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What Study Abroad in the UK Did for Me

In 2004, while pursuing a degree in Texas, I took advantage of my school’s helpful and well-run study abroad office to take the chance to go to England.

I applied to the University of East Anglia, and was not only accepted but given a small scholarship, a stipend of 500 pounds, which made it much more possible for me to take this leap, and also set a positive tone that made me feel exceptionally welcome.

To subsidize all the travel, I decided to pursue summer employment in London before my fall semester began. I enrolled in an exchange program called BUNAC that sets American students up with British work visas (and vice-versa).

For the first couple of weeks, my employment situation was grim. My friend and roommate who had gone ahead of me “found a great deal on rent,” subletting from a Chinese grad student living in what turned out to be the garage of a council flat, though we didn’t know it until we took down a poster, revealing one wall to be a pair of outward-opening garage doors. No wonder it was so drafty.

Meanwhile, we were working for a rather shady catering company that hired other transient workers from around the globe – terrible work, but we made some good friends. Still, I wanted more. Being a writing major, I found the name of a publisher in the BUNAC directory that had offered internships before, got interviewed, got the job (due to my knowledge of Latin – probably the first hire on that basis since the Middle Ages) and set to work finding out-of-print titles for their new classics line.

Once fall came around, I packed up my bags again and took the train to Norwich. I studied creative writing there – UEA is a hallowed place for that subject in the UK, with alumni like Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro, and I eagerly soaked up the atmosphere of artistic seriousness, along with many a Snakebite.

Which is not to say I didn’t work hard academically during that semester; my grades were transferred back as pass/fail, but I got the equivalent of all As, meaning I probably took classes more seriously than necessary, if anything. My papers were extremely well-received by tutors and professors, and I came away with the impression that humanities education in the UK was both less demanding and more enriching than in the US – much more emphasis on simply taking your own time to read and write.

If I could do it over again I’d spend slightly less at the pub, and travel more within the British Isles rather than blowing my scholarship money on Ryanair jaunts to the continent, but I have no real regrets. The highlight of my whole experience was probably cooking a turkey dinner to introduce my British associates to the glories of an American Thanksgiving. Which goes to show: the benefits of international study even extend to those who stay home, and meet weird people like me from faraway lands.

Integrating with the people of a host country can be hard, even if, as in the case of my transatlantic adventure, you’re “divided by a common language.” I won’t lie: I was often homesick. The recent Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education shows the health and vibrancy of study abroad programs, but surveys have shown problems with integration that reinforce the importance of building these bonds. So for those of you engaged in this field: be active in encouraging social assimilation, and don’t let any of us fall through the cracks! I want everyone to have as great an experience as I did.

An experienced writer on all things related to higher education and business, Amanda Watson spends her days covering the latest stories on various topics such as online mba rankings, web entrepreneurship, and social media marketing. You can contact Amanda at


“How my study abroad inspired my career path”

“Studying abroad was an opportunity that opened my eyes to the world around me. I had travelled around Europe before, but staying put and studying at a school like John Cabot in Rome not only allowed me to connect to the culture on a deeper level than ever before, but I really grow as a person from it.

My time at John Cabot allowed me to pursue my own individual interests and passions while rounding out my education as a whole. Spending a semester overseas forces a student to become an independent young adult; one that is responsible for budgeting, communicating with people who speak foreign languages and continue to develop themselves as an engaged citizen of the world. As this world we live in continues to shrink, study away experiences become ever-increasingly important, with lasting value not only to the students themselves, but also the international community in which we all live.

My semester in Rome was a time I’ll never forget, and it provided an opportunity for me to pursue my passions in international travel and which I have now transformed into my career path. This wonderful opportunity simply wouldn’t have been possible without my time abroad at JCU. Not having majored in business, launching Weekend Student Adventures has been a crash course in entrepreneurship and I’ve encountered endless hurdles along the way. But for the readers of this article interested in pursuing their own international passions, I have to say it’s been entirely worth every challenge, setback and frustration.

Now I feel blessed and fortunate to provide a deeper kind of traveling experience not attainable otherwise by students abroad in Europe. I rely on my lifelong friends and connections throughout the continent to open my students’ eyes to the rich and complex cultures of the people of Europe. Be sure to check out our line up of trips up on!”

