The Politics of Studying Abroad

The last article in this series was dedicated to the student experience when experienced abroad. Their time is shown to be as enlightening as it is daunting, it ain’t easy.

Tina Quick, a specialist in third culture therapy has been quoted saying: ‘the same sad, familiar story over and over again: I don’t fit in here, I don’t belong, I can’t connect with anyone.’

I don’t think our findings exactly matched that of Quick’s, anecdotes have shown students are as likely to immerse and get involved as they are to disconnect. Maybe these aren’t mutually exclusive events – you can be an outsider in the thick of it, both engaged and confused simultaneously.

Without diving too deep into these psychological waters I wanted to move on through this article and look at the politics of studying abroad, politics that have become significant – an ICEF Monitor piece recorded that ‘the movement of students between countries is now a mass movement.’

The experience of international students is fascinating in their own words describing emotional and cultural engagement but what governments’ make of them is telling from a political and economic perspective. Governments worldwide have assumed different positions and policies regarding the flow of international students from America’s laissez-faire, if-you’ve-got-the-money haul to Britain’s austerity, paranoid of growing immigrant populations. Social and economic utilisation of international students varies in the East and West and also amongst western society, China is a mass exporter whilst America and Canada usher in each Autumn.


Universities Affairs estimated that 240,000 international students were based in Canada in 2011 and, in recent times, some nations have acknowledged the benefit of an accepting policy, ‘international students have become an increasingly integral part of Canada’s immigration policy’. Perhaps a rather Machiavellian tactic, Canada see international students as a ‘try before you buy’ immigration scenario and Dr. Bauder (Ryerson University Centre for Immigration and Settlement) concurs, ‘they [foreign students] are ready to cater the labour market and start paying taxes.’ It does make sense, universities can provide a launchpad for social assimilation and cultural interaction, international students can learn a new world before working in it and paying for it.

As Canadians welcome in, Turkey encourages externalisation of study, The Daily Sabah reporting an €800m fund pledge to Erasmus programme and a push for 500,000 more Turkish students studying abroad in the next five years.

The Daily Beacon speaks of emigrated Chinese students. The student newspaper of the University of Tennessee reports that these students are consciously aware of the western business nouse they can take home. Nations that promote the emigration of students subscribe to the idea a western education is a better one, the reputation of Harvard has shaped the education of the Chinese middle class and it can be assumed Turkey’s commitment to Erasmus+ is an overt commitment to Europe too.


The UK, however, has taken a reproachable stance towards the growth of international students. Theresa May, the longest-serving Home Secretary in fifty years, and one more known for cracking down (as opposed to Roy Jenkins’ opening up) has warned of an impending tightening measures surrounding international students.

There are 450,000 students in the UK and May would not advocate a prolonging of their stay, counter to Canada who seems to have adroitly found use for them. May isn’t thought to be publically supported. The Independent reports of a Universities UK survey that 75% of the British public believe that international students should be allowed to stay beyond graduation.  Seems logical to plug the talent drain the UK could become, if you ask me.

A solution purported by International Students representative Jose Joaquin Diaz De Aguilar Puiggari, let’s call him ‘Joe’, is to exclude students from migration figures, excluding them from immigration discourse and assimilating them further with the student too.

In spite of this, The Guardian reports that international students are choosing London, between 2011 and 2012 103,000 international students took residence in London, accounting for 26% of London’s student population. Will May continue to persecute in light of this?

China’s love affair with the Ivy League

From 2012 to 2013, 800,000 Chinese students went abroad – a record number.

The pressure to gain a quality, international standard education in China has compounded an infrastructure that has children training for university from primary school age. The lengths students go to secure an Ivy League degree is staggering, in 2014 the university preparation industry was valued at $550m and books, such as Harvard Girl, offering a guide for prospective students and parents have become bestsellers.

Open Door in 2014 reported of 274,000 Chinese students in the UK and Chinese overseas accounted for 31% international students in the USA. Australia are also cashing in on the Chinese coffer, eight in ten international students being Chinese. Chinese families and students plan from the beginning of high school with pupils taking four hours every other day and a whole Saturday to gain the perceived edge on other students worldwide. Western Education is adjudged to be more appealing – insights into western way of living and the utility of insights into western business models and working customs.

This means that China provides the most foreign students to the Western world. The well documented rise of the Chinese middle class have outgrown the Chinese education system and are willing to pay $30,000 per year for university in America. The Hurun Report’s findings state that four out of five of China’s wealthiest want to send their children abroad to study.

Studying abroad is not just a way of gaining a premium education – also, a way for Chinese and American students to understand globalised business, international practices and development. Due to this international study can be a boon for the individual’s job prospects.

Whilst Americans may be questioning the value of a degree, more and more Chinese students and families are putting an ever-increasing faith in the credentials of a US-stamp of higher education approval. This may be because they have an active economy to apply it to, China, to my knowledge, isn’t struck with the same liberal postmodern malaise that haunts arts and humanities faculties throughout the US and UK. Chinese students have a means for direct application of degrees in growing industries.

