Studying abroad requires more than money, language skills

July 17, 2023 | 03:19 pm PT
Vo Nhat Vinh Researcher
A friend just contacted me for advice because her daughter insisted on returning home after a few months at a university overseas.

She felt that she could not integrate into the new environment.

Eight years ago, another friend of mine received warning from a school overseas over his son’s poor academic performance. The family then decided to stop his overseas study after a year-and-a-half, brought him back to Vietnam and put him in an international university here. Even so, it took him many years of struggle to graduate after the disorientation of his time abroad.

Things like that often happen with Vietnamese children studying overseas, even though their families have invested money in preparations and paid close attention to select a suitable place for them, and most of the children have common sense and competence in foreign languages.

Why is the investment not enough?

First of all, while preparing to study abroad, the students and their families rarely learn about the pedagogical philosophy of the school they are going to join. A school's pedagogical philosophy is very important, allowing each student to see if it is the right place for personal development.

Last week, I interviewed a student who had completed his undergraduate degree elsewhere and wanted to apply for the graduate engineering program at our school. This candidate has very impressive academic results and clear vision of his career path after graduation. Colleagues who are in charge of relations between schools, businesses and students participated in the interview with me and were very interested in this candidate. I had the same good impression at first. However, after careful research, I decided not to accept him.

Our pedagogical philosophy does not suit him. If he becomes a student of our school, in the next three years, he will struggle to complete 100% of the program under group projects, with the supervision of lecturers and supporting document system. We do not give students an answer, we give them the freedom to be creative with their own solutions, and they have to take responsibility for their solutions. Meanwhile, this student admitted that it was difficult for him to get along in a group.

Students listen as a staff from an American university talks about the process to study at the school during an education fair on October 4, 2022 in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Binh Minh

Students listen as a staff member from an American university introduces about the school at an education fair in Hanoi on October 4, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Binh Minh

The second reason why overseas study fails for some Vietnamese students is that a family that invests properly in the children's education is often overprotective. The consequence is that the children, when they reach adulthood, are either dependent or rebellious. When they start living away from home, they will struggle to solve personal problems on their own, or they will have an outburst that leads to loss of self-discipline. They can be a good child at home, but once they are left on their own, they might be unable to maintain the goodness.

When they are in high school, students mostly focus on academic learning. When living away from home, they not only have to deal with class assignments, but also with problems in the socio-political relationship in the locality where they are studying. A large amount of work requires them to have good observational skills, the ability to adapt and effective working methods, or have the support of experienced people and organizations.

Many people used to equate the ability to integrate and adapt to the new society as the ability to use its language. After decades of opening to the world, Vietnamese students have acquired better foreign language skills, especially English. However, language is only a means of communication. We must admit frankly that the knowledge of culture, economy, politics and society of our students is still limited compared to their peers in developed countries. Therefore, Vietnamese students overseas still face barriers in communication, making friends and actually integrating into the new environment.

Financial investment in education, in particular sending children to study abroad in developed countries, is an investment in the future. Foreign languages are an important tool to bring people closer to each other. Finances and foreign languages are necessary conditions, but not sufficient, for successful study abroad.

Studying abroad is deciding to step into a new environment in which studying is only one part. Life overseas forces children to practice independence and adaptability to become adults. Whether a student will suffer from cultural shock when studying abroad depends on their preparation, not only in finances and foreign languages, but more importantly, in the skills and attitudes needed to handle difficult-to-predict situations.

Otherwise, studying abroad can hurt students and their families because their dreams will be shattered.

*Vo Nhat Vinh is lecturer at French graduate engineering school CESI.

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