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!

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