This influx doesn’t go unfelt – external students are creating internal competition for places. When students prepare this much it must raise the standard elsewhere and, perhaps a more cynical view of mine, students willing to pay greater fees will always be held in higher esteem by higher education institutions.

The politics of studying abroad

The experiences of studying abroad are just as varied as the policies that encourage or discourage it. Each nation, or rather government, using policy to to fit its own desires – Canada looking to gain high-skilled immigrants while the UK looks to curb immigration, counting international students as part of that figure.
Interesting to infer is the political motives for encouraging youthful populations to venture out and study abroad – to gain a working understanding of western business models or to develop international relations, as in the case of Turkey integrating with the rest of Europe. Providing higher education and the students capable of it is a marker of developed society, perhaps it is this that encourages the movement of students east to west.

William Purbrick

Expatria Monthly: 16 May – 14 June 2015

Luke 15:21-24 – The Parable of the Lost Son

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.

Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.

For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

I know I haven’t been around for a while but I assure you on my prodigal travels I have squandered great wealth in exchange for a great wealth of expatriate knowledge.

I am now returned, like the prodigal son, here to dispense it in digestable monthly chunks.

Downsizing of Jet Airways cost more expat pilots work

The Hindu and the Times of India report of Jet Airways ‘cost-cuttng measures’ that has led to the premature contract termination of 50 expat pilots.

The trend for rationalisation proves global as even high-growth India feels the need to severe ties with high earning expat professionals.

Jet are reportedly looking to move away from costly long haul flights to the budget and redeye flights that have sustained European and American airlines.

The Hindu:

The Times of India:

Greenback Expat Tax Services decrees ‘new survey finds US expat voting, could impact 2016 Presidential Election’

New findings state that almost two-thirds of American expats vote in presidential elections stirred to action as the majority believe they are not well-represented in U.S. government.

Of the 7.6m Americans abroad FATCA and tax concerns provide the chorus to the expat rallying cry. Many feel that apathetic towards native politics, neutralised by their foreign setting, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not.

This is often an ‘all-smoke-and-no-fire’ situation. UK expats barely vote although commentators tried predicting them being the inertia for the election’s swing – it didn’t. However, US expats have to pay homeward bound tax and I imagine this fills a great deal of ballot papers.

Local vs. International schools in China

The ever-informed writers and bloggers of the Wall Street Journal’s Expat corner have illuminated the state of education for expats in Shanghai.

Rashmi Dalai talks of the now permeable barriers between Eastern and Western students in local and international schools.

Dalai makes conversation with Brian Horvath, of the Hongqiao International School, who sings the positivity of this new trend, the blurring of eastern and western education philosophies:

‘The Chinese governement is allowing the expats to help build and nurture the education system.’

‘Speaking in generalities, what you’re seeing is in places like art, Asian kids tend to focus on the technical skills while Western kids tend to focus on self-expression. Now they’re working together…Everybody is learning from each other.’

WSJ Expat:

Australian Tech industry no longer on walkabout

Australian Press have highlighted that the Tech platform of Australia and its global interconnectivity means less Australians are needing to expatriate to prosper in the American start-up market.

Brett Adam of Zendesk was spoke of the growing competivity of the Australian market which was once likened to ‘tumbleweeds blowing through an empty ghost town.’

And now the Australian Financial Review is suggesting that the offer of Premium Visas, that have already lured Chinese expats, will entice high-earning Americans to the lifestyle superpower’s shores.


The Age:

International Students in their own words

This wouldn’t be online content if it did not start with reference to a ‘Top Ten’ list.
The New School Free Press constructed ten steps to studying abroad – all valid tips based on one a shred of common sense, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail.’
A simple rule but necessarily reinforced. Isolation is common among international students, brought about by a lack of communication or even the means to communicate, preventing international students from feeling at ‘home’ abroad.
But therein lies the catch. you aren’t at home. You’ve entered abstraction, purposefully, estranging yourself, by choice, or perhaps not your choice.


Is studying abroad an experience, a means in itself, or for the purpose of future employment, a means to an end?

West and East answers can vary. Chinese and Indian students commonly use international study as a way to receive a premium education as well as versing themselves in globalised culture. Whereas, we associate European and American students with the ‘gap year’ phenomenon; ‘voluntourists’ looking for cultural diversification and enrichment.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, so I’ve heard, I mean I’ve never tried or even youtubed it but my point is international students like all expatriates embark on their own journey. So, I thought instead of compiling a generic and didactic ten-stepper, I’d ask three international students from the UK to explain themselves!


James Fernandez in Japan. Manchester University undergraduate James talks of the great opportunities studying abroad can offer – learning a new language and embracing a new culture.
‘For one year, I was studying at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, which is a language university just west of Tokyo. I liked that my university was Foreign Studies focused, which meant that the Japanese students there were all studying a foreign language so they were always interested in meeting new foreigners like myself.