Happy Travels!

Andy Steves

Andy Steves graduated from Notre Dame in May, 2010 and has since capitalized on his semester abroad in Rome (Spring ’08) to start a student tour business in Europe, Weekend Student Adventures. Andy combined the experience of studying abroad and a lifetime of traveling with his father, Rick Steves to make WSA the leading student tour provider in Europe. Now hundreds of American students abroad in Europe enjoy his exciting trips each semester.

How can your students help you to enrol more students?

Who do you think is best equipped to talk about your classes and your school? You? Your staff? Not really…

So, who is the best person to talk about your school?

Your students are best equipped to talk about it, as they have a fresh look that you have lost and are at the heart of your activity.

They see, feel and take into account certain things that you no longer register about your culture, your country, your city, your neighbourhood, your school, its reputation, your staff, the content of the classes you provide, your equipment, the size of the classrooms, the number of students, your host families, your prices, the accommodation you provide, your activities, the atmosphere in your school, etc.

Your students connect prospective students to your school

Your students express themselves in their own words and are more likely to be listened to by other students.

They can use Facebook and Twitter better than anyone. During their stay, thanks to these social networks, they often create a bridge between your school and their friends and family back in their country.

Once they have returned home, they are the best ambassadors for your school as they have a large network of friends to which they can recommend you.

In fact, they are often so happy and proud to have had the opportunity to experience their first stay in a foreign country that they want to tell everyone about it and encourage others to do the same.

Numbers don’t lie

People want to learn from people like them when they make purchasing decisions.

–       92% of consumers around the world say they trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising.

–       Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted source of brand information and messaging, with 70% of global consumers surveyed.

Your students are talking – don’t just listen.

Encourage them to talk about and recommend your school by sharing their experience with others.

  • When they refer a friend, give them and their friend a discount.
  • Encourage them to blog about their experience during their stay at your school.
  • Ask them to “Like”, “Share” and “Tweet” your school on Facebook, Google + and Twitter.
  • Organize amazing activities and take great pictures of them that will then be published on Facebook and seen by all their friends.
  • Invite them to review your school on popular rating websites. These reviews will be read by prospective students looking to study abroad.

What if they have a negative experience?

99% of students are satisfied with their language study abroad, so don’t worry (unless you are running the worst language centre in the world!).

The reason for this high satisfaction level is that, unlike hotels and restaurant, students tend to spend a fair amount of time in your schools and therefore, if there are any issues, you will usually be able to detect and fix them during their stay.

This fear of negative feedback is one of the biggest factors causing some schools to hesitate to embrace customer-generated content. But the truth is that “bad” reviews are really just opportunities to improve your offer and build trust in your company.

Improving your offer

The most obvious positive potential in negative reviews is the opportunity for your school to improve its services. Student feedback helps language centres discover weaknesses in their offer and act on them to deliver a better experience.

Building trust in your brand

The mere presence of negative feedback on the web shows the transparency of your brand. Students see that your online community hasn’t been whitewashed with rose-tinted marketing speak.

Review your enrolment strategy and unleash the power of word of mouth marketing

Today, advertising and marketing are so omnipresent that they become more invisible. In the end, people tend to ignore advertising because they prefer to hear about the experiences of people like them through social media.

Good marketing should encourage the right sort of conversations and word of mouth should be the starting point for your enrolment strategy.

Maxime Braire is the founder of and the director of the Webmarketing Agency SKA.

Online and Abroad: Getting the Most Out of Your Online Educational Experience

As youngster high school students, we create all kinds of images and expectations for our college experience. Whether it’s influenced by lofty books we’ve read, silly comedic movies we’ve see, or stories we’ve heard from friends and siblings, there are certain anticipations we have for our colligate experience. We envision late night study sessions, copious amounts of coffee, dorm rooms filled with Christmas lights and band posters, semesters abroad in Greece or Rome, inspiring professors, and early morning classes. These images aren’t necessarily wrong—but they are seemingly limited to the more “traditional” college experience. However, as online education gains in popularity among students, universities, and employers, the “traditional” student is no longer necessarily the only college student to consider.

