Back when I'd just gotten home from China, I was considering my options. Part of me wanted to go back to China and study Chinese for reals, in a university, with actual textbooks and classes. Part of me wanted to get a job and make some legitimate money, more than my Peace Corps salary of $110/month. And another part of me wanted to go back to school in the U.S., for a graduate degree I hoped would jump-start an aid/development career here in the States.
As it turned out, I didn't go back to China because I met a man who was pretty compelling.
Then, much as I tried to find work, the economy was in a downward spiral, and the only job I was hired to do was as a case worker for Child Protective Services, a job that would have required I go to homes (unannounced) and physically remove children from their parents.
So, I went back to school. But, by the time I finally made the decision to go down that road, application deadlines were looming, and I still hadn't taken the GRE. I began frantically getting my ducks in a row and looking for programs that matched my time-frame and my interests.
My time-frame was as soon as possible.
My interest was the Asia Pacific.
I found a program that started in January, offered an MA in Asia Pacific Policy Studies and combined my love of history, sociology and gender issues with political science and economics.
Somehow, with an undergraduate degree in English/history, I got in.
The university was in Canada, half-way across the country and then a few hours north. It didn't occur to me to think much about this because I'd just lived overseas and because I grew up partly in the Pacific Northwest, so Vancouver, BC seemed familiar to me. It wasn't necessarily exotic, particularly after living Sichuan, China.
But other people sort of did a double-take. Canada? Why? Is that even legitimate? Would the degree 'count?' Could I do that?
Yes, the degree was legitimate, would 'count' and I could definitely do that. I packed my bags, and that boy I met who caught my eye drove me from St. Louis, MO to Vancouver, BC and helped me buy some IKEA furniture to get me going.
18 months later, I graduated with an MA in Asia Pacific Policy Studies and was working in Washington DC as a researcher in international and human development.
The whole point is that degrees in countries outside of the US have some serious perks, chief among them the cost of attendance.
My MA at UBC (a great, solid school with excellent faculty and resources) cost me a total of $2500 in tuition. I received a scholarship as a foreign student, which cut the tuition in half, from $5000.
That was it. I paid for books and living expenses and received an excellent education all for a fraction of the cost I would have spent in the US.
When I went to apply for jobs and internships back in the US, the degree caused a little bit of pause only because some employers wanted to be sure I wasn't Canadian and, thereby, unable to work legally the US. But the degree itself was never questioned. I worked regularly with Ivy League graduates as my colleagues, and I never once felt that my education wasn't up to snuff. I got the same jobs and internships as students who'd attended Harvard, Yale, Vassar and Georgetown. I realized it wasn't the education that enabled people to work in DC; it was our ability to obtain money to pay the bills so that we could get non-paying internships and somehow survive that mattered - but that's another article entirely.
The point is: my Canadian degree gave me the skills and education necessary to engage in the work I dreamed of doing without saddling me with tens-of-thousands of dollars in student debt.
I'm one of the few people I know who doesn't have student debt, for which I'm incredibly grateful. Attending a non-U.S. university helped make that possibility a reality, and I'm grateful I made that choice. I would encourage any parent or person pursuing a degree to at least consider the possibility of attending a university outside the US if money is a factor.
Here are a few things to consider if this sounds intriguing:
1. Even in non-English speaking countries, there are English-speaking universities if language is a barrier or an issue. So, don't think of only English-speaking countries. For example, the Pierre and Marie Currie University in Paris offers 19 graduate degrees in English for international students. The University of Science and Technology in China also offers programs in English. This is true, as well, for the University of Barcelona, Heidelberg University and many more. Finally, a year abroad, studying the language beforehand, would not only be a wonderful way to experience another country in-depth but also be worth the cost in the long-run.
Here is a list of the 50 most popular international universities for US students pursuing a global education.
