Sunday, August 24, 2008

A guideline to getting an education overseas

Learn abroad

A guideline to getting an education overseas


Making the right choice to shape your career path is never easy. Most of us get nervous when at the age of 18 or 19, we are asked what we want to do in the future.

A major decision for many is whether to continue our studies in Thailand or abroad.

Despite a variety of educational options available in the Kingdom, the influx of Thai students to foreign universities and colleges is on the rise although there is a minor change in trend.

Why so? The reasons propelling students to study overseas varies from each person's requirements, some are looking for a better quality of education, while other are looking for some kind of experience, whereby they would have a more global exposure and practice their English skills. For others it is a chance to finally break free from the clutches of parents, but to most of us it a way of adding value to our curriculum vitae.

Whatever the reasons maybe, decision makers have to be aware of that overseas education has its cost.

The changing trend

Wipa Pinyochotiwong, managing director at overseas education consulting service EdNet Co Ltd, says that the US, UK and Australia are no longer first choices, with many Thais flying all over the world for a higher education.

"More adventurous Thai students are looking for new destinations like Canada, New Zealand, Germany, France, Italy, India, Singapore, China, Korea and Japan. Native English-speaking countries are no longer the only option," says Wipa.

Classifications of students

There are three major groups of students who normally seek consultancy for overseas education.

- University graduates who are going for a language course.

- Students who aim for a college study or undergraduate programmes.

- Those aiming for graduate degrees.

The groups going for a language course are usually grown-up students who never have an overseas experience. If not well-prepared, they are likely to have problems adjusting themselves to the new culture and environment.

In many cases, parents are playing key roles in planning education for their children, particularly when they are too young to earn for themselves.

Things to consider before going abroad

- Think carefully about the purpose of study

If you plan to send your children overseas, think carefully what exactly it is for. Don't just send them away from home and expect overseas education to solve the problems you can't handle. For example, your children have behavioural problems and they are about to be dismissed from school or you want to separate them from their boyfriends or girlfriends.

"Parents should know what your children are like. If they are trouble-makers, there may be a chance they will come back with positive changes, but you have to beware of the risk that things may turn worse," says Wipa.

One thing is that: Do not force the children to go, as it won't promise a positive result.

Sending very small children to study overseas is also not recommendable. According to Wipa, the children may be smart and have perfect English skill, but they will lose Thai identity and cannot connect to the traditional culture.

- Choose the universities that match your children's capabilities

Find as much information about the universities as you can, but don't forget to evaluate your children's potential. The best universities are not always suitable for all.

First, look at your children's abilities. See what they are good at, then look for the matching universities. Look up for as many choices of schools and consider both the good and bad points before making decision.

- Always think of a career goal when choosing a field of study for your child

Don't just look at the near future, but think of a prospective career in four to five years ahead. Instead of following a trend in business studies, you may look into other fields such as communication technology, bioscience, art and design, or vocational areas like cooking which are going on the boom.

However, make sure you are not forcing your children into what they don't like.

- Make sure your child is mature enough for independent overseas living

If your child is spoiled, overprotected and never does anything on his or her own, rushing them to overseas education may not be a good idea.

If overseas education is truly your goal, it's better to get them better prepared. "You may simply start from your home. If you have a maid doing everything for your family, ask her to stop and have your child do his or her own business, like washing, ironing clothes, and cooking. Stop driving them anywhere and let them get used to public transports. That's the way of life they're going to live when going overseas," Wipa suggests.

- Prepare your children for the unfamiliar culture

Studying overseas means your children have years to spend in places of diversified culture. Before leaving home, you need to equip them with proper knowledge and attitude about the places they are going.

"Issues like environmental concerns have become a culture in most developed countries and Thai students should beware of that," she adds.

She cites a case in Australia when a Thai student faced a charge after watering the lawn of the host family. She was accused of wasting water.

Some community, meanwhile has the so-called "one-song-shower" rule warning its member to not spend too much time in a shower.

Discrimination and racist attitudes are also what should be avoided. "In international education, you'll meet people of different races and cultures, Eastern or Western, black or white. So find as much information about the communities you are going for and be prepared for such diversity," she notes.

- Do not have over-expectations about the host family

Most parents expect their children to be perfectly tended by the host family. But Wipa says they should stick to reality as the situation is changing. The world is facing a declining economy and more host families are doing it for financial purposes rather than for cultural exchanges.

"What your kids will be facing is not that bad, as most families still make it to the standard, but you can't expect any special treatments from them. Some families comprise only husband and wife who are working professionals, so you can't expect any of them to always stay home to watch over your child."

- Beware of the transitional period

Parents should note that anyone going to unfamiliar places will experience the so-called U-shape period. Before going, they may be excited, imagining of beautiful things, but after facing reality - the unfamiliar environment, lifestyle, language and people, those things will get them down.

"In the first one to two months, if your children call back home, crying that they can't stand it anymore, just stay calm. That normally happens to everyone. In the third or fourth months, they will start to adjust to it," she says.

What parents should do during that period is listen to them, let them ease off their emotion, and always keep in touch, through the phone calls or emails, so they won't feel lonely.

- Overseas education does not always mean flawless spoken and written English

Most students going overseas, particularly those taking language courses usually pin their hopes on teachers and schools, expecting they'll come back with perfect English. That's not always true.

"Language is a skill that you need to practice. Just taking international courses doesn't mean your English will be perfect. Remember that 60 per cent of the success depends on yourself," Wipa says.

- Plan your budget at least for one level of education

Planning the budget depends on your finance. You may make a long-term plan for the entire study, or short term for certain education level.

Estimated budget for educational fees, excluding expenses:

US: 1 to 1.5 million baht per year

UK: 800,000 to 1.2 million baht a year

Australia: 800,000 - 1.2 million baht a year

- Do not give too much pocket money

Get to know your children's spending habit. Don't give them too much money. If their money were spent out too fast, don't rush to pay them more. Giving the children credit cards is also not recommendable. It's better to give them enough cash to spend.

- For new graduates, do not rush into postgraduate studies

If you have just finished a bachelor's degree, do not rush into a master's programme immediately. Have work experience at least two to three years before furthering your education. You'll learn what you really like to do.

- Prepare for your language skills

As English is a major language in overseas education, you need to evaluate your own strength. If your English is not so good, take more time in a language course before going.

- Note that overseas education does not always spell success

Studying overseas does not mean that your assured of a successful career.

Of course, it has certain benefits, such as giving international exposure, broadening your horizon, improving your English skills, adding value to your CV and more opportunities in the job market. You'll also acquire skills you might not learn in an domestic environment.

However, despite all the benefits, remember that success still depends on an individual.

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