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.

At the top of your field: The Top 5 career options for new graduates

Much has been said in Europe and the US in recent times about the continued emergence of Asia’s major economies, with China leading the way.

As time goes on, China looks set to surpass the US as the world’s largest economy. With this increased economic clout also comes a massive increase in the numbers of young Chinese looking to study abroad.

Today more and more Chinese and Hong Kong students are choosing to pursue their studies abroad, in their ongoing quest to stand out from the crowd and take their place among the world’s finest young talents of the business world.

However, what happens when the great university and college adventure is over?

What kinds of careers can these students look forward to upon graduation?

I guess it really depends on what you are looking for.

For many, it is all about the bottom line. Which jobs allow you to make the most money in the shortest space of time, for the least amount of work in a week?

For others, the opportunities for travel and experience may take precedent. Are you the kind of person who is willing to accept a slightly lower salary if it afforded you the opportunity to see new places, and perhaps acquire another language?

Then there are those for whom quality of life is most important. Sure, it’s great if you can get the big salary, the company car and the gold American Express card with your firm picking up the tab, but not if it means working 16 hours a day!

Taking all these factors into account, recent data has pointed to some specific areas which show the best potential for an overall balance of all these factors for up and coming graduates.

There are some overall trends that also make for interesting reading.

As one would expect, given that we are currently in the midst of another technological revolution across the world, those who can operate and maintain computer systems and the associated framework are in high demand, with the types of positions tech firms around the world regularly recruit for accounting for the bulk of the top 5.

There are a few surprises in there too however.

So, let’s take a look at the current top 5 job types for graduates and see which ones suit you best.


5) Computer Systems Analyst:

As I’ve already mentioned, there is massive demand across the world for experts in the operation and maintenance of computer mainframe systems. As such, Computer Systems Analysts are highly sought after given that they are the ones to whom companies often look to ensure not only that their systems are running effectively, but also to head off and troubleshoot problems before they happen. A 2015 survey predicted that by 2020 the demand for CSAs will have increased on current levels by an additional 22%. The average starting salary of 83,000 US Dollars per year sure isn’t to be sniffed at either!


4) Computer Systems/Network Administrator

Again, another entry from the high technology sphere, and not really a surprising one given a number of underlying factors. As time progresses, and system architecture becomes more and more sophisticated, demand for highly trained administrators will continue to surge. The increased threats of hacking and cyber terrorism also mean that companies are now prepared to go the extra mile in terms of both remuneration and overall employment packages to get the very best net administrators they can. This sector is expected to expand candidate demand by 28% over the next 5 years, which will no doubt lead to a further increase in the already very generous 76,000 US Dollar base salary.


3) Accountants and Auditors

Every big company needs staff to keep an eye on the books. For as long as trade has existed, so too has the balance sheet. Someone with the ability to write and maintain those sheets has the potential to go far in the world of accounting. This shows no signs of abating with the industry predicted to grow a further 16% over the next few years.

Of all the jobs on this list, accountancy and auditing is perhaps one of the less glamorous options. But, if you are one of those who values security and financial well being above the other mitigating factors then this job could be the one for you.

A salary in excess of 70,000 US dollars per year and the security of knowing you are an indispensible part of the team are your rewards for entering the world of the accountant.


2) PR Consultant

Whilst the creative media such as newspapers and magazines, and to a lesser extent TV and radio have been hit hard by the emergence of the internet and social media in the past decade, public relations, a field with many transferable skills, has not only escaped unscathed, it has actually continued to grow, with consistent double digit growth decade by decade set to continue beyond 2020. Although the average base salary is a more modest 61,000 US dollars, if you have the expertise and are willing to strike out on your own, establishing your own PR firm could bring in a salary several magnitudes higher.


1) Software Developers

Without getting too technical this is actually kind of 2 different jobs in 1. Software developers can work either as developers for systems (PC and Mac) or app developers (Android, iPad, etc). Whilst there is undoubtedly more jobs to be had in app development at the moment, given the sheer number of smart phones and tablets on the market, it is something of an unstable industry, where one or two bad choices can effectively kill a company.

Software developers on the other hand can look towards a certain level of reassurance. Whilst tablets and phones continue to advance, there are early signs of fatigue amongst customers, particularly amongst users of Apple’s products, which more and more are beginning to look like token, annual, customer-bilking updates rather than genuine innovations. The corporations of the world will always need computer software, and as such they will always need software developers.

