Is studying abroad worthwhile?

The population of Chinese students enrolling in Australian universities keeps growing each year, many had questioned whether it is worthwhile to receive education away from home. China Daily blogger Min Zhu shares her own experience.

I’d be lying through my teeth if I claimed that I never doubted my decision to study abroad. As a matter of fact, long before I got my offer from Wollongong University, there was one time I became really hesitant because my parents wanted to pull some strings to get me a position in a Chinese state-owned bank. At that time, I was torn between choosing stability and uncertainty. So I decided to turn to my friends for advice, which only made it even more difficult for me to decide as some of them suggested that I go and work in a bank while others advised that I be brave and go abroad. In the end, I actually applied to be a teller in that bank. After the application, I started searching information to prepare for the different rounds of interviews. The more I knew about that job, the less I liked it. So I declined the offer while I was informed of the time to take the paper exam. At that moment, to me, if I landed that stable job, it would be pretty easy to picture my life many years ahead of me.

Even after I finally arrived in Australia and started my course, I had some doubts about this choice. First of all, it was because I found that the course was way too abstract and theoretical. Moreover, some of my lecturers failed to combine the theories with the actual practice. For instance, we had a subject called “English Learners’ Problem,” which in fact was solely about English grammar. I had expected the lecturer to impart some useful methodologies regarding how to teach English grammar. Disappointingly, he just taught grammar the way my secondary school teachers did. The only difference was that he used English. Furthermore, one of the lecturers I had was not worth the salt as his teaching was simply too bad, even though he was working for the education department. Another significant reason was that most of my friends were doing, seemingly, pretty well in their positions while I was clueless what I could do for a living in the future. Also, sometimes, I would imagine what kind of life I would be leading if continued teaching English in China. When these thoughts got to me, I would ask myself whether I had made the right decision in the first place.

So, is studying abroad worthwhile? This is too big a question to answer considering that we have different prior experiences and future expectations. Here, I will attempt to provide some food for thought with respect to this topic.


Until now, I have been in Australia for almost one and half years and am going back to China to join the army of those hunting for jobs soon. Ever since I finished my last lecture, I have been considering this question to which I now know my answer is “yes”.

To start with, although I had complained about the quality of education I received here quite a few times, once I stop and look back how far I have gone, I have in effect benefited considerably from the education system here. I suppose I could have been more patient to see where this was going to take me.

I have become more active ever since I started studying in Australia. In the past, I was that type of student who would try to avoid answering questions in the class at any cost. Also, I felt like there were ants in my pants whenever the teacher stopped to point to students to answer questions. Even when I was an undergraduate, I would literally shake all the time when I stood up to answer questions. Of course, this can be partly attributed to the traditional force-feeding education in China, where the teacher is regarded as the only source of authority in the classroom. Due to that, I got accustomed to just sitting there and absorbing the knowledge. By contrast, in my master course, students were encouraged to ask questions and to learn from each other while the teacher was there to offer guidance, prompts and feedback. After a short period in this university, I didn’t sit about any more when it came to group discussion. Instead, most of the time, I was more than happy to voice my opinions, especially when they were acknowledged by my group members. Occasionally, I would also raise my hand to ask questions in class. Plus, once in a while, I would have a good debate with my classmates by stating an opposite opinion that was against theirs. Soon I was able to pull off a one-hour presentation without constantly checking the handout. Surprisingly, during that whole presentation, I felt very relaxed sitting on a table or leaning against it.

Besides, I have become more proactive. I used to be passive to the backbone. I was the kind of person who always waited for orders or instructions about what should be done. What’s more, asking questions was never my thing. Somehow, I was inclined to sort things out on my own. For example, during my time studying here, I have never been to the learning development center, which is set up to help students with academic writing, even though I struggled with writing academic essays at the very beginning. Step by step, I was finally able to figure out the style and reference system of academic writing. Certainly, this strategy did not always work. In my first semester, I failed a small assignment because I simply did what I believed was right. In the end, it turned out that I misunderstood the requirement. After the failure of that assignment, I sort of got a PTSD (not literal meaning). I guess once bitten, twice shy.

Gradually, I realized that I had to initiate actions if I wanted to have something done efficiently and effectively. So I would ask questions in the class or send emails to my lecturers to clarify my understanding or to get help when I considered it necessary. Because I learned that I would be better off getting help before my issues got out of control and became unsolvable. Additionally, when I was confronted with other issues in life, I tended to be proactive as well. There was this time a bus driver overcharged me. At the beginning, I thought they increased the price for the ticket. To double-check, I called the bus company and found that I was “ripped off” (not really, as the bus ticket was fairly cheap). Anyway, they promised to return me the overcharged part the next day and they did. To me, it was not really to get the money back but to stand up against unfair treatment.

ABF media

Aside from the aforementioned merits, I have become a more critical thinker. Prior to coming to Australia, I frequently would just say what was on my mind without thinking why; I would just follow the crowd without questioning why and I would take advice from elders without asking why. Therefore, sometimes I would just fail to give justifiable reasons about my beliefs or claims when I was confronted by native English speakers. That was absolutely awkward to me. But, thinking from a positive perspective, it at least served as a wake-up call for me.

As far as I am concerned, the ability to thinkcritically plays an important role in the higher education system in this country. When I first began to study the TESOL course, I was apt to give relatively subjective and biased statements. In most cases, my lecturers would point them out and tell me to always use evidence to back up my opinions. With more and more papers being written, I acquired that essential ability, which is exceptionally beneficial for me to form my very own opinions. In my viewpoint, that is a vital step to avoid being manipulated by the mass media. It is also what is going to take me closer to the pure facts.

I have also become more open-minded. I was raised with traditional and conservative beliefs in a teeny-tiny village in the middle of nowhere in China. Thus, it is not all that hard to imagine that my time in Australia would be marked by culture shock, with positive cultural shock outweighing the negative by a long shot. To take my Japanese classmates as an example, they were all very polite and friendly, which is quite different from what I was told to believe. One of them even offered to buy every single student in our class a Japanese souvenir. This sweet thought was just jaw-dropping.

Apart from that, I have also come to realize that a few stereotypes about Western countries in China are too generalized. As a consequence, they gave us false expectations about living in a Western country. For example, I once heard some Chinese people chatting about how good life was in Australia, because Australians do not need to pay tuition fees or for medical care. But this is not the whole picture since they have to pay through the nose to go to private school and pay back the money borrowed from the government for higher education once they start to earn a certain amount of money a month. Also, they have to pay money if they want to go to a specialized hospital.

Once the veil of the stereotypes is lifted, it not only surprises me but also fascinates me because it provokes a strong desire to explore the different cultures myself to get close to the truth.


Of course, until now, I have made a lot of progress about teaching skills as well as my language skills. But, the growth in my personality undoubtedly dwarfs the academic progress. And to me, the mental maturity is more important as it is much more difficult to gain.

Doubtless it is worthwhile for me to study in Australia. Even though I have gone through some ups and downs and twists and turns during my time in this country, it is still an extremely valuable journey. Even though I had doubted this decision more than once, I tried hard to make the most of this precious opportunity as I believe that sometimes we are not expected to make the right decision but to make our decision look right. We all sacrifice something whenever we make a big decision. It is therefore reasonable to stop thinking that the grass on the other side is always greener and to start striving to make your decision the better one.

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