While some staples of college learning are somewhat limited to “traditional” brick and mortar schools—dorm rooms, cold college classrooms, and campus dining halls—, online learning is becoming more and more mainstream in today’s society. Online students have all the same social and academic possibilities and opportunities that traditional students have. For the online students who has dreamt of taking a semester abroad during their collegiate years to explore new cultures and create new experiences, don’t count it out of the plan. Semesters abroad are also available for students who are completing degree programs online.

Just as online students take a new route for their educational experiences, studying abroad as an online student can look different as well. The whole point of “online learning” is that students can complete degree requirements and classes from a flexible location. Education is accessible from any location with reliable internet access. In this way, online learning abroad can be just that. If you are an online student and wish to take a “semester abroad”, you have the freedom to do so without conflicting with your educational pursuits. Of course, this is not what most students mean or envision when they think about studying abroad in college, but it is one option.

In a more traditional way, online students are also able to join official study abroad programs. Because online learning is relatively new, researching study abroad programs that are supported by your online institution may take slightly more research than a traditional student might encounter. Many online students choose the online route because they are not necessarily enticed by some of the frills and features of campus-based learning. However, this is not to say that some of the “frills” that college offers, such as study abroad opportunities, are not available to the online learner. Online students have access to the exact same study abroad opportunities that other students are allotted. Speak with your online institution’s admissions or student relations representative about the idea.

If you are an online student at an institution that has a physical location (as many online schools today do), finding study abroad opportunities should be fairly simple. Of course, it all depends on the school, but studying abroad has become such a commonplace among college students that most schools have study abroad coordinators to assist interested students. In this case, you can earn credits toward your degree while you study abroad through either online classes, traditional classes, or a mixture of the two. On the other hand, if the college you attend does not offer study abroad programs to their students, you can likely work out some alternative options. Many schools will allow students to participate in another college’s study abroad opportunity and then transfer those credits when the semester is complete. Situations like this will take some discussions with school representatives, but should not be ruled out.

Studying abroad can be an extremely rewarding and worthwhile experience for any student. Travel and new life experiences are important steps to take for any individual, but especially young adults struggling to find their purpose. Online students can particularly benefit from a study abroad experience both personally and from a professional standpoint. While online degrees have gained widespread acceptance among employers at an academic level, they can be looked down upon as an indication that the holder has minimal “real life” experience. This experience can show employers that you have hands-on experience in new and different situations and circumstances. Hands-on cultural experience alongside your online studies can make for a better rounded resume.

Author Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about many topics in education including online colleges and online degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

When GPS doesn’t cut it

“Today I was 25 minutes late for an appointment with an agent. I arrived, apologised and clocked my reflection: straggly hair, red face and a sweat moustache – yep, I was rocking my “visiting agents in Bangkok” look. My lateness wasn’t my fault. Well, not really. It was 35 degrees outside and after I stepped out from the icy Skytrain, I was at the mercy of a Google map, my own sense of direction and the elements.

Finding agent’s offices are, for me, often a hit and miss affair, made worse by the fact that I have no sense of direction. If there are two ways to go, I will choose the wrong one. It’s got so bad that I’ve actually started to second guess myself and if my instincts say “left”, I will go right. Admittedly my lack of self-belief hasn’t helped me come to any life-changing conclusions, except that perhaps I spend a bit too much time alone on these trips…

Girl Guide map reading skills aside, it’s the weather that often proves most problematic to many of us, hindering our success in getting to our appointments on time. I have almost face-planted on the icy streets of Seoul, my colleague John has complained of trench-foot schlepping around rainy autumnal Moscow and on one occasion I had to call a Ukrainian agent from a metro station apologising that I couldn’t make the appointment as I couldn’t see the other side of the road because of the blizzard that had descended on Kiev.

Some cities are just not designed for anyone to find any address. Tokyo, for example, foxes even the canniest local due to the lack of visible street names.  But sometimes I visit a city that is dream to get around, where taxis are cheap and plentiful and the cabbie knows where he’s going and doesn’t add a “stupid foreigner tax” to the fare. Where there are logical street patterns, addresses close to metro stations, temperate climates… But where’s the fun in that?