The projected 32% growth rate in this sector by 2020 along with the circa.100,000 US dollar salary makes software development the very clear winner on this list.

So there you have it, just some of the brilliant careers you can look forward to upon completion of your studies. However, this is but a tiny slice of the many options a degree from one of the world’s top universities could send your way.

For more information and to get help in taking the next step in your academic path, call AF Education today.

Cultural Confusions: What Challenges do Chinese Students Face in Foreign Countries?

I like to think of myself as multicultural. I enjoy interacting with and getting to know people from a variety of different backgrounds, with different interests as well as different religious and political ideals. They say that “variety is the spice of life” and indeed that is an idea that I can certainly get behind.

I wasn’t always this way though.

Before I started university, 95% of my friends were from the same town, of the same colour and religious affiliation and we all pretty much had the same politics.

But then university opened my eyes. For the first time in my life I was studying and socialising alongside people of different races, creeds and ideals and for the first time I found my preconceptions about certain cultures and certain countries being fundamentally challenged.

Indeed not all Japanese people are timid, not all Germans are ultra-serious and not all French are suave and charming, though I stand by the assertion that the Poles and the Irish are legendary drinkers!

It’s fair to say that my university days opened my eyes to an entirely new world of possibilities, dreams and friendships. For the first time in my life, I truly started to think as a citizen of the world rather than as a Scot.

But then again, it was relatively easy for me to make such a grandiose gesture. After all, I was still studying in Edinburgh, in the heart of Scotland, the land where I had spent most of my life up to that point. It’s all too easy to move outside your social comfort zone when you still have the familiarity of your homeland to fall back on.

I sometimes wondered, what must it be like for foreign students, who as well as this social awakening have to contend with being immersed in a completely new and alien environment, the principles and expectations of which may not necessarily follow with what they are used to in their homeland.

For Chinese students, I imagined this cultural change must be especially jarring.

I’ve visited China a few times, and I have a number of friends there. I also lived in Hong Kong for nearly 3 years, so I hope my opinions here will carry at least some validity.

China is a beautiful place, as diverse as it is fascinating. However, at the end of the day, it is a very different environment from Scotland or even Japan where I live now.

Initially I did feel a bit uneasy when I first arrived, but as a seasoned traveller I soon learned to find my way around.

So how about when the show is on the other foot? What is it like for Chinese students who come to Scotland or indeed any other western country, such as the US?

I spoke to some of my Chinese friends about this, their responses were intriguing to say the least.

Whilst all of my friends had studied English from a very early age, and had shown at least some mastery of the language prior to going overseas, there were, naturally, still some communication issues. My friend remarked that she sometimes had trouble properly making herself understood, and indeed understanding local accents.

Speaking at an appropriate volume and with an appropriate tone can also be challenging for some students from China.

Depending on the local dialect, some Chinese speakers speak with a noticeably louder volume and more guttural tone than most native English speakers are accustomed to. This can sometimes have the unintended consequence of making them seem overly aggressive or angry, which of course is not the case.

Indeed the beauty of the Chinese language in its often colourful expressions can often be misinterpreted by those not in the know.

As in all cases, communication is a two way thing, and if you can be sure to seek out a social scene that is more international, you will have an easier time. After all, everyone is in the same position as you, right?

Food is another area where some of my Chinese friends have also encountered initial difficulties with adjusting to a very different food menu. Chinese food is pretty unique and while so-called Chinese restaurants are prevalent throughout the western world, they seldom actually capture the essence of what real Chinese food is. Often what they selling is not Chinese food, but a facsimile of what Americans and Europeans believe Chinese food should taste like. Still, having sampled an allegedly American hamburger in China before, I can tell you that this is a two way street!

Luckily, there is a way around this. Most largely European and American cities these days have their own “Chinatown” district. Here, Chinese living abroad can find the foods and provisions they are more familiar with. It may cost a bit more than it does in your hometown, but believe me, as a frequent buyer of the Scottish soft drink Irn Bru when I lived in Hong Kong, sometimes a little taste of home can really brighten up your day.

Study culture is another potentially difficult are for Chinese students studying abroad.

It may be something of a racial stereotype that Asian students tend to be more studious than their western contemporaries, but actually, from what I have seen, it’s pretty accurate.

However, remember that studying abroad is as much a social and personal experience as it is an academic one. Of course you want to get the highest grades possible, but it is also crucial to take some time to “let off steam” as it were. Try to set aside one evening per week for social activities. Not only will this help you to maintain your English skills, but it will also help you considerably with the whole acclimatization process.

