What’s so Special About the UK?

Summer is here. While many of you will be hitting the beach or planning a foreign holiday for the next few weeks, for some students this can be kind of a stressful time. It is now when students begin to plan and prepare for entry into UK universities.

The UK academic year begins in September, so it will be over the next 3 weeks or so that students across China, who hope to study at the likes of Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews or perhaps even my alma mater Edinburgh Napier University, will receive their final exam results and those placement offers hopefully gravitate from “conditional” to “confirmed”.

With each passing year, as we move closer to a more globally integrated society, more and more Chinese students are waking up to the benefits of studying abroad. The UK, even in spite of recent economic turbulence, remains one of the most popular destinations for the latest generation of ambitious young people coming out of China. It is place with a rich history, a burgeoning academic sector and a unique blend of cultures.

But why, over all the other foreign nations in the world does the UK still attract so many students from China? What is it that sets apart student life in the UK from studying in the more familiar surroundings of your hometown?

Of course perhaps the most immediate difference is the weather.

The short, sometimes rain-drenched nature of the British summer is something of an international joke, but when you put aside the hyperbolae there is, perhaps, just a slither of truth to this notion.

Anyone who has ever been to the likes of Beijing or Shanghai during the summer months will attest to the heat and humidity that permeates these densely populated cities at this time. On the contrary, the UK, owing not just to its higher longitude but also its vastly lower population density is a lot cooler in summertime. It’s a little known fact that, regardless of geographical location, the more people live in a city, the warmer it generally tends to be. The human body is basically a giant thermal energy battery, and we release energy as heat wherever we go. Hence, the more of us are in one area, the hotter that area tends to become. Ever wondered why the football stadium is noticeably colder when its only half full? This is why.

A lower population density also has other benefits for visiting students. When I lived in Hong Kong, I would often get frustrated on the weekends by just how difficult it was to navigate the shopping centres and find the time and space to pursue leisure activities.

Even something as simple as dropping into Starbucks for a coffee could involve a wait of 30 minutes or more. This is one of the most immediately noticeable differences about going to the UK, less people means easier access to all kinds of products and services.

So, how about the cost of living?

Well this depends on two crucial deciding factors. Firstly, where are you coming from and secondly where exactly in the UK do you want to live.

Generally, the UK is more expensive to live than in China. However, as we all know there is a huge gulf in living costs between rural and urban China, and indeed people from the likes of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen have seen their living costs skyrocket in recent years, as a consequence of China’s increased participation on the global economic stage.

However the same is true, if perhaps to a lesser degree, in the UK. London, as one would expect is the most expensive by quite some distance, but you’d be surprised at how comparatively cheap living in the likes of Liverpool, Manchester or Glasgow could be by comparison.

Food costs are generally the same across the board, unless you want to shop at high end supermarkets like Marks and Spencer every day!

Indeed as someone from Glasgow, I can honestly say that, when my apartment rent was taken into account I saved a lot more money living in Glasgow than I did when I lived in Hong Kong!

But perhaps the biggest difference between living in China and living in the UK could be summed up in one word: diversity.

The UK is one of Europe’s most culturally and ethnically diverse countries. Indeed the very fabric of the UK is not one nation, but a composite of 4 nations, each with their own diverse culture.

England has a long and proud history as a centre of commerce, creativity and colour. As the largest of the UK’s nations it is also perhaps the best known of the 4 home nations outside the UK.

Wales is a small yet determined nation with very proud yet friendly locals and a beautiful, if very difficult to pronounce, indigenous language.

Northern Ireland, after a very troubling period of unrest towards the end of the 20th century has today blossomed into a region which embodies the best of both the Irish and British identity, with a government that serves as a shining example to the world of how people of vastly different cultural identities can accomplish amazing things when they work together.

And last, but most definitely not least, we have Scotland. If Scotland as a country were to have its own motto it would probably be something like, “though I may be small, I am diminutive!”

For a country whose entire population amounts to less than half the population of the city of Shanghai, Scotland has consistently punched above its weight on the international stage. Scotland has always been a centre of science and innovation, of communication and cooperation. Scots gave us the likes of penicillin, television, radio and the modern system of global economics. You’ll find the Scots to be a warm and welcoming people, though their accent may take some time to get used to!

The UK has a wealth of options and opportunities that will appeal to Chinese students seeking to study abroad. If you would like more information about studying in the UK please contact AF education today. Let us be your gateway to the UK and the world!

