Thank you all for sticking with me as I complete the publication of my study abroad survey results. Part 5 is the finale, bringing together in my conclusion everything that I’ve discussed in the paper.
If you requested a copy of the full paper, I’ll be emailing it out shortly. (If you didn’t but would like a copy, just let me know)
My next plans are to …
a) try and get this paper published;
b) perhaps consider spin-off papers focussing on particular aspects of the study abroad experience for this group, for example by gender or by looking at only those who have completed their course;
c) think about whether there would be organisations or universities out there interested in the results to help them shape their provision for international students;
d) and then work out what I do next in terms of research. What I’m really interested in is social change in post-Soviet Central Asia but what I don’t know is how to combine my personal observations/reflections/experience with my educational background to move this forwards. Suggestions are welcome!
OK, here’s the conclusion of the paper:
Pre-departure motivations and perceptions
There were no noticeable gender differences in the survey, either by composition of respondents or by type of response. The main age group for respondents was mid 20s to mid 30s, and the majority went abroad to study either for a Master’s degree or an undergraduate degree, so their ages suggest that most respondents continued a direct progression route into higher education from secondary school. Whilst questions that could have directly inferred income or class background were deliberately excluded from the survey, the information provided by respondents suggests that they may come from higher social class backgrounds.
A number of push and pull factors were shown to have influenced individuals’ choices about studying abroad, with two pull factors dominating: the desire to improve one’s academic knowledge and the desire to improve one’s career prospects. Richters and Teichler’s notion of ‘vertical mobility’ was shown to have relevance for the surveyed group. Schweisfurth and Gu’s three categories of cross-intercultural experiences, human development and intellectual development were used as lenses to examine respondents’ perceptions of how they might change through study abroad. Human and intellectual development outweighed cross-intercultural experiences as important factors for these individuals.
Study abroad experiences
Respondents’ choice of institution for their study abroad reflected the seriousness of their choice, with quality an over-riding factor. Two high quality English-medium institutions in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan received the highest number of respondents, suggesting that geographical factors also play a role in choice. The UK and the USA were the next most popular destination countries. Every subject that was studied (where stated) could either be classed as belonging to the social sciences or the humanities, suggesting that respondents made pragmatic decisions about course choice with a view to future career prospects.
The majority of respondents reported a generally positive experience of study abroad, with positive responses outweighing reported problems by an average of 7:3. The survey results demonstrated very few problems in adapting to life as an international student, which stood out against a more usual expectation that international students may suffer from culture shock, which is often heightened when the differences between the individual’s home country and the country being visited are greater. Given that 72% of respondents moved to a country where English is an official language, it could have been expected that the adaptation process would have proved more complex. Furnham’s theory of ‘expectancy-value’ was offered as an explanation for this successful adaptation.
Post-study abroad impact and decision-making
Of the respondents who had completed their study abroad, most had successfully found employment and indeed were employed at a rate far greater than the estimated Tajik norm. Those in employment broadly fell into three sectors: international organisations, the private sector, and academia/teaching and it was suggested that these fields were predictable given the nature of the subjects that had been studied as well as the ‘premium’ placed on jobs in international organisations and the private sector. Those working in the public sector were overall more positive about their study abroad than those working in the private sector.
The fact that there was a relatively even spread between respondents who had returned to Tajikistan (31%) and those who had remained abroad (44%) suggested that the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon was potentially an issue. Although the survey was not able to ascertain whether the non-Tajikistan based respondents planned to stay abroad more permanently, the evidence provided does seem to lean towards this migration being a temporary phenomenon. Whilst Abazov believes that ‘young professionals who have been receiving education in foreign countries have little incentive to return’ (22.07.2010), Altbach’s slightly more nuanced view is that ‘while brains may no longer be permanently drained, they are nonetheless siphoned’ (26.02.2012). A longer term study of the respondents might help to elucidate this question.
Respondents’ family and friends were generally supportive of the decision to study abroad, although were not without concerns for the personal safety and well-being of respondents. During/after the study abroad, it was shown that family and friends tended to remain or become slightly more supportive. A small minority had mixed or negative attitudes towards the study abroad, and the specific context of Tajikistan was touched upon as a way to unpack some of these less positive reactions.
It was evident that study abroad made an impact on all the respondents, and for the majority this was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Respondents reported change in all three of the categories from Schweisfurth and Gu employed as a framework for analysis in this paper, although a small number did not feel they had changed particularly. This was often for specific reasons, such as the respondent who had studied abroad before and felt that the second experience, which was the one being examined in the survey, had played a lesser role than the first period of study abroad.
Yang et al’s study of Hong Kong Chinese students’ study abroad experiences contends that ‘students’ study abroad goals, host country experiences, and learning outcomes were interrelated… students are motivated by their goals to actively engage in experiences that are conducive to enhancement of their intercultural, disciplinary/career, and personal competences’ (2011). This small-scale survey has similarly demonstrated strong connections between motivations for study abroad, the actual experience of being a temporary migrant overseas, and the impact that this has on individuals after the study abroad is complete. In many instances, the perceptions and changes that took place were similar to the findings of studies of other groups of international students, for example with the weight placed on improving career prospects. The key area of divergence from other groups (particularly groups from western/more developed countries) was the relatively low occurrence of culture shock issues. The benefits to respondents of being able adapt quickly and/or with ease undoubtedly play an important part in allowing their vision of well-being to be achieved.
Overall, therefore, study abroad has a major impact on the well-being of the individual Tajik nationals surveyed for this paper, and for the most part this is a strongly positive experience. Study abroad is a step taken by these Tajik nationals towards their ambition of making their life better.