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Working Abroad

AgencyCentral are pleased to be in partnership with The CV Centre, the UK's leading CV consultancy, in bringing you a helpful range of graduate advice articles.

Studying abroad can be a very rewarding experience - and also a very challenging one. So it makes sense to spend some time carefully considering whether it is the right option for you. It is also a good idea to bear in mind that the application procedures can be time-consuming and you may need to start planning as early as the beginning of your penultimate year of study.

Your Aims

Before you begin to research the type of study you would like to undertake abroad, you need to ascertain exactly what you would like to achieve whilst you are abroad. Are you motivated by the opportunity to undertake research with leading experts in your field? Do you wish to gain further academic qualifications, skills and languages? Or are you primarily searching for a cultural experience?

All of these points will of course affect the country you choose to go to and the nature of the studies you undertake. Once you have narrowed down your objectives it is then time to embark on some thorough research to try to make sure that your time spent abroad meets these criteria.

Research Student or Further Qualifications?

When undertaking post-graduate study abroad, you will normally either go as an informal research student or you will enter into a formal course of post-graduate study. If you are considering taking formal qualifications abroad, it is usually a good idea to make sure that the qualifications you hope to attain will be formally recognised within the country in which you intend to work after your studies.

Location or Expertise?

In an ideal world, the leading light within your subject would also be based in the destination of your dreams. Unfortunately this isn't often the case! It can therefore once again be very useful to consider your objectives carefully. If language skills and the cultural aspects of your destination play a significant role in your plans and future career path, then your choice of country may well take priority over your choice of supervisor. However if you are focusing on increasing your knowledge in your specialist area, then it may be far more appropriate to plan your choice of location and institution around the availability of experts in your field, or based on the facilities available in different locations.


It is, of course, also important to consider how your trip will be funded - do you intend to apply for scholarships and grants, or would you be able to cover the cost of transport, living expenses and university fees yourself? If you are planning to apply for funding, consider contacting the embassies of the countries you are interested in studying within. Embassies are often able to provide comprehensive lists of university contact details along with information regarding the range of grants and scholarships they administer. It is particularly important to plan ahead when organising funding.

Culture Shock!

A case study based on the experiences of a Japanese Mext Scholarship recipient.

Alex Blum took a BA in Fine Art at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and decided to follow her interest in Japanese visual arts by applying for a 'Mext' research scholarship for post-graduate study in Japan.

In April of her penultimate year of study, she checked the application procedures and deadlines with the Japanese embassy in London, and then wrote to several fine art departments in Japan enclosing a study plan and slides of her work. In the meantime she set about completing the extensive application forms, which required a detailed study proposal as well as proof of academic results. In response to the information she had submitted to the fine art departments in Japan she received several replies stating that they would be pleased to accept her as a student - if she managed to win the Mext scholarship.

Her plan was to take up research studies in fine art for 18 months. However she also knew that with this particular scholarship there would be an opportunity to remain in Japan for longer than 18 months and to enter a Masters course in the future. The deadline for the completed application forms to reach the embassy was in the June of that year and she received notification during the summer holidays that she had been selected for interview at the embassy in London.

The interview was rigorous, but she was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship to begin in the October of the year she graduated. The terms of the scholarship did not dictate that you needed to be able to speak Japanese before you applied for the scholarship, however it did stipulate that the first five months of the scholarship would be mainly dedicated to language lessons. This was a great help as it made the subsequent year of study in the fine art department at Kyoto University of Arts much more rewarding.

Life in Japan was constantly interesting and surprising and, being a fine artist, she was particularly interested in the culture of the country. She had selected Kyoto as the city she wanted to be based in because, in contrast to Tokyo and nearby Osaka, it still retains many temples and other traditional aspects of Japanese life. Fortunately many of the trials and tribulations of everyday life (renting accommodation, opening a bank account, etc.) were dealt with by the exchange student liaison officer at her host university, as part of the terms of her scholarship. However there were of course the usual stresses and strains of everyday life, which often seem to be magnified when living in a very different culture - not least the fact of being very far away from home. Of course these added challenges also made it a very exhilarating experience!

As the end of the initial 18 months came closer she needed to decide whether to convert her research studentship into a masters course or whether to return to the UK. After much thought, she decided to return to the UK to pursue her career as an artist in London. Enriched by the experience of study abroad she returned to the UK and gained a studio residency award in London, which enabled her to continue to expand upon the work she had begun in Japan. She still maintains her links with Japan and Japanese painting and architecture continues to inform her work. In Alex's case 18 months study abroad was certainly an enriching experience and one which continues to impact upon her career - www.alexblum.co.uk.

About The CV Centre

It is one thing to know in your own mind that you have the skills and ability for a study opportunity. However it can be quite another matter when it comes to convincing a rigorous selection panel of this. Your CV, covering letters and, most importantly, your application forms are documents vital to your success. If you want to make sure that these are of the highest possible standard then you need to get them professionally prepared.

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