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Should young students study overseas early in their academic careers?

Should parents wait until college to let their child experience studying abroad? Source: Shutterstock

It has been said that fortune favours the bold, but when it comes to studying overseas, should young students be given the push to do so?

While it has become increasingly common for university students to study in a foreign country, some parents may be eager to send their children abroad early in their academic careers, during secondary or high school, for example, for various reasons.

This could be to give them a better education than what is currently offered in their home country, to broaden their worldview, give them a better chance of success and to enjoy the opportunities presented by their host country, among other things.

Meanwhile, some other perceived benefits of studying abroad at a younger age include helping students to develop their cultural awareness, pick up a new language, widen their worldview, learn to become adaptable to change and develop their resilience in the process.

However, not all children adapt to their surroundings to reap in the benefits of studying abroad quite so seamlessly. There are other considerations to think about, such as whether your child is sent abroad on his or her own, or with their family, which can affect how well they cope.  

What the experts think

Not all students fare well when studying abroad, and in some instances, can take up to nine months to settle into their new environment. Source: Shutterstock

Both James Foucar from UK-based support service, Boarding Concern, and psychologist Dr Cathy Tsang-Feign spoke to South China Morning Post (SCMP) to weigh in on the matter back in 2014.

Foucar opined that it can be challenging for young children who are sent abroad as they “are isolated from everything they know”, and that students may face language problems and cultural differences.

Meanwhile, Dr Tsang-Feign said some overseas students go through up to nine months of painful adjustment before finding their feet, adding that many experience severe homesickness, depression, anxiety, panic attacks or insomnia.

Can young students cope with the challenges of studying abroad?

Some students may adapt well to their new environment, but not all do. Source: Shutterstock

A Hong Kong student who went to boarding school in Australia, interviewd by SCMP said: “When you go abroad, you face a lot of different problems – the culture, the lifestyle, the teachers, studies and friends. I felt gloomy all the time. I was homesick even though I wasn’t really close to my parents.”

His regimented life negatively affected him, and he eventually picked up smoking and drinking.

“When my brother and I went to Australia, my parents thought we were really mature, but we weren’t. They thought we knew how to handle ourselves, and at the time, we believed it too. But we couldn’t and sometimes we felt so lost.”

Offering a contrasting view is Carolina Guerra. At the time her article was published on Forbes, Guerra was graduating from high school in Milan, and had studied abroad at a US high school.

She said: “Parents often fear that having their child study abroad for a semester or a year when they’re still a minor is much harder than when they’re an adult. Yet, a lot of exchange students I’ve encountered say that ‘waiting for college’ is one of their biggest regrets.”

She said that some of the benefits of experiencing high school overseas include helping students grow their international network and maturing faster than their peers as they undertake more responsibilities, including “adapting to new cultural activities, learning to do their own washing or planning weekend trips with their host family”.

“As a result, high school exchange students learn at an impressively young age how to be self-sufficient, manage money, solve problems, network, plan and organise. My own parents recognised that there was a huge difference between what I prioritised before I left, and what I prioritised after returning home. The same could be said for your child as well,” she wrote.

While studying abroad offers a myriad of benefits for students in addition to some challenges, should parents send their children to study overseas?

The answer may just depend on factors such as how well their child’s support system is while abroad, as well as their maturity.

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