Dispelling the misconceptions about studying outside of North America and Europe
This semester, I am studying public policy at the City University of Hong Kong and when I was asked to write an article related to my exchange, my mind went in many different directions. There’s so much to discuss and so much I want to share, but the big thing I want to talk about is how more students should go on exchange to Asia.
Oct. 15 to 19 is International Education Week, which includes the study abroad and exchange fair that happened on Oct. 16. In a room full of tables manned by students highlighting their experiences at schools all over the world, I can guess that only one half of the room will be busy: the one with all the European schools. Since I couldn’t be at the fair in person, I’m going to tell you why I think more people should go on exchange to Asia.
One of the biggest reasons students don’t go to Asian countries for exchange is due to a preconceived notion of a huge language barrier. In reality, all of Mount Allison’s partner schools in Asia offer programs with no language requirements and are instructed in English. Mt. A is connected to five partner schools in Asia that offer semester-long exchange programs: City University of Hong Kong; Fudan University in Shanghai; Dongguk University in South Korea; Kwansei Gakuin University in Nishinomiya, Japan; and Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. Truthfully, I fell into the same trap and didn’t realize that most people in Asia, especially university-aged students, are required to learn English. Although there are varying degrees of English spoken in each of the cities I mentioned above, the language barrier need not turn you away from studying in Asia. In my experience, the language challenges I have faced so far result in laughter more often than not.
I’m about halfway through my exchange here in Hong Kong and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel to four different countries so far: South Korea, the Philippines, mainland China and Macau. Several of these have just been day trips, which makes exploring so accessible and easy. Asia gives you the unique opportunity to travel to countries that people from Western countries don’t often travel to. Rather than travelling to the major cities, often it’s cheapest to go to more up-and-coming cities. Being able to travel around these countries is something I didn’t think I would ever do. The bonus is that these countries in Asia all have so much to offer; from history and museums, hiking and beaches, all the way to amazing food and bars. Most importantly, Asia offers you a learning experience that you can’t get here at Mt. A. For example I’ve had more group projects in my first month in Hong Kong than my first two years at Mt. A.
The most important thing I’ve learned on my exchange is that my experiences and the lessons I’m learning are the best souvenirs of all. In Hong Kong and other places I’ve visited, people are so proud of their history, culture and traditions that they want to share them with others. All you need to do is to be open to learning and listening. This extends to the classroom as well; my courses are teaching me different perspectives that contrast the often-Eurocentric education we get at Mt. A. I’ve learned so much outside and inside the classroom, and wouldn’t have learned any of it if I had gone somewhere in Europe, Oceania or North America. Taking the leap to go to Asia for exchange is worth it and will result in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you’re interested in going on exchange to Asia, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask me more about it!