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East Asian students in the UK

Moving to the UK to study is a big decision. Here’s some information especially for students from East Asia, which may help you make up your mind!

‘I wish someone had told me about all the potatoes I would be offered!’ says Misato, a Japanese student at a university in the city of Newcastle in the north of England. For although rice, pasta and other staples are all readily available in the supermarkets, she had never anticipated quite how many potatoes the British eat!

Fast facts

Which East Asian countries supply the most students?

The top five East Asian countries in terms of the number of students enrolled on UK higher education programmes in 2009/10 were:

China (56,990)
Hong Kong (9,946)
Taiwan (5,072)
Korea (South) (4,387)
Japan (3,481)

Source: HESA Student Record 2009/10

Everyone will see different things, but this is exactly the sort of individual observation that you might find yourself making when you come from East Asia to study in Britain. It might be the food, it might be the weather, it might be the strong regional identities. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t some things that most people from the countries of East Asia will agree on.

One thing you might be worrying about is whether your English language ability will cope with the academic and social demands made of it. If you are, you are not alone. It is one of the major concerns of students coming to the UK from your part of the world.

Are you worried about your English skills?
A report called ‘Broadening Our Horizons’ looked at the experiences of international students in the UK. Half of all students for whom English is a foreign language said they were worried about their language skills before they arrived in the UK. Yet by the time they had been in the country six months, the number of worriers had dropped to around twenty percent. However, this wasn’t the case for students from non-English speaking countries in East Asia.

By the time of the mid-year survey, over a third of Chinese were still concerned about their ability to use English, while the same was true of a half of all Japanese students and 29% of Taiwanese. Clearly East Asian students are more concerned about their English abilities than other non-native speaking international students in the UK.

According to the International Officers from universities with the highest numbers of students from East Asia, a lack of confidence about language skills is one of the things that can stop students from your part of the world getting the maximum benefit out of their time here.

‘You will get a lot more out of the experience if you don’t see language as a barrier,’ advises Jon Inegbedion, an international officer at the University of Warwick, which has the second largest concentration of people from East Asia in the UK.

Confidence of course is partly about ability and partly about attitude, so it might be wise to use the language support that UK universities will offer while at the same time developing an attitude to using English that will allow you to get as much out of your time here as other international students. 

Find out more about English language courses.

Cultural differences
Fast facts

At what level do East Asian students study in the UK?

A total of 80,341  students from the region were studying in the UK in 2009/10, broken down as follows:

  • undergraduate: 42,565
  • postgraduate: 37,776

Source: HESA Student Record 2009/10

Another area that International Officers suggest can be of concern to East Asian students is in the cultural difference in learning styles. You will certainly have been told about the importance attached to challenging authority and to learning to argue and defend your own independent case, and you will undoubtedly have heard about the necessity for self-directed study.

Nevertheless, the lived experience can still be a bit of a shock. Student life here is much freer in terms of structuring your day than you will be used to. You will have less contact with tutors and your parents obviously won’t be around to keep you on the straight and narrow. All of this means you will have to develop quite a lot of self-discipline quite quickly. If you do run into difficulties here, it is important to remember this is all about cultural difference and nothing to do with you as an individual.

Where can you get help?
Whatever issues you might face, one of the first things you should do if you have any sort of difficulty is to go and talk to the International Office about it. As one female Chinese student, in the ‘Broadening Our Horizons’ report, said, ‘The international students’ office of the University is really a bridge connecting students together. And it provides very useful information to the international students who first come to the UK.’

Apart from an International Office and tuition in English language, UK universities will offer a combination of support activities: from Foundation Programmes targeted at international students, Job Shops (which will help find part-time work), Careers Services (for longer-term employment), Accommodation Officers, buddy schemes (which pair you with a more experienced fellow national), student ambassadors (who lead activities for particular countries), dedicated facilities (such as international student lounges and halls of residence), and welcome orientations (which are usually free of charge).

East Asian students in the UK, where are they and what do they study?
One particular advantage you have is that East Asian students are very widely spread throughout the UK university system so you should always be able to find a community wherever you choose to study. Indeed, Chinese students are currently one of the largest groups studying in the UK, with approximately 45,000 students in total. In comparison, there are a few thousand each from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

East Asian communities in the UK
Another advantage you have is the existence of large East Asian communities permanently settled in the UK. While the majority of these will be Cantonese speaking with links to Hong Kong, this does mean that there are Chinese supermarkets in every city and in many large towns. They all stock East Asian staples, including a few Japanese and Korean specialities, but, if you come from either of these countries, you might still want to bring a supply of the things you can’t do without, particularly if you are thinking of studying outside London. Otherwise you might find yourself obsessing about the British love for potatoes!

Useful links for East Asians living and studying in the UK

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