A look at a students experiences of studying aboard

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Since i was studied in a primary school i had come across the words, 'study abroad' from a language teacher who taught me English. I have never thought of i could have a chance to further education in overseas. When i came across this, i have gained valuable experiences and learned new things which i have never experienced in my home country as discussed further below.

Culture, identity and language difference and the relations are both interesting topics. Stuart Hall (1997) [1] , discusses the definitions of culture, identity and language and explores the links between them in the introduction of his article 'Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices'. According to Hall's circuit of culture [2] , it shows the close relationships and the connections between culture, identity and language difference. Hall (2003) claims that, 'culture is about shared meanings'. It is regarded as a process or a set of practices other than embodying the "best that has been though and said" in a society. It is concerned with the 'giving and taking of the meaning' between the members of a group or society. In other words, members of the same culture must share a set of ideas, concepts, values and images of the group which manifests their cultural characteristics and makes them idiosyncratic from members who belong to other groups, this refers to their identification. Meanwhile, they are also consuming their culture when they indicate their identification. The ways where members of the same group share the same cultural code encompass their behaviours or life style in the contexts of both human and society.

Based on Hall (2003)'s perspective, 'language operates as a representational system' (p1) in which people may represent their 'ideas, concepts, images and feelings' to others through language. This means, 'the representation through language is the process by which meaning is produced (p1). In other words, the 'production and circulation of meaning' cannot take place without language. In short, through language, people able to give meaning to things including emotions, ideas and values as the meaning gives us a sense to know who we are (p3). In order to communicate such meanings to other people, they also need to use the linguistic codes (p4) of language. In addition, Hall argues that language has a much wider sense (p4) which involves anything that can represent meaning such as life, music, food, pictures, any non-verbal actions and etc. Instead of only spoken and written words.

From my experience, i remembered that my first Professional Accounting Skills for Business Decisions (PASBD) seminar which was about to do a presentation of National Trust to my two tutors. When my group mates and i addressed them as 'Mr. Trevor' and 'Mr. John', they were unhappy with the word 'Mister' and asked us to call them by their first names instead of adding a word 'Mister' or calling them 'Sir'. This gave me a big 'cultural shock'. In Malaysia, this situation is not common. We address elder people such as tutors, lecturers and employers with a title in order to express our respect for them. It would be regarded as a taboo or dishonour if we call the first name without title.

At that time, i could not understand why students dared to address lecturers or tutors by using their first names without title. Until now i read Hall's article and realised the reasons why they prefer us to use their first names. This is concerned about 'how does the tutor represent herself or himself?' My tutors, Trevor and Joyce represented themselves through their first names in their cultural community. Conversely, in my Chinese cultural context, i represent the tutors through the title in order to express my respect for them. In other words, my tutors and i produce our different identities through our representation and languages. As Hall indicates that 'Language is not only the privileged medium in which we "make sense" of things but also meaning is produced and exchanged' and gives us a sense of our own identity. Besides, language can be served as a symbolic practice which expresses the meaning of the cultural identity we belong to.

After i came here as an overseas student, i was worried that i had lost my identity and my way which i belong to due to the culture difference. Until i read Hall's article, i understand and recognise that it is a necessary experience which one needs to be adaptable to a new society. This means, one uses a new language to form a new membership in a new cultural context and also any change in language will lead to a change in identity and social relationship. Finally, i am realised and understood by reading Hall's article which he argues that this is a process of adaption to a new culture and society which is a need for one to experience the change and be adaptable to a new environment. Now, i accept this new culture and also get used to using the lecturers' first name. Nevertheless, i have to bear in mind and remind myself to address the elder people with their title after i go back to Malaysia. The rationale is i have to change my language since i change the cultural context where i live and the group which i belong to. Overall, the understanding of the relationships between cultural, identity and language differences does help me to do a good job and communicate effectively with my lecturers during seminars and lectures.

Team roles at work and cooperation

When i came to do assignments and worked with other people as a team, i found difficult to work with them as i did not have clear responsibility on what i supposed to do. Until i came to know about Belbin's Team Role Theory (1981) [3] , i realised that it is important for a team to clearly understand and establish different roles between team members and how people tend to "behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way" in order to perform at its best. Therefore, i considered what team role would suit me best when considering what part i might play. I would say i am a good listener who cares for individuals' feelings and prefers to get more feedbacks from others instead of keeping everything in heart. I tried to provide support and helped members to work along in order to ensure they are involved in discussing and sharing ideas as well as working effectively without doing things independently. By looking at the team roles outlined [4] , i would have classified myself as a "team worker" who is "co-operative, mild, perceptive and diplomatic; listen, builds, averts friction." This brief outline reflects how i would try to control the group work to meet what i want to achieve.

I felt that i would be able to adapt to different contexts and taking responsibility for my own part and work confidently with others to achieve my targeted result and expectations. As tasks began, i would identify the work required and try to complete it on behalf of the team. Undeniably, there were some conflicts arose between members due to disagreement of ideas and approach used. To avoid things 'fall between the cracks', i would sometimes intervene to avert potential friction as I was quite sensitive to what people feel and think, and so i would try to tell jokes in order to avoid friction and misapprehension between members. Other than trying my best to assist members who found difficult to raise ideas i was also coped with difficult characters and use their skills to positive ends. In consideration of different views of others, i would attempt to keep team spirit up to ensure members contribute effectively and form a collaborative relationship whereby ensuring people are getting along and resolving problems to reach agreed outcomes.

