Studying abroad has its challenges but can be greatly rewarding.
BY ELIZABETH S MALOBA
Studying abroad. It costs more money than it does to study at home, it takes you out of your comfort zone – both physically and mentally, and it comes with challenges related to cross-cultural dynamics which make it inherently tougher. So why would any individual, organisation or country invest scarce resources in it? Studying abroad positively influences the career path, world-view, and self-confidence of individuals. Robert F Stephens documents the African Airlifts (also known as the Mboya airlifts) of the 1950s and 60s in his book “Kenyan Student Airlifts to America 1959 – 1961”; stating that “the experience profoundly altered the lives of these men and women, the development of East African nations, and the perception of America.”
What numbers say
Ninety-seven per cent of the respondents to a survey conducted by the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES Abroad) reported that studying abroad served as a catalyst for increased maturity, 96 per cent reported increased self-confidence, 89 per cent said that it enabled them to tolerate ambiguity, and 95 per cent stated that it has had a lasting impact on their worldview. In addition, 98 per cent of respondents said that studying abroad helped them to better understand their own cultural values and biases.
For organisations, the decision to select candidates who have studied abroad is driven by several factors. Apart from being potentially more mature and emotionally intelligent than their counterparts, these candidates possess other valuable skills like being able to speak another language and ability to communicate effectively with persons who don’t share their culture or context. Spending time abroad teaches them skills like teamwork, global competency, problem-solving, speedy organisation and effective communication, that simply cannot be taught or mastered in the classroom. These candidates also bring a network of professionals around the world that they can draw on from relationships built with people from different locations around the world.
A 2014 study by the Boston College Centre for International Higher Education found that there was an increasing trend among national governments to initiate or expand scholarship programmes that provide citizens with the opportunity to study outside their home country. Governments are investing in such initiatives with the hope of advancing the economy and improving their capacity and potential for innovation – specifically fostering greater expertise in important fields where domestic training is either unavailable or thought to be of less than ‘world-class’ quality. Another reason for this investment is the aspiration that the experiences abroad will contribute to organisational reform and better performance back home. Both the sending and receiving countries benefit from these initiatives: while abroad, scholarship recipients bring income and talent to host institutions; returnees offer their home country institutions improved knowledge and experience, as well as an expanded set of professional contacts that may be of service in developing new partnerships, collaborative projects and other opportunities.
Ready to study abroad?
Once a decision to study abroad has been reached the next choice is determining a destination for study. Beyond personal preferences consideration of factors such as costs of study and costs of living, safety and welfare of the individual are important. It also helps to consider what lifestyle the individual finds attractive – big city or small town, arts and culture or sporting, warm weather or cold? Having selected a destination, one needs to identify a course. This is the time to research universities and colleges in the destination and determine which ones are best for the preferred subject of study. Many destinations require a student visa which can only be applied for after receiving a letter of acceptance from an institution, therefore allocate as much time as possible to this stage.
Another decision that needs to be taken is the duration of study. While this is usually influenced by the program being undertaken, developments in education mean that various alternatives such as modular courses, online based courses, student exchange programs, summer or winter courses are available with periods being spent overseas ranging from 2 weeks to 5 years. The IES study mentioned before found that while longer stays abroad are associated significant academic, cultural development and personal growth benefits; programs lasting at least six weeks can also be enormously successful in producing important academic, inter- and intra-personal, career, and intercultural development outcomes.
The million-dollar question
How do you pay for study abroad? Foreign students will normally not qualify to access student loans to finance their studies. Most individuals undertaking study abroad meet the costs from personal funds – personal savings and family support. Other sources of funds are employers who sponsor employees for specific courses and governments that invest in scholarship initiatives for their citizens or as part of bilateral aid programs. Some institutions offer scholarships, fellowships, studentships, sponsorships, grants and bursaries – normally these are highly competitive and are based on academic merit. One other option that can be considered is funding schemes targeting specific groups of students, such as students from developing countries and women studying male-dominated subjects.
Elizabeth Maloba is an Organisational Development and Business Growth Facilitator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org