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Why Study your Masters Abroad?

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

Increasingly, employers are looking to recruit students with an international outlook who are aware of other cultures and have the skills to work with colleagues, stakeholders and customers from around the world. Governments also recognise the importance of international study for graduates. In the Netherlands, the government is aiming to retain overseas students post-graduation AND it also announced in November 2012 that it was launching a new international student loan. Singapore has long had a more open approach to highly-skilled immigration, offering post-study work opportunities to its international students. Other countries like Canada, China, Malaysia, Japan and Thailand all have big plans to attract international students.

So, employers and governments agree that international study can be a good thing, but what, in concrete terms, are the benefits of doing your masters abroad? I have studied and worked in several countries and first of all, despite the range of exotic destinations open to students, a masters abroad is NOT a holiday abroad! You will have to work hard, be sensitive to local practices and get used to not having access to things you normally do (like your favourite food or a cinema that shows films in English). But….

1) It will help you expand your horizons, discover a new country and culture and enhance your personal development.

Over half of UK employers have concerns about shortfalls in young people’s international cultural awareness. One way to demonstrate this skill is to show that you have studied abroad. Studying abroad means living abroad and you will have to embrace an unfamiliar environment, cultural practices and traditions and perhaps also a new language. Unless you spend the duration of your degree with students from your own country (this may help you settle at the beginning but misses the point of an opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture), it will allow you to gain an insight in a way of life which may be radically different from your own. This is as valid a reason as gaining an academic degree from an overseas institution.

It won’t just be people from the country you study in that you meet. It is likely that if you are an international student, there will be other students from overseas. What you will gain in studying with these students is an added cultural dimension to your studies. And, imagine how great it will be to have international friends for life! This has more than social benefits: professional networks are incredibly valuable and your fellow masters students may be the future leaders of tomorrow.

You also get to fly the flag for your own country. It doesn’t have to be overly patriotic but it may help you to see what great things your own country has to offer. On a personal level, studying abroad will also make you more independent. Especially if you did your first degree near your home town, doing your masters abroad will give you new skills such as resilience and adaptability.

2) You will be exposed to a new study environment, learning and teaching methods as well as academics who have a different perspective

Doing your masters abroad will most likely involve getting used to a different way of being taught and of studying. This may involve more hours in the classrooms and less of a focus on grades but it may also mean that the interaction with your lecturers is different to what you may be used to. It is worth observing how “local” students behave in the classroom (better still, speak to international students who are doing a similar masters to yours in the institution you have chosen). Do students challenge ideas put forward by teaching staff? Are you invited to debate and think critically? Can you call your lecturer by his/her first name? These are just some of the questions you will have to answer for yourself.

The country where you have grown up will no doubt have eminent academics and scientists but not the best thinkers are in the same country. What better way to broaden your knowledge than to gain ideas shaped by unique international perspectives you may not have considered before?

By going abroad, you will get to study at institutions which have an excellent reputation and education. The best university for you may not necessarily be where you thought it was. And it goes beyond the rankings. For example, is your masters degree in a niche area not taught in your own country? Do they have experts, facilities and resources (inc. natural resources) not available back home? Is your masters degree specialising in a region? The best place to study your area-specific discipline is arguably in that country itself! Do you have an interest in American politics? Wouldn’t doing your masters in the US be a good option? Do you want to study tropical forests? Where would your masters best be done then?

Something else to consider is whether the process of applying to do your masters is less complex. For example, not all countries require entry examinations and selection is based on your academic record. If you want to avoid having to sit a GRE exam, look into European universities.

3) It will “internationalise” your CV and show you are mobile.

Many multinationals recruit all over the world and all they are interested in is that they employ the best. Seeing that you are prepared to travel means that you may be more attractive to large companies with operations worldwide. Employers are not too fussy about how you gain your experience abroad but if you want to do a full masters degree abroad, you may wish to consider gaining some experience of studying/ working/volunteering abroad beforehand, for example doing an Erasmus exchange, undergraduate expedition/fieldwork, summer volunteering abroad, internship abroad...). Your reason to do your masters abroad may then become going back to the country you enjoyed first time round.

Joint-masters (including Erasmus Mundus masters) are a good way to study in several countries for shorter periods of time and to gain a masters from overseas universities. It may be a good compromise if you wish to study part of your masters at “home” (assuming a relevant joint masters programme exist between an institution at “home” and an institution abroad).

4) You will gain language skills.

Doing a Masters abroad isn’t just for language students and whether you are looking to consolidate your English skills or learn a new language, it will be an asset during your studies, in particular if your course involves an internship in a local company, if you are doing quantitative surveys which involve interviews or if you want a part-time job. Of course, having knowledge of foreign languages (not necessarily fluency but just enough to break the ice) will also help you in your future job search. “Over two thirds of employers are not satisfied with the foreign language skills of young people”3. While traditional European languages are appreciated by employers, some are looking further afield for example Mandarin.

5) A more attractive degree duration and structure?

Perhaps there is a very simple rationale for doing a masters degree abroad? The structure of taught masters degrees in your home country doesn’t suit you. Is your aim to do your masters over a short period of time (say a year), albeit intensively? Or, do you prefer the idea of having a summer holiday during which you can do an internship or just have a break? Do you want to do your masters part-time but this isn’t really an option back home? You will find a format that suits you but make sure you do your research. A masters degree will be similar in structure throughout the UK but this may not be the case everywhere so don’t assume that because one institution in your chosen destination offers an ideal structure that they all will.

6) Your career opportunities will be enhanced

Studying abroad will make you stand out and it will also enhance your knowledge of working abroad opportunities. Career advisors in your institution will have in-depth knowledge of the local labour market and of employers in country. You may also have opportunities to meet company representatives at career fairs or at presentations during your studies or perhaps one of your coursemates has some tips on how to approach a job search in their own country. You may also be able to acquire unique internships which will enhance your CV regardless of whether you stay on in the country you did your masters, go somewhere else or return to your home country where your international experience will be valued.

Where to go for your masters degree?

So the last thing to consider is where to study abroad. Some destinations like the US and the UK are well known to international students but the picture is changing and new study abroad destinations are making head way. University World News recently featured India as an increasingly popular destination for study abroad. Another and very important factor is the cost of education. Countries with competitive masters tuition fees include France, Mexico, Germany, Sweden or South Africa which are all home to excellent institutions such as the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Universidad Monterrey, TUM, Lund or Cape town University.

For more detailed information on graduate study abroad destinations, consult our Masters Country Guide

References:

1. Recommendations to Support UK Outward Student Mobility (2012)
2. Global Horizons and the Role of Employers (2008)
3. Ready to grow: business priorities for education and skills, Education and skills survey 2010

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