America: The Land of Opportunity?

In my work here at AF Education, I often read about and in many cases talk with students from China who wish to go overseas to study. Whilst the UK is a very popular choice for many, there remains one undisputed king when it comes to choosing where to study as a foreign student: The “Good Old US of A!”

With the likes of the Ivy League and a host of other top tier places of study, the US consistently ranks as the world’s best when it comes to choosing a country to study in.

However, these days Chinese universities are also making big waves globally, and with each passing year, they seem to scale the global rankings higher and higher

It remains to be seen if they will someday overtake the US and the UK at the very top of the global rankings, but for the time being at least, the US remains the place to be.

So what is it that sets America apart from China and indeed the rest of the world?

The one thing about China, is that for all the advancements made in the last 30 years or so, the country has, as of yet, not really seen much immigration. About 98% of China’s population are ethnically Chinese. Whilst this may not necessarily be a bad thing, the problem is that it means without venturing outside your homeland, as a Chinese student, you international experiences will be considerably limited if you don’t travel abroad.

In the US, the opposite applies.

As a country built almost entirely out of immigration, very few countries across the world embody the concept of the “cultural melting pot” quite like the US. As a student in the US you will have the opportunity to meet, interact with and study alongside people from all over the world, of all creeds, colours and political viewpoints. This not only expands your own experience and knowledge base, but it also pushes you to think in new, exciting and dynamic ways. There’s nothing like hearing a range of perspectives on a topic to make you reassess your world view.

This internationalism goes beyond just the classroom. As you venture out into the city you will have the chance to sample foods, music, sports and arts from all corners of the world. My friend once joked that America is the only country in the world where you can have a conversation in Spanish, whilst eating Chinese food and watching a Bollywood (Indian) movie!

Another major difference you will notice between your home in China and the US is in the way day to day interactions take place.

Both Chinese and Americans have a reputation in other countries as being very direct speakers, however in the US, I would argue that this is even more prevalent an idea than it is in China.

To the uninitiated, Americans can come across as brash, sometimes even downright rude, but in the vast majority of cases, this is not their intention. I think the simplest way to put it would be to say that they are “no nonsense” characters. Americans value traits such as speaking directly, regardless of your social standing. This is in stark contrast to China, where, as I’m sure you know, one is expected to follow the Confucian principle of deferring to one’s elders in all matters of debate.

Another area where you may notice a surprising difference in America is in the food.

I recall a few years ago having a few beers at a friend’s house in Tokyo. My friend was from the US. The movie we were watching had been recorded off of US television. However, my friend’s DVR player must have malfunctioned that night as it didn’t cut out all the commercials as one would expect. So every 10 minutes or so, the flow of the movies was broken up by various adverts.

To my amazement, about 90% of them were for food. Fried foods, seemed to be especially popular.

An English friend of mine, not noted for his diplomatic prowess, remarked rather bluntly: “Oh my god, no wonder you Americans are all as fat as pigs!”

Luckily for him, my American friend saw the funny side. But as usual, in his own cuttingly abrasive way, my friend kind of had a point. Not only do Americans tend to eat a lot of very unhealthy, high fat, high salt, and low fiber foods, but they also eat these same foods in alarmingly big quantities.

An American friend of mine once joked, in his own self-effacing way: “There’s a very simple way to lose weight in America. Stop eating food that comes in a bucket!”

Again, looking beyond the joke, I could see his point. Whether its fried chicken, pork ribs, popcorn, or even ice cream, there are an alarming amount of foods in the US that do, indeed, come in buckets!

From the perspective of the Chinese student studying in the US, a great deal of self-discipline will be required, lest your waistline blow up like a helium balloon!

Be careful what you eat, and be sure to check the calorie counts on all the foods in the restaurant and in the supermarket too.

Salads may seem healthy but the in US they have a very disconcerting habit of layering all manner of greasy, fat-laden mayonnaise and other garnishes over the top. Sometimes in the fast food restaurant, believe it or not, the cheeseburger may have less calories than the Caesar salad!

If you’re prepared to loosen your belt a little though, you can enjoy some absolutely wonderful foods in the US. Your taste buds will thank you, even if your heart and liver may not be so appreciative.

America is exactly what it professes to be: a land of opportunity. If you choose to go there, and recreate your own idea of “The American Dream” you are surely certain to have an experience you will never forget.