Choosing to study abroad is undeniably a challenge, but it is an experience that will most assuredly change your life for the better. Contact AF Education today and start your journey into a wider world of education.

Learning English: A Chinese Challenge

As an English teacher, I’ve worked with students from all across the world. From business executives in Tokyo and Hong Kong, to elementary school kids in the Japanese countryside, and fresh of the boat immigrants from Eastern Europe. In my 10 years of teaching I have seen it all. I’ve worked with some wonderful students, and some truly awful ones!

However none left as big an impression on me, or fascinated me as much from a linguistics point of view as my students from China.

There is something unique and indeed quite beautiful about the way Chinese people acquire and use English. Chinese English speakers also throw up a great many challenges to English teachers. Today I thought I would look at some of these as we examine the question of what makes Chinese English unique in today’s cross-cultural society.

Firstly, one immediately notices a difference in tone and volume with speaking with Chinese learners of English.

To the uninitiated, Chinese people can sometimes come across as angry or aggressive, particularly at the early stages of language learning. That is they sound as such until you hear them speaking their local language.

I recall my first trip to Guangzhou many years ago, to visit some friends. At first I genuinely thought my friends were arguing with each other, but then I realized this is just part of the beauty and vibrancy of the Putonghua language. It has a certain “assertiveness” or “aggressiveness” to it, which, after a period of initial reluctance is overcome, can actually become quite endearing.

It’s also important to remember that as much as modern China is a huge country united under one central authority, it’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic origins are also reflected in its linguistic complexity. Whilst Putonghua is the undisputed language of education, commerce and government, China actually has more than 80 different languages and dialects widely spoken within its massive borders.

This linguistic diversity also passes into how they learn English. A native Hakka speaker will sound quite different from a native Shanghainese speaker, who in turn will sound radically different from someone from the northern autonomous regions, whose native dialect has more in common with Mongolian than it does Putonghua.

Understanding these differences is crucial if one wishes to teach English effectively to Chinese students.

Pronunciation is another key area. In some ways similar to Japanese learners, Chinese students of English also have issues with confusing the “L” and “R” pronunciation. During visits to Beijing and Shanghai, I have often been in bars where the friendly staff have kindly offered me a “lum and coke” or a “soda water and rime”. However, rather than mock these basic errors, I find them endearing. However they do pose a unique set of problems for English teachers and their students.

As with any pronunciation issues, repeated drilling and practice, overseen by native English speaking teachers will, in the fullness of time, produce a marked improvement.

As I touched on earlier, appropriate volume and usage is another issue for Chinese learners of English. This particular obstacle is as much cultural as it is linguistic.

Let me use my own experience as an example.

When I first arrived in Hong Kong back in 2010, I didn’t really know any local people. I sought to quickly make local friends and learn as much about the local culture as I can. As a former journalist, I have always taken pride in my ability to communicate with and relate to people, regardless of their culture, background or status in society. My outgoing nature saw me do a lot of socialising in those first few formative months in Hong Kong.

One of my Chinese friends remarked: “Oh you are aggressive, you make friends easily.”

I was initially shocked by this statement. “Aggressive” is not a word by which I would ever wish to be described. It has an overwhelmingly negative context to most English speaking cultures. However, the closest translation for “aggressive” in many Chinese dialects actually constitutes a largely positive meaning. It suggests that someone is assertive, determined and does what is necessary to succeed and impress those around them. Indeed such qualities are greatly admired in a culture as fiercely competitive as China.

However for the English learner, and conversely any native English speaker who wishes to acquire Chinese language ability such wrinkles in translation can throw up a number of complications. Knowing when it is appropriate to use such words and phrases is another key issue to overcome if one wishes to master a foreign language, especially one as complex as English.

Again, practicing conversations, dialogues and studying situational English usage alongside native speakers is the best way to overcome these linguistic obstacles.

In general, Chinese English speakers, from my own observations at least, seem to have a greater level of English in general than the likes of their neighbours Japan and Korea.

Is this due to Chinese languages being more compatible with learning English, or is it due largely to the greater tenacity and desire for learning that drives Chinese learners.

To be honest, I think it’s possibly a bit of both.

One thing is for sure, teaching English to Chinese learners has been a hugely enjoyable and rewarding exercise, and one in which I feel privileged to have partaken.

