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Southeast Asian students in the UK

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

’It can take a few weeks to get used to the regional accents,’ says Kui Foh Chin, a Malaysian MBA student at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK.

Fast facts

Which Southeast Asian countries supply the most students?

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

Malaysia (14,059)
Thailand (5,504)
Singapore (3,777)
Vietnam (2,531)
Brunei (1,915)

Source: HESA Student Record 2009/10

’Up here, instead of saying Monday, as we were taught to pronounce it, they seem to be saying ‘Moonday’ but once you get used to it, it becomes a lot easier to understand.’

Of all the issues that international students might have in making the transition to studying in the UK, getting used to UK regional accents cannot be one of the most profound. But, as Kui Foh Chin says, once you get accustomed it becomes quite easy, and there are even benefits. You might become quite proud of your ability to speak in a regional accent and to use dialect words. You may even become quite attached to your region of the UK.

Southeast Asian students are the best at fitting in
International officers from UK universities with high numbers of students from Southeast Asia report that, as a group, students from this area are one of the most successful groups at adapting to UK living. Malaysian students, for example, are already very used to living in a multicultural environment and thrive in the UK higher education’s many-faceted society.

’Students from Southeast Asia can often have very strong national identities,’ says Deborah Webb, an International Officer at Nottingham University. ’Their student societies are very active and they are often organising events in the city centre to celebrate things such as important national holidays. They are proud of their country and want to share it. I am even aware that Malaysian students have developed their own voluntary buddy system to help newcomers to fit in more easily.’

Fast facts

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

A total of 30,885 students from the region were studying in the UK in 2009/10, broken down as follows:

  • undergraduate: 18,994
  • postgraduate: 11,891

Source: HESA Student Record 2009/10

How many Southeast Asian students are there and what do they study?
Malaysian students, because of their numbers, are particularly well served at UK universities. With over 10,000 students in all, Malaysian nationals can take advantage of established support networks that may, for example, see accommodation being passed on within the student community. However, as Deborah Webb indicates, strong national identities among Singaporean and Thai students (who number over 3,000 from each country) also provide support for newcomers.

Cultural differences
Another area that International Officers suggest can be of concern to Southeast 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 in the UK. 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. 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. And there is always help if you need it!

Another aspect of UK university culture that might come as a surprise is the role alcohol plays. One Malaysian male undergraduate quoted in a survey of international students called ‘Broadening Our Horizons’ said: ’UK people are overall very helpful, friendly and fun to hang out with, when they are sober!’ Like the accents then, there are situations in which it might take a while to understand what your British friends are saying!

What help can you get?
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. Apart from the International Office, and tuition in English language if you need it, UK universities will offer a combination of other support activities: Foundation Programmes targeted an international students, so-called Job Shops (which will help find part-time work), Careers Services (for longer-term employment), Accommodation Officers, official buddy schemes (which pair you with a more experienced fellow national), student ambassadors (who lead activities for particular countries or regions), dedicated facilities (such as international student lounges and halls of residence), welcome orientations (which are usually free of charge). Apart from the volunteer-run student societies mentioned above, you might also find there are other organisations which can offer different kinds of support, such as religious organisations.

Useful links for Southeast Asian students living and studying in the UK

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