For all this, the often epic quest of finding the agent’s office is very much part of the fun, the challenge of my job. These are the stories I tell my friends to make my job sound like I am an international woman of mystery (or confusion). I regale friends and family with methods of finding the offices, from my ingenious problem solving (“so I remembered the Italian word for ‘church’ and hoped it was similar in Romanian”) to my damn right ballsy  (“so I just opened the unmarked door, hoping I was right…”).

My most recent success in averting the disaster of missing a meeting was in Tokyo.  I had the right building at the right time but hadn’t written down which floor the office was on or (very unusually for me) hadn’t made a note of their phone number.

So I went to the company directory at the front of the building.  Everything was in Japanese.  I tried to pick up my emails on my phone but it wouldn’t sync.  I tried Google on my phone but it wouldn’t work.  I could have gone back to my hotel, booted up my laptop and found their address but it would have made me unforgivably late.  Then it came to me. I walked up to the directory, grabbed a passer by and said the name of the agency in my best Japanese accent while pointing at the directory and shrugging.  The passerby pointed to a company name which had a number “6” by it.  I got the lift to the sixth floor and there was my agent.

When I eventually arrive at an agent’s office after an experience that would test Jason Bourne, I (rather un-coolly) feel the need to explain my journey to my agent, either as an explanation of my lateness, or because I just want to share it with someone. “You asked for a receipt in Mandarin?!”, they say, “You asked a passerby for directions in your elementary Spanish?”, “You found our office which is opposite your hotel, with a map and GPS on your phone? All by yourself?!”  Yes, I did!

One of my agents in Bangkok didn’t even flinch when I exclaimed, ridiculously, “it’s hot out there”. No, I guess I don’t expect a round of applause when I arrive at an agent’s office (it would be great though) but a little appreciation would be nice. Or possibly even a cup of tea and digestive biscuit?

Maybe the challenges we face finding the office makes our meetings more productive? Perhaps. More likely though is that us international marketers love an adventure… and isn’t it all about the journey, not the destination?”

Hannah Alexander works for a UK university and is based in Hong Kong for the moment.

Bringing Hosting Home

At Mackenzie School of English, we are firm believers in the mantra ‘why get someone else to do something that we can do ourselves? Surely we can do it bigger, better and smarter!’

Therefore, this winter we decided to bring the homestay operation in-house. We had found in the past that homestay (living with a family), for some reason, was the part of the business that gave us the most consternation.

Not because we didn’t have good hosts, or because we didn’t approach it with the same attention to detail as we do to other key areas but because the communication never seemed to quite flow. We felt our relationships with the hosts and our capacity for dealing with situations would improve greatly by having a dedicated Accommodation Officer who was based at the school.

Of course there was some concern – where would we find a suitable candidate (or anyone brave enough) for the newly created role of Accommodation Officer? Could we cope with the extra duties involved, would our ‘out of hours’ phone ever stop ringing and would any hosts actually want to work with us?

Thus began our marketing drive – a bout of flyering, a post on an advertising website and an advert on local radio station Leith FM started a slow trickle of interest among local people.

Luckily the good old Scottish ‘gift of the gab’ then took over and we found, to our great delight, that not only was there interest from enthusiastic new recruits but that the fantastic hosts who had hosted for Mackenzie School before were still out there and still interested in working with us. Although this time, they would be working directly with Mackenzie School and that is key to the success of the operation.

The trust and two-way partnership between school and host is invaluable to the student experience and ultimately, to our success. So we make life easier for our hosts. We take away the headache of having to make packed lunches during the week by providing students with lunch at the school.

We prevent students from hanging around bored in the evenings by keeping the school open until 10pm every night. We provide peace of mind by arranging taxis home for our students after evening activities.

And now, we offer the added peace of mind of clear communication with a dedicated person within the school. That is why we are confident that approaching home-stay operations our way – the Mackenzie way – might just be the best way.

Laura Hutchinson on behalf of Mackenzie School of English, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Strip Clubs of Beijing

“I have a confession to make. This article is not about strip clubs of Beijing. I have never been to a strip club in Beijing, or anywhere else for that matter. No, the reason for the title is not to shine a light on the seedier side of the Chinese capital but to discuss the main difference between what male and female traveling marketeers are sometimes expected to do overseas to bond with our agents.