At AF, all our English courses are taught exclusively by highly trained, native speaking teachers. We have a range of courses from beginner right up to university level. Contact us today and see how we can help you take your English to the next level.

Entrance interviews: Tips from a survivor

Interviews, be they for jobs, schools, colleges or universities are a highly stressful business.

In both my academic and working life, I have had to undertake numerous interviews, and, thankfully I have a success/fail ratio of about 2 to 1. In short, whatever it is that most interviewers expect, somehow, I seem to have it.

Of course as a journalist, a teacher and an occasional trainer, it could be said that I do have the “gift of the gab” as it were.

Indeed, I always do my best to promote my interpersonal skills as a major selling point at every opportunity when applying for new jobs or courses.

However, there is more to passing an interview than simply knowing what to say.

Here, there are my top tips on how to navigate that final, often fatal hurdle to realizing your college study dreams:


1. Think Independently

Especially in the context of university or college entrance interviews, in almost all cases the interviewer is far more interested in your capacity for independent thought and improvisation than in hearing you regurgitate the same stock answers that you think they “want to hear”. Do not follow a script, do not just say what you think the interviewer would like you to say. Instead, make rough notes on the broad range of topics and key points you want to cover in the interview. Be prepared to improvise, to change tack and to adapt your answers in order to fit with the natural flow of the conversation.


2. Over-preparing is just as bad as under-preparing

Anybody who has ever watched US drama or comedy shows on TV knows how much Americans love to talk! This is why, especially in the context of US universities, it is often the case that admissions staff cite the failings that students from China and other Asian countries are “too shy, too quiet, and too indecisive.” You need to challenge and defeat these ill-conceived stereotypes by speaking clearly, confidently and with the conviction and the belief that what you are saying is genuine, accurate and appropriate to the situation. Preparation is key. Research the school, its history, its standing and its more illustrious alumni. Have a clear vision of why this is the school you want to study in, and why you should be allowed to do so. Think not only of what the school can do for you, but also consider what you can bring to the school and its community. How will your being admitted enhance the school’s standing? What contribution can you make? You need to consider this point carefully and be sure to articulate it as best you can at the interview.

Conversely, it’s also important not to prepare too much. Especially at the higher end schools and universities, there will be a huge number of candidates interviewing each day. You may only have a few minutes to show the interviewers your best. If you waste that time waffling through page after page of pre-prepared notes, you could irreparably damage your chances of admission. Don’t do it. Also, engaging your audience is a key part of an interview or indeed any similar such verbal assessment. You don’t want to come across as droning, boring or otherwise tedious candidate. Keep your answers succinct and to the point. Elaborate where you can, but be aware of your audience. The minute you see their interest begin to wane, wind up your answer and prepare to answer the next one.


3. Be professional and mature at all times

In both the US and the UK the words “well-rounded”, “mature” and “professional” are often banded around by colleges and universities when we ask them to articulate how to describe their ideal candidate. But what do these “buzz words” actually mean?

Let’s look at well-rounded first of all. Again, common criticisms of students from this part of the world revolve around them being too timid, too focused on academia, but again this is usually not the case, but in interviews with foreign institutions we need to challenge these prejudices by projecting an image of confidence, both academic development and an accompanying “common sense”.

Maturity is perhaps a little easier to define. Going to university or college is for most people that final step from adolescence to adulthood. The interviewers want to see this newly emergent adulthood in you when you interview. Don’t sit there playing with your phone while you wait to be called, don’t bring mum and dad with you to the interview. Of course your parents want to be supportive, but if you project the image of being overly dependent on them then it hardly projects the image of confident, self-assured young adult.

Professional also ties in, to some extent with maturity. We need to project the right image. Dress smartly. A suit may not be necessary, but jeans and a t-shirt is certainly not appropriate. Get there early, but not too early. Know exactly where you need to be and when, then plan to be there about 10-15 minutes ahead of time. Any less and you risk being late, any more than that and you risk being an imposition to the institution you are attending. As in all cases, it’s important to strike the right balance.


4. Above all, stay calm, and be confident.

College interviews are some of the most stressful encounters you will experience in your adult life. Their outcome and your eventual academic destiny will leave a lasting impact that will echo through the rest of your life. Remember however, that you must have something that they like, otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten the interview in the first place. Keep that thought inside you as you enter the interview, do your best and with a bit of luck, all will be well.

Expanding Horizons: Why Study Abroad?

Today, our world is one of constant and ever-accelerating change. With this increased change comes a greater interconnectivity. Never before in human history have the borders between nations and cultures seemed so easily broken down.

