A recent study published by The New York Times revealed that the number of students studying abroad is rising quickly across the planet. In some nations, however, those rates are rising much quicker than in others. The reasons behind the disparate rate increases remain somewhat murky.
In China, 26 percent of students study abroad at some point, while only 10 percent of American students do. Seattle University aggressively promotes studying abroad and hosts a relatively large number of foreign students, so The Spectator was able to go straight to the students themselves to get to the bottom of it.
Yin “Calvin” Hong Chan was born in Hong Kong. He came here in 2010 for college and will be graduating next spring with a strategic communications degree.
All of Chan’s education began in China so he has experienced an intense change in the nature of his classes.
“Education is [very] different, much less diversity. There are only nine universities in Hong Kong so it’s very competitive,” he said.
Chan emphasized the intense pressures for each student to get an economics or finance degree.
“Economics is the major field in Hong Kong,” he said. “Most students don’t study what they want. They study economics or finances because it gets them the best jobs to pay back their families.”
This touches on another main difference Chan noted: family is more of a priority in Hong Kong. However, this is not always a good thing. Family pressure is what forces most of the young students to focus on what they need to study rather than what they want to study, “If your family is wealthy you can study overseas but otherwise you have to find a college in Hong Kong, get a degree, and pay your family back,” Chan said. This outlook is what he feels has created the dramatic increase in students studying abroad. Young students come out of high school with a variety of interests and want an opportunity to explore other fields.
Seattle U has an International Student Center (ISC) to welcome students into a new culture. Ryan Greene, director of the ISC at Seattle U, has played a huge role in developing international student relations. His office currently assists 640 international students from 49 countries.
This number is significantly higher than last year’s international student total of 581. In addition to managing undergraduates, ISC also manages graduate and post-grad students.
Such a center is helpful in easing the transition into an American school system. Chan mentioned that the overall dynamic of schooling is different, which comes back to the basic aspects of each culture.
“People are very nice here. More approachable than in Hong Kong,” he said. “In Hong Kong you would not be able to come up to someone and ask them these types of questions right away. This change helped me learn to be on my own—helped me learn to be more independent.”
This is a type of learning that happens through personal interaction and connection. It can’t be taught in the classroom, said Seattle U senior, Joyce Dvorak. She studied abroad in Granada, Spain last year and realized that the best learning came when she stepped outside of her normal routine.
“When studying abroad, it is important to go in expecting things to be worlds different,” Dvorak said. “For example, while I was in Granada, Spain, my American roommate did not venture out into the city very much. She would go to class, come back and watch TV. I wanted to push myself entirely out of my comfort zone so I took extra dancing classes at Granada University, I tried to make as many Spanish-speaking friends as I could just to get as full of an experience as possible.”
Chan argued that an interest in these cultural differences play a role in the increasing number of Chinese students studying abroad. Additionally, Chan added, Chinese students are traditionally funneled toward a small pathway of career options and there are simply too many young people seeking an education for the nine Chinese universities to support. This quickly leads to rising studying abroad numbers worldwide.
More is being done through universities to help these students succeed and excel wherever they end up. At Seattle U, international students are encouraged to pursue Optional Practical Training (OPT) after graduation. OPT is a program that helps international students adapt to the United States’ work force model.
It begins with a 12-month trial period after graduation in which the student will work for a firm or corporation in their specific field. After these 12 months, the graduate can then apply for a visa and, upon completing OPT, are usually given the full support of whatever company they work for. Greene also discussed that the most probable reason for the higher number of international students studying abroad relates directly to the higher number of international students being accepted at community colleges around the Pacific Northwest.
In fact, six local community colleges are in the top 50 of international student attendants with the numbers increasing every year. It seems that the U.S. higher education system is still one of the top globally and that is being recognized by the rest of the world. Studying abroad has been helpful for domestic students as well as international students.
Education abroad specialist Mary Beth Faulkner commented that study abroad is one of the most inclusive ways to prepare for the working world.
“It teaches students to demonstrate holistic development and intercultural skills,” she said. “It provides students an opportunity to see the bigger picture and do some self reflection”.
Pushing students out of their cultural comfort zones is essential for real world training because in a business world you will rarely be working with all American, English speaking, associates. Teaching students about other cultures in a classroom setting is not nearly as effective because it gives them no frame of reference. Study abroad gives them a firsthand experience.