That Strange Foreign Feeling

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

Miriam Beard

Travelling afar to gain knowledge is not really a recent phenomenon. Records of foreign students studying in Nalanda university, young scholars swarming around Confucius, and diehard followers of Sophocles are but examples of how students travelled to ‘foreign lands’ to gain insight into subjects that swayed over their very being.

In an increasingly modern world, education abroad has become a very orderly, organised trend. Students who wish to pursue their studies go through certain academic, legal and economic procedures before taking up a course of study. This system facilitates students of all age groups to study anywhere in the world.

The constant traveller

Though both parents and teachers feel that the purpose of education is best served when a student puts in several years in the same institution, it has also been noticed that students who have studied in various schools and colleges are more open-minded, adjustable and also have developed lateral thinking effortlessly. Such being the case, international exposure in a student’s life can work wonders, if they are led through the appropriate paths.

Students can be exposed to a foreign culture at any age. Indian parents working abroad often educate the children in the place of their  domicile and the kids soak in the “foreign culture and system”. In fact, when they come back to study in India, they do not feel at home for a long time to come. Sheeja who taught at an American school in Florida, says she found it comparatively easier to vibe with the Indian students out there.

Her sister Pooja who teaches at a Kendriya Vidyalaya in Bangalore says that she finds that the students who have spent a number of years abroad find it very difficult to cope with the workload, the heavy syllabus and the large numbers of classmates in India. Nevertheless the teachers consulted on the subject could not discount the transfer of intercultural knowledge that take place in face to face interactions among students and between students and teachers.

For instance, the young students who have lived abroad are very conscientious about using the dustbin appropriately is shaken when they see people flouting rules on the roads. They are amazed at the way their Indian counterparts are ready to devour the series of tests and tonnes of home work that come their way without batting an eyelid. On the other hand, they are thrilled at the idea of getting so many public holidays and having so many friends who speak their tongue.

When the scene is reversed and young students from India go to study abroad they are struck by the practical value of education, fall in love with the ‘no-uniform’ norm, but dearly miss the testing and ranking system that helped them to rate themselves.

Perception of foreigners

Initially, students look at foreign students as aliens because of their accented speech and curious little ways, but they  soon forget the differences once they bond. Over a period of time the differences boil down to zero and the class merges and emerge as one unit.

“The real effect of a foreign education becomes obvious only when the students are at a discerning age because they are able to appreciate the plus points and differences,” says Raghunathan, professor of physics who has seen at least twenty five batches of post graduate students who have gone abroad to pursue further studies and has seen as many batches coming down to India to work on projects at the IISc and other science centres.

The older students automatically have the advantage of living independently and understanding the nuances of an alien culture and way of life. They are in a better position to compare notes and evaluate the outcome of their education.

In the words of professor Vince Mitchell, Head of Marketing at Cass Business School, London, “True education results when students are stimulated to educate themselves. Lecturers only open knowledge doors; it’s up to the students how far they walk through them. International exposure is one of the most powerful stimuli in an increasingly global world.

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