As the social climate continues to evolve towards greater integration and globalisation, there are even greater demands on higher education institutions around the world. Today’s universities and colleges are being tasked by employers with producing not just well-rounded, work ready individuals, but global citizens. Citizens who are able to move beyond the comfort zone of their own home country and embrace an international outlook.

For an economic powerhouse like China, this has led to a massive increase in the number of citizens choosing to study abroad.

Whilst Chinese domestic universities and colleges frequently score highly on the world rankings, they haven’t quite yet earned the international fame and reputation that the Likes of Harvard, MIT and Stanford enjoy in the US, nor the prestige that comes with the likes of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK.

For the greatest chance to secure the best positions, with the highest profile employers, both at home and abroad, Chinese students continue to look west to the US and the UK to give them the edge on the domestic talent pool.

Of course, it is not only about the end results. Besides benefiting your future career prospects, studying in the US or UK affords those fortunate enough to do so a variety of other benefits too.

For example, let us look at the method of instruction.

In most traditional universities in China, teachers and lecturers tend to subscribe to a more traditional, Confucian teaching methodology. Following this teaching pattern, most learning is done via a lecture format. Students listen, they observe, they make notes. Very little time is given to discussion or debate. The teacher, or lecturer’s learning outcomes are presented as “matter of fact” and students are not encouraged to question or seek clarification directly from their teacher.

In the UK and US, asking questions and debating outcomes is seen as a vital element of “Enquiry Skills” which in many disciplines are given an equal weighting to “knowledge and understanding” when it comes to final assessment.

More importantly, these skills also foster a greater sense of self-awareness and independent thinking in students which will serve them well in their future careers, especially if they wish to embark on any kind of entrepreneurial or creative enterprise in the future.

On the subject of independence, this is of course another great reason to study abroad. Living independently, in a new place, surrounded by new people and without the safety net of friends and family close at hand can be one of the most empowering experiences of your life.

As someone who has lived outside of his country of origin for the past 10 years, I can say without any doubt that moving to Asia, to seek my own independence was one of the best decisions I ever made. It made me confident, determined and it enlightened and empowered me in more ways than I could ever express in simple words.

Simple things, like learning to communicate in a foreign language, getting to grips with a radically different culture, with differing societal norms and expectations, will give you an exhilarating rush like no other.

There is also the chance to rub shoulders and exchange ideas with the future leaders of the world.

Take for example, the current government of the UK. More than 60% of the current front bench cabinet attended the same finishing school, Eton. Likewise, almost all of them went on to study at Oxford. The networks they built up during those formative years have carried them all right through to the very highest levels of UK society.

Likewise in the US, you will find that the likes of Harvard, MIT, and Stanford also boast a great number of high ranking members of present and former US governments amongst their illustrious alumni.

Whether you think it is fair or not, the fact of the matter is that in today’s world, those who study at the top schools have the best chance of landing the highest profile jobs later in life.

Even if you decide not to follow on into a multi-national firm after you graduate, should you decide to go with a domestic company or even strike out on your own, the friends, contacts and social network you will build at these elite schools and colleges will serve you well throughout your working life.

At a simpler and more base level, studying in the UK or US will greatly enhance your English skills. Communicating every day, in English, at an academic level for the duration of a 4 year degree will, hopefully leave you with a near-native level of speaking, reading and writing ability. You will also develop a better sense of correct usage and appropriacy, which can come only with consistent, native level interactions on a daily basis.

So in short summary, studying abroad will benefit your personal development, your language abilities, your self-confidence, your communicative and interpersonal skills, and most of all, your future career prospects.

At AF we offer a complete one-stop service to help you make the best choice of where to go for your study abroad program. Come see us today for a consultation and take that all important first step towards realising your full potential.

Excelling in English Writing: Tips From a Professional

For as long as we have had written languages, there have always been scholars, artists, poets and writers looking to get as much as they can out of the written word.

Whether it’s a 10,000 word thesis on chemical compounds, a passionate poem for your lover, a 3 line haiku, or even just a 120 character, expletive-ridden rant on social media, the written word has always had the power to leave a definitive and long lasting impression.

How many words do you think that you actually read in a day? Whilst it certainly won’t compare to the tens of thousands that the average person speaks and hears in a day, it’s probably a lot more than you may think.

Some writings tend to stick in our mind more than others. An evocative newspaper column may have you considering various issues and arguments for days afterwards. Likewise a dirty joke you read may also have you rushing to tell all your friends before someone beats you to it.