In deciding the allocation of tasks, specific tasks were shared out amongst members of my team by a lottery with 'draw straws'. Initially, however, the tasks were not seen as equally difficult by all team members. Due to this perception of unfairness, cooperation between group members might be at risk. However, social interdependence theory recognises a type of group interaction called 'positive interdependence', meaning cooperation (Johnson & Johnson, 1993) [5] . I am pleased to highlight that despite different tasks were assigned to each member of my team we worked and discussed together to resolve difficult tasks. Many studies have demonstrated that "cooperative learning experiences encourage higher achievement" (Maughan and Webb, 2001). Eventually, my team achieved a successful outcome (as considered by my team members); however, i opined that a chairperson is needed (or a leader) to help encourage cooperation when tasks were being shared out so that we could obtain better results and improve our achievement.

Nevertheless, i did not satisfy with the so called 'successful result' as it was out of my expectation and felt slightly depressed and disappointed. Until i read Rotter's article [6] , i realise and understand my "locus of control"; whether the outcomes of my actions are within (internal control orientation) or beyond my personal control (external control orientation). I have come to learn that winning is not everything and the most important thing is the process of working out and tackling problems, and the quality and importance of teamwork (Bruce, 1965) which can augment my performance as well as in future group work.

Learning process and approaches

As an international student, i would consider the way i learn in order to gain new knowledge and widen my episteme. I have comprehended the word 'meta-cognition', which refers to "knowledge about cognitive states and abilities that can be shared among people" (Paris and Winograd, 1990) [7] . It is a "mirror on one's knowledge and thinking, and the reflection can come from within the individual or from other people" (Paris and Winograd, 1990). As a learner, sometimes, I do make particular judgements and beliefs at "critical" periods in the learning that guide decision making. These judgements and beliefs are a function of meta-cognitive processes of how learning can be explained. In order to learn more i would devise different strategies to fit problems. However, this does not necessarily mean that my learning strategies cannot be changed but the adopted strategy could expect to be appropriate within my own complex set of determining factors (Biggs, 1987) [8] .

Personological factors (Schmeck, 1983) and situational factors (Volet and Renshaw, 1993) would interact to characterise my learning when i first arrived in a different cultural environment, presage factors (Biggs, 1987) such as my cultural background, preferred learning approaches and motivations did have a strong influence on my learning, especially when faced with a multitude of new experiences and cultural values which might be heightened when attempting to cope with new environment. However, i adjusted my learning approaches at the level of the individual course or subject which i was committed to study as i believe "goals and commitment to study on a particular course or task provide direction and criteria for management of learning" (Volet, 1993) [9] .

In developing my understanding of a new subject, i used to learn by memorising (Saljo, 1979) in order to avoid forgetting of what a subject means particularly when i came across something that i did not understand it. It is very difficult because i have no logic behind it and so it is a very difficult thing to remember. In such a situation, i have to store it somewhere in my mind by memorising it. This may be linked to the complex role of repetition and rote learning in the learning process (Marton et al, 1993) in order to achieve better academic performance instead of acquiring deep or surface learning (Biggs, 1993) while the concept of "deep" may be a cultural "universal"; the linking of surface learning with repetition may affect the interpretation of this dimension. (Biggs, 1993). As a Chinese leaner i used to be a rote learner (Biggs, 1993), however, i realised that memorisation does not enhance learning in the Western view (Marton et al, 1993). It is suggested that this is due to the difference of cross culturally applicability of student approaches to learning (Marton and Saljo, 1993). I would have to acquire facts, methods, etc which can be retained and used when necessary and through an interpretative process aimed at understanding reality rather than by rote memorisation.

However, as reflected by Biggs's Presage, Process and Product model (1987), I might be satisfied with a particular outcome because i know that although i can achieve better i am unwilling to take the risk; i know i can achieve better but strategically decide on particular allocations and also because i am aware that there may be more to the process of understanding but i do not think that i have the capacity to achieve this and so i would rather seek to understand at a level that allows my personal comfort zone to remain intact. Nevertheless, i understand that there is a need for me to adjust my learning according to the situational factors which emerge especially when i go out to work in future so that my learning is not limited to factors such as language, perceived intellectual capacity or fear of failure which constraint my learning process. For me, i think learning means understanding and knowing what you are doing and be able to apply it to my life. It does have to happen with learning to be able to apply and that is why I have come to get a degree, so I will be able to get a better life and have an understanding of what I am doing and get a better job in the future. Learning could change the person (Marton et al, 1993) as it can provide inspiration, ideas and a way of considering the future.


Through the subject of PASBD, i get to work in small groups of five persons. To ensure quality and effective work, good communication is very important for a group so that every member can be well motivated and to work hard for achieving a better result. Communication is the passing of ideas and information especially in a group where i have the advantage of having access to more ideas and solutions as well as having more checking safeguards against any flaws in our assignments. "To effectively communicate, we must realise that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others" (Anthony Robbins, 2005). Therefore, there must be open efficient and effective communication between members in order for the team to operate smoothly.

Overall, i have indeed gained lots of valuable experiences through the three-month summer top-up degree programme and very proud to be a student of Sheffield Hallam University (SHU). I have learned a lot of things (especially communication skills) in the PASBD subject and the feedbacks, comments and guidance given by my tutors are of very important as this would really help me to perform better when i go out to work. Apart from that, i am very glad to meet many new friends especially through the PASBD subject as well as my flatmates. In addition to academic achievement, friendship is also important to me; i met many new friends in this short period of time and what made me touched was that they were willing to lend a hand to me when i was in difficulties particularly when i found difficulties in understanding a subject, topic or a question. As i am not a confident person, with their encouragement, assistance and supports, these would really help me to gain more confidence and achieve more in the future. I am really a lucky person who has a great chance to study in the UK and very much appreciated for everything i have gained in these three months. These would be part of my everlasting memories in my life.

Last but not least, billion thanks to my family who sponsored me to further education in the UK and sincerely thanks to those lecturers and tutors who have taught me since the first day of my lecture and seminar.