2. Exchange rates can work in your favor. When I attended UBC in Canada, the exchange rate meant that I was able to live in Vancouver (a famously expensive city) for 'less' money because the exchange rate worked in my favor. Right now, the dollar is strong in New Zealand, for example, and New Zealand has some great universities. Currently the US dollar has a favorable exchange rate in both Canada and Australia, both English-speaking countries.
3. It's more than a degree. I considered living in China more than a job, and the same held true for my degree in Canada. I got to live in another country, hear the thoughts/opinions/dreams of people whose perspective was different from mine and speak Chinese on the daily in a city with a ton of Mandarin speakers. I got to intern with a Canadian organization working to address the HIV/AIDS crisis among vulnerable populations in Vancouver, and I sat through discussions on international policy with classmates from around the world. I also saw the U.S. through the eyes of my Canadian and international classmates and professors, and that was incredibly illuminating. Even though we live on the same continent, speak the same language and all love our coffee, the differences in our cultures are varied and layered. I loved seeing the world through a different lens.
4. It's a resume builder. I know, I know. Education isn't obtained for the sole-purpose of building one's resume, but if we're being practical and considering cost vs. benefit, a solid resume is a consideration for post-college life. In a New York Times article entitled 'A Guide to Getting a Bachelor's Abroad', writer Paul Hockenos tells the story of an American student who transferred from a US college to the University of Milan (though he spoke no Italian) and complete his engineering degree. Hockenos writes of the student, "But, more critically, acquaintances in Washington’s world of public policy and politics, where he wants to eventually work, told him that a foreign degree “connotes a willingness to try things outside one’s comfort zone” and would work in his favor."
Personally, my experience living outside of the US for substantial period of time (2 years in China and 1 year in Canada) was always seen as a positive among potential employers in Washington DC. Back home in Texas? Well...not so much. I had an interviewer once ask me what had compelled me to join Greenpeace. But....in the world I wanted to be in, the policy and development world, international experience and language skills were deeply valued and sought-out. Earning a degree overseas indicates a willingness to think outside of the box, explore new ideas and cultures and be flexible and open to new experiences. In a world that is increasingly 'flat' (as Thomas Friedman would argue) and global, those are good traits from the perspective of many employers.
5. Studying overseas comes with a jolt of confidence and independence. I hear parents bemoan, daily, the lack of independence and confidence of kids these days. I do it, too, while I continue to hustle around the house doing their laundry, monitoring their food intake and reminding them to do homework, brush their teeth and wash their feet already. I think one of the most important and pivotal steps in my life was separating from my parents and going off to college, where I had to make my own rules, figure out how to get up and ready for class by 8 am and realize that I couldn't stay out at the Midnight Rodeo until 2 am and still pass Algebra. My parents were 5 hours away and didn't once call the school on my behalf, know my schedule or remind me of an assignment's due-date, which would have been unheard of back in the ancient 1990s. Nowadays? I hear stories all the time of parents hovering over kids in college, making the lives of RAs and professors nightmares and continuing to spoon-feed life to their children from arm's length.
Studying overseas makes helicopter parenting less possible, obviously, but the experience itself is unique and different from the status quo. The adventure and hardship of living overseas, studying in another culture and exploring not just a new country but a new side of one's self is, not to be too cheesy, character building. As parents, we are so often concerned with our kids having and developing confidence, and it's been my experience that nothing does that more than the true development of skills, typically found through hardship and adventure. :)
As I begin considering college for my two kids (thankfully a few years away), I am 100% behind them attending school overseas if that's an idea appealing to them. Not only do international schools often cost less, but the personal development and overall experience is truly priceless.
If you're banging your head against a wall trying to figure out how to pay for college for your own kids, or if you're considering a graduate degree yourself, international education may just be the start to a feasible answer.
Has anyone else studied overseas? Did you have a good experience? Would you do it again?
Speaking of school, summer is winding down in these parts. We're already looking at ordering backpacks, buying back-to-school supplies and hustling up to get summer reading assignments done and done.
Hope everyone else is breezing right through the END OF JULY! Whew. That happened fast!