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Preparing to Study Overseas

Once the decision is made to educate your child overseas, the student and the parents need to study and understand the demands of studying overseas. There are many factors to be considered and preparations to be made accordingly. One should not approach this matter with any illusions of having found a panacea to all present and future problems. There is no argument that anyone who gets the opportunity to pursue their higher or further education in a first world country is among the fortunate few. However, to reap the benefits of this opportunity any potential student needs the ability to successfully manage the circumstances that prevail in their chosen destination of study. While we hear of many success stories surrounding education gained overseas, we seldom hear of failures. The reality is that there are as many failures as there are successes. If this was not the case, it would not be this difficult to get a visa to study overseas. The failures result mainly from being under prepared to face challenges of the new environment. But for a well prepared student this is a great experience that can also be a lot of fun. However, preparations should start well in advance, at least a year before the proposed day of departure. The sooner the preparations start, the greater the chances of a successful visa application.

Language

The first and most basic preparation is to achieve a satisfactory level of proficiency in the English Language. Many students have mentally conditioned themselves that they will never be able to achieve the required level of English as specified by the education institutes or the immigration authorities in different countries. It appears that the goal is to get to a well developed country and it is believed that things will fall in to place even without English. Instead of doing the right thing, students tend to circumvent this problem and resort to unacceptable practices. This is a self defeating exercise. If the student is thinking of living and studying in an English speaking country, a good command of the language is a prerequisite for success. English is used as a reference, since most students go to study in English speaking countries. New education providers like China, India, Malaysia and Russia, deliver courses in English, although the spoken language in the country could be something that is entirely different. Depending on the course, the language spoken by the people in the country may not be an essential requirement to complete their studies successfully. However, some knowledge of the local language can be a very handy tool to work your way through daily activities outside the classroom.

In most cases English is the link language. A basic knowledge of English may help to get by when it comes to passing examinations. We have seen this happening in Sri Lanka. In certain professions, after reading for the complete degree in English, some people still find it difficult to communicate in English. If one wants only to pass an examination, most exams can be completed in Sri Lanka. To make the most of the opportunity presented by studying overseas, a conscientious effort needs to be exerted to improve language skills. One of the rich treasures of this foreign education experience is the opportunity to meet people from different parts of the globe. To make friends and build networks, good communication skills are an essential ingredient.

Learning to think in English makes the response time much quicker. Sometimes the students have knowledge but the foreign accent becomes a barrier to communicating effectively. While reading and writing helps to set the thinking in English process on course, listening to English songs and news commentary, for example, gets the ear tuned to the foreign accent.

If the student waits till he/she gets to the final destination to set these wheels in motion, then the journey becomes a lot more arduous and takes longer to feel comfortable in the new environment. On the other hand, for a student who comes prepared, sliding into place and settling down becomes a lot smoother.

Meeting Visa Criteria and Local Conditions

In making a final decision as to ”where I want to study” or “where I want my child to study”, it is important to get a thorough understanding of both visa criteria and prevailing conditions in the host country.

Visa requirements vary considerably from country to country. There are a number of different criteria that need to be satisfied by any prospective student visa applicant. In some countries the minimum education criteria to be eligible to study at different levels is specified by the immigration authorities of that country. Minimum English Language requirements may also be specified. However, what is usually the barrier is meeting the financial criteria.

Unfortunately, in trying to come up with formulae to identify children who could afford to study overseas and have the ability to perform well, the wrong indicators have been taken as factors. As a result some very genuine students with intelligence and financial ability may be left out. So before choosing the country in which to pursue higher education, it is important to study and understand visa requirements of different countries. Sometimes there are very subtle differences in the requirements which only a trained person or a person with a very sharp discerning ability can interpret correctly. Many a parent may be under the impression that since they have the financial means and their child is a good student they can send their child to any country they choose for his / her education. This may not be the case. The wealth accumulated needs to meet criteria specified and qualifications gained need to match the specified qualifications.

The visa requirements and facilities offered in the host country can vary according to the level of the course being undertaken and/ or the institute chosen. An early effort to gain a thorough understanding of these conditions can help avoid a lot of heartache and disappointment at a later stage.

Sometimes the visa conditions published by the government of the host country can be different to the conditions imposed by the local mission. Certain requirements imposed by the local mission may not be published anywhere. Therefore, before applying for a student visa it is important to ensure that no fresh conditions are stipulated by the local mission. Visa application fees are high and they are not returned when a visa is rejected. Also, much valuable time is wasted, waiting for a visa only to have it rejected.

Making Decisions and Accepting Responsibilitys

In most Asian cultures children are brought up in a protected environment, where decisions are made by parents and children are expected to go along with the parents’ decisions. Usually responsibility is shared. In the west and in developed countries, children are encouraged to make decisions and accept responsibility for their decisions at a very early age. A person brought up in this environment is more accustomed to handle the ensuing freedom and managing their own affairs. For a person brought up in a more protected environment, having to suddenly cope with this more liberal environment is like throwing someone who is not used to swimming, in at the deep end.