If I’m to be honest, before I left for Japan, my Japanese language skills were still not that great, probably only enough for daily conversation. But whilst I was actually living in Japan, I was in such a stimulating and rewarding environment to learn and speak the language that my language skills improved a lot. I was so motivated studying Japanese in Japan as opposed to a classroom in Manchester as the more I could speak the language, the more enjoyable it was to meet people and get around the city. Not only did I work hard in improving my Japanese, but I also took advantage of every opportunity that I could. Aside from studying, I was also able to work in a small cafe by Shibuya Crossing. For those of you who have not been to Japan, Shibuya Crossing is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. It is an amazing sight, seeing thousands of people swarming across the road with the neon lights and screens towering over. At this cafe, I worked as a waiter and spoke only Japanese. Because none of the staff or customers spoke any english, at first when I started it was really difficult to make myself understood. Having not worked in a restaurant or the catering industry before, everything was new to me. I had to learn all basic catering skills; taking orders, carrying plates, how to make cocktails, coffees and desserts…but, all in Japanese.

Now, if you’re familiar with the Japanese language, I also had to accustom myself to a more formal and new way of speaking which is only used towards people you respect, such as customers. Once I got to grips with this, my language started improving and the job was so fun. Because I was a foreigner working there, a lot of customers and even my colleagues were really interested in England and would often take me out drinking, which usually ended up being 6-hour, all-you-can-drink, karaoke sessions.’


Tabitha Taylor in Budapest. Tab studies at the Central European University and I asked her, ‘What is it like being an international student?’
In short, it’s weird. That’s a word I use for pretty much everything though, a thing I noticed when I began to be surrounded by non-native English speakers and Americans. They make fun of my accent ‘cos I sound like I’m “in a movie” or something. But I quite like it since they all tell me I have beautiful English and they wished their accent was like mine. Except the Americans who never cease to be amazed at my pronunciation of words like ‘body’, ‘beer’ and ‘philosophy’ (think about it). That last one happens to be one I say quite often given that that’s what I study. ‘Why did you come to Budapest to study philosophy?’ they ask me. Well, why not? It’s an adventure! Philosophy isn’t really in the world, at least not the sort I do, so it doesn’t matter where you study it really. Plus, what better way is there to live in a foreign place? You immediately slot in, you feel you have a purpose and university makes it very easy to live.

But then, I don’t really live in Budapest do I? I live at the university, in the university bubble, speaking English to everyone and telling people I really live in London at my parents’ house. One has to make an effort to penetrate the local scene, especially in a place like Budapest, which is filled with international students, tourists and worst of all stag dos and hen parties (don’t want to get lumped in with them). And when you don’t speak the language it’s particularly tricky. But you find your feet and you learn how to act like a local and say the right things to people in shops and bars and look sufficiently grumpy and like you’ve seen it all before. And then that magical moment comes when a tourist asks you for directions! Not only have they asked you, but you know exactly where to tell them and you recommend ‘the bakery on the way where you must try the pogácsa, it’s the best in Budapest’. And for a little while you feel at home…

Until the bar staff take one look at you and ask, “what can I get you?”


Amy Lees lived in Italy during her time completing a Modern Languages degree at the University of Bristol:
Of course I discovered all of the stereotypes are true. Yes, the bureaucracy in Italy is horrendously frustrating and no, there is absolutely no queuing etiquette whatsoever. Zebra crossings may as well not exist and there is no chance of getting to a shop on a Sunday. 80% of conversation revolves around food and the other 20% football. At the school I taught in, the teachers would smoke in the stairwells despite new laws forbidding it… because the kids were doing it so why shouldn’t they? Flawless logic. I also got to see the darker side to Italy; the consequences of an aging population, tension between natives and immigrants, a lack of jobs and an unstable economy. During weak moments I wished I could just pop into the pub for a consolatory pint, or at least get my hands on some Yorkshire Tea teabags. Not very Italian, though. Living as a local was crucial for me, and it fed my fascination for my town’s little quirks, its dialect, its traditions and its history.

But Italy is not a place you get used to quickly. Every cappuccino I drank was as astoundingly sublime as the first and the weight of Italy’s history was tangible, no matter how many times I’d wandered through the same streets and the fresh, green countryside and imposing architecture still mind-blowingly beautiful and, beyond this, the people who surprised me constantly with their endless supply of warmth, enthusiasm and affection.

Experiences felt abroad are diverse, so is the politics and policy that comes with it. Our next article will look at the contrasting perspectives nations take on sending out and welcoming in international students, from British austerity to Canadian pragmatism.
The Expat Survey wishes to invite international students to contribute to our research programme, whether you are conscious of it, you are expats or immigrants too and your insights prove invaluable.

William Purbrick

Sources: New School Free Press, The Guardian.