It’s been tricky lately to post regularly because I have been doing a part-time masters degree in online marketing and e-commerce while working and trying to run this blog. The good news is I am about to hand in the final thesis and ready to share my experience.
Have you been thinking of studying abroad or gaining additional qualifications in another country? Here are helpful ideas and practical advice how to approach your goal and know what to expect.
Why study abroad?
There are many benefits. You step out of your comfort zone and gain new perspectives on life, your activities and interests. You get to see the world and a taste of slow travel while learning from other cultures and mentalities.
Learning a new language can be challenging at times but opens up a whole new world with a different point of view.
When studying abroad you may experience an equally different approach to education, and develop flexibility to work efficiently in multi cultural teams. You’ll gain better career opportunities, personal development and motivation.
4 ways to study abroad:
- The easiest way is probably to go through a program like Erasmus during a semester or academic year for exchange studies that will often be complementary to your home studies. At least it was for me, since my university didn’t offer exactly the same courses. For many people it will be a fun year with plenty of time to concentrate on learning a new language. Another possible advantage is saving on university fees when entering via an exchange program.
If your university has no partnerships to offer, try third party providers, however fees will be involved.
- Another option is to directly enrol with an overseas university. If in a foreign language, it will be a true challenge to actually take a degree or change country in your final year. Why not go for an additional master full or part time to change career or acquire additional qualifications? – However, in many countries this can be an expensive experience.
- Alternatively you could do a post doc, independent study or field research project.
- And of course there are other options such as a high school year abroad, au pair work, volunteering or even a language class
Tips to prepare for studying abroad:
- Get started with your research up to one year in advance! Check for possible grants, scholarships and funding for exchange programs in your country such as Erasmus / DAAD in Europe.
- Ask your university for partnerships abroad – sometimes this may also be a way to find an internship abroad.
- Check beforehand if your home uni will recognize credits and qualifications you gain at the overseas university. In my case they only added a few subjects to my final certificate and handled my Erasmus year as if I had taken a gap year with additional qualifications. In other words I ended up studying for one year longer but this should have improved since 2001. 😉
- Investigate if you’d need a visa and how to apply for it.
- Do you prefer to study in your native language or are you ready to immerse yourself into studying in a foreign language? And if so, check what language certificates will be needed to enrol.
- What’s your motivation? Do you intend to learn and study for a degree or to get an easy entry into the country of your dreams? Be frank with your study mates about it!
- Prepare yourself reading up on the local mentality and customs. Read blogs and brush up your language skills if needed.
- Your priorities might change along the way and there are always a few things you’ll only find out once you’re there. Go with the flow and see it as a character building experience.
Free versus paid education
I originally come from Germany, where education is almost competitive and taken very seriously. It’s mostly free in order to make it equally available to everyone but merit-based. I like the attitude: it’s free (even though this will change in the long run) and therefore has to filter out those without ambition or less intention of wanting to learn. You’ve really got to study to keep up with the exams.
Equally, I have lived in Oxford in the U.K. and understand the notion and importance of paid education in other countries: a degree from Oxford University will buy you entry into a much higher level of employability.
This applies here in Spain, so I paid (way too much) for some master studies at EAE Business School in Barcelona (with considerable rebajas or discount as everyone does here in Spain) knowing I’d:
- Sacrifice a year of not much socializing,
- Be scared doing it in Spanish but ready to work hard for a better future in unemployment challenged Spain.
- Question the quality: can they let someone fail who paid all that money?
My experience in Spain
What’s been the greatest challenge of studying abroad this year? No, it was not the fact that I did it all in a foreign language. And no it wasn’t not having a life when working full time during the day and attending evening classes from 7-10pm, when your brain is too tired to translate for you. It’s actually been the challenge of doing EVERYTHING as a team.
Spain loves teamwork. Almost EVERYTHING has had to be handed in as a team. And if you were just in for the title, you’d probably get it anyway, as long as you paid the invoice and attended 80% of the classes (while checking your Instagram) – those ambitious European teammates will do all the work for you! Unfortunately of course, I am an ambitious European… . In fact there have been 3 in our team, plus 2 party animals from South America who have been working very hard on their social skills all year. 😉
I have worked in multi-cultural teams and companies in 7 countries using 4 languages in the last 15 years – and am aware about the tolerance and patience it can take. And we all know organizing a team project can be a project in its own, right? Though my square German mind, which likes to get started on papers a week in advance, has had quite a few challenges working together with South American minds, who may (or may not) start 2 hours before the deadline and tend to be 2 hours late for team meetings.
Compared to studying in competitive Germany and France, I found Spain makes it fairly easy with its teamwork approach and you almost get the impression you could have bought your degree by taking advantage of your mates’ work. Don’t get me wrong, teamwork is beneficial, however I think it can be counter productive when everything is marked as a team effort, which consequently rewards lazy students for relying on others and demotivates ambitious students who really want to learn: A team is only as strong as its weakest member.
How was your experience of studying abroad?