For most children leaving home to go overseas to study, it would be the first time that they will be enjoying an unrestricted freedom and given the burden of managing large sums of money. These circumstances demand that the student accepts responsibility for his / her actions. This involves revisiting the value systems that your child was brought up with and affirming to himself / herself that this system is acceptable and feeling convinced that he / she should remain within the bounds of this system. Unless the student has a conviction to be bound by his / her value system, it will be very confusing and stressful to remain focused on the task at hand in such an environment.

The parents of any potential student have to act rationally and ensure that the student has the right temperament to stand up to the demands of this new environment. At times parents think that sending a child who is behaving in an irresponsible manner would encourage more responsible behaviour when he / she goes overseas. This can happen and has happened. The rationale behind this change in behaviour is that they would for the first time in their lives, come to understand what reality is. This type of action has an inbuilt very high risk element that could derail the whole process and is not recommended. The more correct approach is to discuss the whole issue and throw a challenge that the student demonstrate a more rational and responsible behaviour before pushing him or her in at the deep end. Similarly a very sensible and rational child can crack under extreme pressure. Again the parents have a responsibility to ensure that the student can handle very different types of pressure in varying degrees. It is essential to ensure that lines of communication are established and a student will discuss any serious problem before it gets out of hand.

While what has been described is not necessarily a course of action taken by every parent and/or potential student thinking of going overseas to study, this is a process of paying due diligence before taking action. At least the parents and students should be aware of the potential risks and be prepared with a remedial plan if things go drastically wrong in the future. Otherwise if something goes wrong it will be a case of having to take knee jerk actions that will have a ripple effect leading to further problems.

Being Independent and Assertive

On the other hand, being brought up in a milieu where parents believe that they have a responsibility to take care of all the needs of their children until they leave home, children tend to get pampered. Such an upbringing, while it is provided with the best of intentions, makes the children highly dependent on their parents even to manage their day to day affairs. Every student wishing to pursue their studies overseas needs to understand that parents or domestic staff will not be there to do the washing, cleaning and cooking. The student also needs to understand that he/ she may be required to do a part time job to supplement the funding received from their parents. If doing such chores is going to be a new experience, having to cope with this additional work load and maintain focus on studies is going to be difficult. At least some effort needs to be made before leaving for overseas to get involved and used to such activities.

Learning to cook a basic meal would be a useful skill to be gained by any student thinking of pursuing studies overseas. For one thing eating out is costly. But a more serious issue is the health implications of eating out every day. The long term effect of eating fast food regularly is well documented. Under these circumstances it is highly recommended that any student wishing to study overseas makes a conscious effort to avoid eating fast food regularly and acquire at least some basic culinary skills.

Pursuing further or higher education and living away from home in a new country, will be a new beginning and a new experience. To succeed and make the most of this new opportunity, one needs to be prepared and have certain skills as explained above. In addition, interpersonal skills and behaviour may need to be adjusted to suit the new environment. In the home environment many children enjoy a lot of privacy in terms of having their own room. For the first time in their lives they may be required to share a room. This can be a new experience and a student needs to learn to be accommodating as well as being assertive. The same applies to living in the student community. It will be useful to discuss this aspect with elders and get some advice before landing in a new country and having to make adjustments on the spot.

Working Part Time

For most students studying overseas and having to work part time to supplement the parent or sponsor’s contribution is a fact of life. The sad fact is that most students are underprepared to meet this challenge. As a result the only types of jobs where most students can be employed are the low paying unskilled jobs. However, if students pay a little more attention to gaining some skills before leaving they would be more employable. They would be able to secure employment with less of a hassle.

The types of skills in demand are Keyboard skills, Forklift driving, care giving for elderly persons, Bar Tendering and Driving Skills. Usually Keyboarding depends on the speed and is tested before employment. The numerical Keyboard Skills are also in demand. In certain trades a local license may be required and the local license can be obtained following a short course in the host country. However some training at this end would be helpful. One of the key factors to remember is be prepared to do any job and don’t be choosy.

Staying Connected

In the past there were two means of staying connected. One was the proverbial “snail” mail which took ages to reach the destination. The other was the telephone which cost a fortune in those days. The present day children are very lucky in that sense, because staying connected costs next to nothing in the current hi tech environment. While most young children are quite expert with the technology, the parents and grandparents may not be. Getting the parents and other elders trained to use the technology would be quite handy for the child as well as the parent and elderly relatives.

Word of caution; if one thinks of teaching their 80 year old grandparents to send SMS, it would help to remember the old adage “teaching new skills to an old dog” is difficult!!!

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