November 14th, 2016 6:04 PM by Nour Ailan
A growing segment of the international student market is made up of exchange students who undertake a course of assessed study at an overseas university, usually for a period of one semester or a year. Exchange students have been identified as a segment of the international student market that has significant growth potential.
Yet little research has been conducted into the exchange student population. A greater understanding of the phenomenon will enable host countries and universities to attract more students.
Students optimistic about exchange
Outweighing any feelings of trepidation about studying abroad was a universal excitement about the unknown life journey in front of them.
While students seemed prematurely aware of the growth potential of stress, they were optimistic about the power of the forthcoming exchange visit to effect in them positive changes, including improved coping skills, increased confidence, greater independence and altered life perspectives.
Students were also aware of the opportunity for self-exploration offered by the exchange. Though students were aware that the purpose of their visit was educational, they were determined to exploit the opportunity to travel, underlining the value of the international student market to tourism destinations.
Our findings suggest that travel opportunities are central to students’ choice of destination and that the purpose of their trip is therefore twofold.
The prospect for cultural learning offered by the international sojourn was acknowledged by all to be an exciting aspect of the student exchange scheme: enthusiasm for meeting people from different cultures was unanimous.
Students were aware that distance from the origin culture would bring insight into their own cultural programming. They were committed to communicating this cultural distinctiveness to students of other nationalities; enthusiasm for promoting the origin culture, in this case Turkey, was a common theme. The tendency to see themselves as national ambassadors was pronounced.
Students were also keen to learn about the host community. Contact with international friends was important, but host contact was a target before arrival.
Finally, all students equated increased cultural knowledge with increased employability. There was universal awareness that globalisation entailed international cooperation and an expectation that internationalised companies would prize the cultural skills that the international study context would install It was perceived that the trip would provide a possibly useful networking opportunity.
Students exhibited a strong cultural identification. Moreover, students trusted that face-to-face contact would overcome negative stereotypes, and they manifested pre-departure a determination to promote Turkey’s superiority to other developing countries.
A strong cultural identification bolsters resistance against attack, but it might be pertinent to ask whether students’ own prejudices and fears might diminish through encounters with Westerners who do not display signs of condescension towards Turkish nationals.
Concerns around faith
Our study also helps to shed light on the malaise that is uniquely experienced by Muslim students studying in a Western culture by revealing the unanimous concern of the Turkish students in this study that they might be treated unfavorably because of their faith.
Students were anxious that negative judgments would be made about their faith due to a link in the popular Western media between Islam and terrorism. Such fear was exacerbated by word-of-mouth anecdotes about acts of Islamophobia in Western countries, particularly from internet chat rooms.
Indeed, the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding cites Islamophobia as the main source of bigotry in Europe. Meanwhile, a small number of students in the current study were anxious about cultural differences in the tolerance of alternative lifestyles.
There was awareness that differing religious and moral values between the origin and the host culture might lead to some discomfort. It must be pointed out, however, that the majority of students were insistent on their cultural similarity with European countries.
Indeed the response to possible discrimination on the grounds of faith was a unanimous declaration by the students of Turkey’s secularity and moderateness. Students were resolute that communication of their distinctiveness from other Muslim countries would eradicate negative judgment. Again, promotion of the special characteristics of the home country was common.
Finally, running through all the interviews was a high degree of optimism; that a sense of common humanity would ensure that faith would not divide students from other national and religious groups.
Our study reveals that the perceived benefits of international travel for education were manifold.
Since participants stated that the purpose of their visit was to obtain an education and to travel during their stay, we recommend that the receiving institution cooperate with the stakeholders of their local and regional tourism industry in order to improve marketing targeted at students in the origin country and in the destination country.
Destination management organizations should assess the characteristics and traveling habits of this potential and lucrative market segment. The ever-growing exchange student market enables destinations to diversify their tourism income sources with alternative tourist products appealing to different segments.
The use made of the internet by prospective students is also highlighted, pointing to the need by institutions and destination management organizations to maximize their online visibility.
The intervention strategies to be used by those offering pastoral or psychological support to international students – including personal tutors, programme administrators, lecturers and chaplaincy – should be available at the start of the sojourn, when stress is usually at its height.Support staff in the receiving destination should inform themselves about the political and religious background of students’ origin country and any issues of contemporary concern should be addressed.
The student population make-up is changing and institutions need to be prepared for this. The local community should be made aware of the economic contribution made by international students to the receiving area, and increased tolerance of difference should be encouraged.
However, whether this is a sustainable and feasible suggestion is debatable: sojourners are caught in larger political and societal issues over which neither they nor the host institution may have any control.
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