Writing is a thing of beauty, and is there to be explored and admired.

But what makes a good writer, and how can we emulate them?

As someone who has had the good fortune to have his work published in around half a dozen countries, I guess maybe I can offer some advice. So here for you today, I present some of my top tips to improving your writing.


1. Keep it sharp, keep it simple.

Often, some of the most impactful and memorable pieces or writing we see are incredibly short. Newspaper headlines are a classic example. How do you sum up a potentially world-changing event in just the 5 or 6 word limit that front page headline gives you?

When getting creative with your writing, one must always resist the temptation to get too flowery with one’s wording, and in an attempt to add further texture, tone and colour to one’s own ramblings, become somewhat disconnected from the stated goal of the piece and thereby slide off into superfluous hyperbolae. The previous sentence is a prime example of this!

Getting too wordy will only alienate your readers. It’s not big, it’s not clever and, especially in an academic context, it won’t impress anyone.

Read some of the journalists in the international press. You’ll notice that even in the quality broadsheet press, the vocabulary may be more elaborate, but the writer still retains a short, sharp, punchy prose style that keeps the reader onboard.


2. Do not use words that you don’t fully understand.

I get it, we all like to give off the impression of being well-educated, especially in an academic or professional setting. However, we must always resist the tendency to use a word that we think sounds intellectual but whose full meaning and context we are not completely sure of. As a case in point, I get really annoyed when people say things like “It’s literally raining cats and dogs out there!”

If that really were the case, I think the animal welfare groups in your community would have a lot to say about it!

Of course, the error here stems from the writer confusing, perhaps unintentionally, the meanings of “literally” and “figuratively”.


3. When in doubt, follow the “5 Ws”

Is your writing detailed enough? Have you included all the relevant information? In particular, non-native speakers of English, who make up the bulk of the students I have taught in my time, have a tendency to leave out a lot of information, believing that they lack the vocabulary to fully express themselves.

Contrary to their belief, it doesn’t necessarily take a huge vocabulary to write a detailed piece.

The 5 Ws I referred to in my headline are: Who, what, where, when and why. Each story that you write, and indeed each sentence, must aim to address as many of these as possible. Indeed, in my days as a journalist and editor, I could say conclusively that any story that did not answer all of these 5 points would not be approved by me for publication.

As an example, here’s a sentence a student of mine wrote. The aim of the exercise was to get the student to write at least 70 words on the theme “What did you do during summer vacation?”

Here is what she wrote:

“I went to Kyoto, it was fun.”

At seven words, it isn’t even close to the target, and it would seem there is little hope for this student. Not so if we apply the 5 Ws.

I asked her to write, in note form, the 5 Ws. Here is what she wrote:

Who: Me, my family

What: a weekend trip

Where: Kyoto, Kinkakuji Temple, Kiyomizu Temple

When: Last Friday

Why: Because we wanted to see historic places in Japan.

Using this information, I asked her to redraft the sentence:

“Last Friday, my family and I took a weekend trip to Kyoto in Japan.

We wanted to see many historical sites, so we visited the Kiyomizu and Kinkakuji Temples. It was a lot of fun.”

With just this one small thought exercise the word count has multiplied by a factor of 5 to 35. Still not quite at the required level yet, but a massive improvement for sure.


4. Drafting is good, but don’t overdo it

Writers, much like painters and craftsmen can have a notoriously fiery artistic temperament. We are always looking a ways to make a piece that little bit sharper, more impactful or perhaps funnier. In truth, once your writing has gone through multiple drafts, what you are left with may be radically different from what you had initially intended. In doing so, you lose the essence of what you were originally trying to write.

In order to avoid this, as a general rule, I only redraft work once or twice. After 3 drafts, I feel it’s probably as good as its going to get, without compromising on the feeling of the piece. Other writers may disagree with me on this, but as someone who is frequently published internationally, I have to say it is a methodology that has always worked for me.


5. Above all, take pleasure in your writing.

At the end of the day, human nature is such that we naturally perform better in a task when we enjoy it. This is why in school I was frequently top of the class in English and social studies, but rock bottom when it came to mathematics and religious studies. The latter subjects never interested me and as such my performance waned.

Write about things that interest you, write at your own pace and above all, don’t force it. When you hit a wall, take a break and regather your thoughts. We all have the writing gift inside of us somewhere, the key is knowing how to bring it out.