I know I’m lucky. Being a woman in this industry means that I don’t have those horror stories that so many of you men have, when an agent winks at you and says “I want to take you to a club,” and you know what sort of club and you don’t fancy it but you’re worried that if you refuse you may offend. Us ladies don’t even have to drink our own body weight in vodka with agents to prove friendship. (We don’t HAVE to…) No, we have something that I consider much scarier than all that. We have female agents offering to take us shopping.

It sounds harmless. Nice even. But just as men are judged by other men by the amount of drinks they can handle, when an agent takes us shopping, we are also on trial. Now I love shopping. I love shopping alone. Shopping with an agent is a completely different experience. My house is strewn with jade bangles and ill-fitting shirts that I bought in a panic with an agent. Do I try stuff on? What should I look for? How long should we shop for? Do I have to buy something or can I just browse? What if I hate what she’s recommending?

It’s not that these agents aren’t lovely and that the gesture of spending their own non-work time with an overseas visitor isn’t touching, I’ve just had too many bad experiences. From a shop in Santiago where my agent got the exchange rate wrong and I ended up spending £250 on a blanket, to a clothes shop in Thailand where my agent translated the exclamation of the shop keeper as we walked in as “we have nothing here in HER size.”

Recently when a Chinese agent said “I’m going to take you to the Pearl Market tomorrow,” I panicked. I asked a colleague working out in Beijing. His advice? “I always buy a belt. It’s quick, easy, inexpensive.” Brilliant, I thought. So when my agent picked me up in the morning and greeted me with “What are you going to buy?” I confidently replied “a belt”. I may as well have said “a drill bit” by the withering look she gave me. A look that told me that I had betrayed my sex and didn’t get this shopping trip. “Or pearls,” I said hopefully.

I did buy pearls and a pair of Converse for a fiver. I never did get that belt.

So dear men of the industry, next time you are feeling sorry for yourselves as you are bullied into going to that club, or poured your eighth vodka shot and all you want to do is crawl into your hotel room and watch “Click”, on BBC World, remember that somewhere out there, your female counterpart is shopping, with an agent, in a night market, sober.”

Hannah Alexander – woman of the world but based in the UK.

UK colleges that DO tarnish the system: the alternate view

“There has been much rhetoric in the press recently regarding the strict UK student visa policies’ impact on the higher education sector, nobody denies that.

No matter how much we all need our jobs, how much we are desperate to avoid the unemployment figures rising in this country, we cannot deny one hard fact. Some of these private colleges were acting as retail outlets and selling UK student visas to those who wished to come to UK to earn money. The majority of the students studying in these colleges were, and are, in the UK not with the intention to study, but only to work.

These private colleges were aware of these facts but, in order to make easy money, were recruiting disingenuous students from overseas, especially countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria etc. As people from these countries are desperate to come to the UK to earn money due to poverty at home, therefore, they are exploited by the colleges and the recruiting agents who advise them to use the student visa route to enter UK.

All these private colleges form a sub-prime academic world where the quality of education is defenestrated and the focus is on passing the students and making money out of them. Many of these colleges exploited the Post-Study work route as well.

Their unscrupulous activity is not limited to the students but the staff working in these colleges are ill-treated and have to work in a sweat-shop kind of an environment. Owners of these colleges pressurise the staff to commit shenanigans and are threatened of their job if instructions are not followed.

Staff members under pressure commit all these shenanigans under the instructions of the owners of the colleges.  At the time of a UKBA or media raid, owners of the college deny their involvement and flee from UK with huge sum of money using the staff members as the scapegoats. In addition, the staff members of most of these colleges are demoralised due to non-conducive working environment and that is why many of these colleges face a high employee turnover.

Marketing activities in these colleges are not managed by qualified marketing experts but the owners of the colleges themselves. These marketing quacks create links with dubious recruiting agents in their home countries who supply them with the students (so-called) who wish to come to UK.

A few years back, when the UK student visa immigration rules were relaxed, many people without educational background entered this industry to make quick money.  I believe many of these private independent colleges are the hubs of poor governance, dubious marketing strategies, ignorance of academic knowledge and they have left no stone unturned in contaminating the UK higher education industry.

