Not everyone is cut out for studying abroad.

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    Nov 7, 2023

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Nga, an office worker in Hanoi, wonders if she should send her 17-year-old son overseas for studies after high school.


Despite Nga's family not being particularly wealthy, they are determined to provide their child with the chance to receive an exceptional education. This is because the boy consistently demonstrates above-average academic performance and they believe that studying in an advanced education system will greatly enhance his prospects for securing a good job upon graduation.

Nga was presented with opportunities to enroll in professional training programs in Europe, which came along with enticing offers like tuition waivers, monthly stipends, and above all, a promising future with lucrative prospects. Despite such appealing incentives, Nga couldn't shake off her reservations and remained uncertain.

Parents often approach me seeking advice on finance, which is consistently their primary concern. This is particularly evident during open campus days in France where I teach. These annual events aim to introduce various programs and address any queries families may have. As I interact with French parents and address their concerns, I have come to realize that financial worries are universal and not limited to a specific location like Vietnam.

Nowadays, studying abroad is not exclusively reserved for students hailing from countries with less developed education systems seeking to experience more advanced ones. This concept has evolved to encompass international transfers and exchanges aimed at fostering the necessary skills to thrive in unfamiliar surroundings. At the institute where I am a faculty member in France, all educational programs now mandate a period of exchange or internship abroad. It is important to note that the aspiration to study overseas is no longer limited to Vietnamese individuals alone.

Vietnamese students studying overseas can be broadly classified into four main categories:

The students can be categorized into four distinct groups based on their financial backgrounds and support systems. The first group comprises students hailing from wealthy families. In contrast, the second group consists of exceptionally talented individuals who secure full-ride scholarships from prestigious sources. However, such recipients are limited in number. Moving on to the third group, we find good students who receive partial scholarships from educational institutions. These scholarships often include reduced tuition fees and additional stipends. To continue receiving financial aid, these students are typically required to maintain a certain level of academic performance. Lastly, the fourth group consists of students from less affluent families who prioritize investing in their children's education. These families generally look for education systems in countries with lower costs. While parents provide some financial support, students in this group often need to seek alternative means, such as part-time work, to make ends meet.

Nga's family belongs to the fourth category of studying abroad, and they are doing so on a limited budget. Within this group, numerous families are drawn towards "paid professional training" programs that seem almost too good to be true.

In several European countries, including France, there is a growing interest among students to pursue collaborative education programs that involve both educational institutions and corporations. In this alternative approach to studying abroad, students are able to have their tuition fees covered by the corporation they work for, while also receiving a modest traineeship salary that assists them in alleviating financial pressures. Under this arrangement, students are required to divide their time between academic study hours and working hours at the company. To qualify for these unique programs, students must meet the criteria set by both the educational institutes and the participating companies. The corporations themselves need to be convinced of the economic potential and capabilities of the students before offering them opportunities within the joint education program.

Moreover, the students are expected to meet the demands of both the educational institutions and the companies involved in these programs. This often necessitates exceptional time management skills and the ability to thrive under pressure. Astonishingly, statistics reveal that two-thirds of students enrolled in such dual programs in France express a desire to switch companies even before completing their education, a problem observed across various European countries that adopt similar programs. To put it simply, Vietnamese students need to understand that participating in these programs is a challenging undertaking for any student.

In order to thrive in both academic and professional settings, it is essential for students to possess a solid command of language. According to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), this typically translates to achieving a B1 or B2 level, equivalent to 500 to 750 hours of learning. However, these figures are merely theoretical. In reality, students often require a much higher proficiency, demanding considerable time and financial investments. Furthermore, high school graduates face considerable challenges in developing the necessary soft skills. It is important to recognize that success does not come without effort, as every aspect of this journey comes at a cost. Moreover, the stipends provided during educational periods tend to be considerably low, even when compared to minimum income levels. Furthermore, after graduating, students are faced with significant tax and social contribution obligations alongside the burdensome expenses associated with living.

Studying abroad presents numerous benefits such as gaining access to superior education, broadening one's social horizons, and enhancing adaptability to unfamiliar surroundings. However, it is important to acknowledge that not all families have the means or resources to pursue this option.

*Vo Nhat Vinh is a highly skilled professional specializing in research and development, currently located in France.

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