Following the recent Year Abroad Presentation Evening at Westminster Business School, we thought we’d catch up with a number of students who’d taken the opportunity to study abroad with Westminster. The Presentation Evening was a great opportunity for students considering embarking on a similar adventure to hear from those who’d already returned, allowing them to learn from both the successes and mistakes of their peers. Year abroad is offered to all International Business with Language students, however these international opportunities are open to every undergraduate student at Westminster Business School, in the form of either a semester or year of study abroad.
The Business School has affiliations with over fifty institutions around the world, including schools in Australia, Canada, China, Japan, the United States and Brazil, to name but a few. Recent research shows the importance of educational mobility when considering the issue of graduate employability, with many employers stating that applicants with experience studying abroad are more desirable than those without.
The first interview in this series is with Åse Bomann-Larsen, a third year International Business with Chinese student at Westminster Business School, studied at Donghua University in Shanghai. This interview offers helpful insights into the benefits and challenges of studying abroad in such a vastly different environment.
Which course do you study at Westminster Business School?
I study ‘International Business with Chinese’ and so I chose China as I needed to study in a country that teaches Mandarin.
What was your programme of study?
I studied mainly Chinese language, so Mandarin, at Donghua University. I chose Donghua as Westminster has a partnership with the University, which was nice as it meant I had a contact at the University who could assist me.
How did you deal with the culture shock?
I had lived with a Chinese family in Beijing in 2010, and this influenced my choice of programme. So when I arrived in Shanghai, I found it difficult as they really didn’t speak any English at all, so we had to use other students’ knowledge to get by.
What was the biggest challenge?
The teaching style is really different. You’re expected to memorise everything, and aren’t encouraged to think outside of the box. In general you can’t come up with your own ideas, and the teacher will give you things to learn, and providing you memorise them you will get good grades. This comes from the idea that in China you should learn everything ‘correctly’ which influences the teaching.
How did you prepare for your trip? There must have been lots of things to organise before leaving.
Before you go to China you have to organise all of your paperwork. You need visas, and health checks, and many other things. The University helped us to organise everything before we left, however accommodation we arranged once we’d arrived in Shanghai. We looked at apartments online and arranged viewings with agents, who spoke some sort of broken English. We grouped together, and in the end I ended up living with another student from Westminster, who was studying on my programme. We didn’t know one another before we left for Shanghai, but it was helpful to live with someone who I knew and whose level of Chinese was higher than mine.
Did you socialise mainly with Chinese students or international students?
I socialised mainly with people from my programme, who were internationals. It took me more time to get to know Chinese people, and make friends. I think this was because there are so many cultural differences between us, and whilst my level of Mandarin improved quickly, it took me a few months to feel confident talking to my neighbours and other Chinese people. This also could’ve been because often Chinese people worried that I wouldn’t speak Mandarin, and once I discovered ways to communicate with them, I began to make friends with more local people.
Did you make good friends whilst you were away?
I made lots of friends, especially with international people. I think that’s the main problem with studying abroad, because no matter where you are in the world you’re always missing someone.
What tips do you have for anyone considering studying abroad?
We had some preparation before we went abroad, for instance we completed a module at Westminster. But it’s the simple things, like how to buy a metro pass, or how to arrange a flat viewing that could be really helpful to know before arriving in somewhere like Shanghai. Also, consider the pollution before you go away – it’s really worth investing in good health insurance cover, just in case you get sick while you’re away.
It sounds to me that you had a really positive experience. What was the most valuable thing you’ll take away from this?
Definitely language skills. I improved my language skills a lot, and I will be able to use this later in life. I also learned a great deal about myself; I think I became a lot more open, especially towards people who speak different languages.
Do you think this experience makes you more likely to move to China?
Having studied abroad consistently since I was 17, being from Norway and having studied in Germany and then the UK I have always been very international. I wouldn’t move to Shanghai as this experience taught me that I’m allergic to high levels of pollution. Although this was difficult, it didn’t ruin my year abroad.
Do you think this experience made you more employable?
I think international experience is essential if you want to work outside of your own country. I think it proves that you can cope with cultural differences, and companies need to know that you won’t be affected by this before hiring you.
For more information on Undergraduate Year Abroad or Study Abroad opportunities, visit the Westminster Business School website or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To understand more about the benefits of international experiences with Westminster, watch the following videos with exchange student, Anna Sousan and Year Abroad student, Natalie Cotts.
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