UKBA is making reasonable amendments in order to curtail all these shenanigans but unfortunately these new laws are affecting the genuine educational providers as well.

Murad Ali.

Murad Ali works as an Operations Manager for a private independent college in the UK.  He has been in this industry for five years and started as a lecturer. 

Indian students: where do they go?

Guest blogger: Jessica Guiver

“A couple of weeks ago I wrote that anecdotal evidence suggests this year fewer Indian students are applying to study in the UK than in the recent past.  I partially blamed the discontinuation of the Post Study Work scheme, but I realize that’s too simplistic.

Last week heralded the annual event eagerly anticipated by international educators the world over; IIE’s Open Doors Report was published.  The report declared that Indian student enrolment in the USA was down 1% from last year.  This prompted extremist headlines which ranged from “Minor drop in number of Indians studying in the US” to “Are Indian Students Shunning America?”

What I’m wondering is: if they aren’t coming here to study, and they aren’t going to the USA to study, where are they going?

News reports this summer suggested that interest in Canada as a study destination is gaining.  The New York Times reported a “Surge in Number of Indian Students Heading to Canadian Colleges”, although when you look at the actual numbers they are still quite small (12,000) compared to the number of Indians who chose the USA (104,000) in 2010.

And after several years of declining numbers, Australia is once again seeing an increase in visa applications from Indian students, thanks in part to the more relaxed immigration policies, although university enrolment numbers have yet to reflect this.  (as reported by Australian newspaper The Age, “Indian students returning to Australia”)

I think it all comes down to market share and ‘education hubs’.  The USA, the UK and Australia are seeing their market share of Indian students slowly being chipped away because of the proliferation of education hubs around the world.  No longer does a student who wants to study overseas have to go to one of those three countries to get the kind of education they’ve been dreaming of.

Australian, American and British universities are opening branch campuses worldwide.  Universities across Asia are opening branches in other countries.  Governments everywhere are investing in higher education in order to make their nation the desired education destination. Everyone wants students from anywhere.  The flow isn’t just East to West anymore; it’s now East to West, West to East, North to South, vice versa and diagonally.  So Indian students (and all students) have more choice now than ever before of where they can go to study.

Of course the USA, the UK and Australia will always attract great numbers of students, but the option to go elsewhere is viable and compelling.  It’s an exciting time to work in international higher education.”

Jessica Guiver is an international development officer for a UK university and a blogger. You can follow her on Twitter:

Political pendulum

The UK’s English language teaching industry really has been treated horribly by its government…  The Home Office has continually changed the visa rules so that education agencies around the world report that they now prefer doing business with other countries where they at least know what the visa issuing confines are. It has ruled that international students cannot work part-time while enrolled at private language colleges, even though they can do so at state institutions. And it has elbowed out the long-standing industry-specific accreditation systems – such as Accreditation UK (the British Council-backed scheme) or ABLS – decreeing that institutions who wish to operate under Tier 4 of the visa regime and recruit General Student visa holders must now pay four-times as much and undergo a quality inspection by an accreditation body that has no track record of working with language training organisations.

Does it sound as if I am making it up? If only… but it gets worse. Two weeks ago, the Home Office issued a statement in which it trumpeted that “over 400 colleges have lost their right to recruit international students”… failing to clarify that many of these colleges chose to lose their right to recruit under Tier 4, but are still quality-accredited by sector-specific organisations and can recruit under a separate visa category. This statement got translated by the press as over 400 colleges being banned –  and sections of the press actually printed the names of some of those colleges. Legal action is ensuing – and you can read more about this story and all the background on our site.

I am sure the political pendulum in the UK will swing the other way in time, and steps will be taken to help bolster the education export industry while maintaining safeguards against visa fraud. The industry was unchecked for too long and then the government crushed some of the smaller operators in the sector while trying to stamp out visa fraud and reduce immigration. Stamping out visa fraud is of course an essential remit of any government; but trying to reduce immigrant numbers to an unrealistic pledge of tens of thousands, and counting temporary students as migrants in the first place, is not such a noble political pursuit in my opinion.

Amy Baker is Director and Editor-in-Chief at The PIE. Follow her on Twitter: