficult to keep in contact with each other over the years, but in an age of instant messaging and social networks it’s never been easier to keep friendships alive across international boundaries.
Having a global network of friends is not only rewarding in itself, it gives you one foot in the country should you decide to return in later years and potential business contacts to help you get a running start when you do go back.
The best way to learn a language is to be immersed in it.
Even if the school you’re attending conducts lessons in your mother tongue, the rest of your daily life is likely to take place in the local lingo. Getting the bus, going shopping, playing sports and watching TV will all become full-on language lessons.
Learning another language is a rewarding experience as well as a lucrative skill. Over 50% of employers are a disappointed by British graduates’ language skills, according to the Confederation of British Industry, and nearly half are also unhappy with their cultural awareness.
Living, working and studying abroad, either at school or university, gives expat students a leg up over those who stayed at home. Even those with comparable language abilities won’t have the benefit of cultural context and a full vocabulary of slang.
Some of the best schools in the world are for expat kids
International schools are fee-paying independent schools that offer a high standard of education to expat children overseas. You can sit GCSEs in Dubai or take A-Levels in Hong Kong, as though studying in your home country.
Unlike many state schools, international schools offer a high rate of pay to teachers and keep class sizes small. Consequently students at these schools get more one-on-one tuition and more support where needed. These schools aim to give students a taste of various international cultures whilst also preserving and celebrating their own heritage.
It’s estimated that 3.5 million students study in English-speaking international schools, though many of these are local kids looking to gain international qualifications.
The number of schools is growing around the world, with big expansions in China, the Middle East and Brazil.
Internationally recognised qualifications
The International Baccalaureate (IB) is one certificate that carries students through to 19 years old, with comprehensive study in science, maths, design, art and languages. The scheme isn’t just a tick box list of topics that students must study; the teaching methods are aimed to develop their analytical reasoning and encourage creativity.
Baccalaureate courses are known to be demanding, but are all the more respected for it. Anyone with an IB on their CV will impress university boards and employers worldwide.
Studying an IB course isn’t just about getting the qualification at the end. The skills taught are widely regarded as boosting students’ confidence and study skills for future life.
Affordable post-grad study
School and university study is one thing, but a number of scholars will want to continue their educational journeys. This can be expensive, as Master’s and PhD programmes are charged at a higher rate than undergraduate study.
British students face fees of £9,000 a year for their first degree with international students facing much higher costs. With a bundle of debt already weighing them down, many academic hopefuls are put off further study by the prospect of even more charges.
A Guardian survey found that 54% of UK graduates thinking of studying abroad cited cost as a contributing factor. This is leading to a stampede of students from all over the world to Scandinavian schools.
Norway, Sweden and Denmark offer courses free of charge to residents of the European Economic Area, whilst Finland makes courses available to students from anywhere around the world.
Holland too offers discounted studies, with a one year Master’s costing less than USD $1,500. This may explain why Maastricht University that reported applications for Master’s study by UK students nearly doubled between 2013 and 2014.
This increase in interest from overseas students is leading to an increase in the number of post-graduate courses taught in English. Most Dutch and Scandinavian graduates are already fluent in English so the switch is little imposition to them.
These fees might seem like a bargain, but it should be remembered that the cost of living in these countries can be significantly higher than in many parts of the world. That said, many students find that higher wages in even the most basic jobs are enough to get by on. Nathaniel Silva-White, studying at University of Helsinki in Finland told The Guardian, “it is expensive here but I’ve got a studio apartment for €495 (£363) a month and I earned enough cleaning on cruise ships in the summer to cover my rent.”
We cover this topic in so many other articles, but it really is the best reason to be an expat, as a student or whist working.
Living overseas is a unique chance to live elsewhere in the world, being able to explore the country like a tourist, yet also understand it like a local. No other experience will open your mind or enrich your outlook on life like time spent as an expat.
Article by Andy Scofield, Expat Focus International Features Writer