Is it really necessary to send your kids overseas to study?

Finance

I am writing this article in the context of Malaysian parents who are thinking of sending their child/children to pursue their education overseas. Reason why I wanted to write this is because I am seeing many of my colleagues and friends who are now parents mostly are planning for their children’s overseas education. In order to be able to afford that, they continue to work in jobs that they hate just to be able to meet that goal for their children.

But  really, is it really necessary that you must send your kids to overseas to study? What’s wrong with completing a degree, Masters or a PhD locally?

About 20 years ago I graduated from a local university. After graduation I have worked in 2 large public listed companies. For more than the last 10 years during my corporate career, I was in the training division where my colleagues are involved in hiring and training staff. Whereas for me, I work with executives, managers and higher levels of other departments because I manage the information that goes out to frontliners.

And all I want to say is that…. in the corporate world, where a person graduate from may be a deciding factor when it comes to getting the first job when fresh grads need to compete with many others.  Even then, if the candidate does not stand out or we sense lack the confidence or communication skills, we would not hire as well even though he/she may graduate from a prestigious overseas university.

Usually when it comes to jumping to a second company and promotion, it is all about performance, talent, communication skills and the right attitude. By the second job, no one cares where the degree is from. Recruiters look at the job performance, tardiness, work accomplishments.

But if the candidate don’t mind starting from entry level for a year or two or working in a lesser known company, then it is easy to work his way up. And I can tell you, it is better to start from entry level in an industry that you want and then gain the necessary experience. Because you know your work and once someone tries to talk nonsense, you would know and point out. You would get very good at what you do because you have a good foundation and knowledge.

Nevertheless, let’s dive into the common reasons why parents want to send their kids to study overseas:

1. To give their children the best education that they can afford
In this world, there is no love that is as selfless as the parents’ love for their children. I really get it. When I was about to enter to university, my mother opted for early retirement from government service so that she could go out and work in a private hospital to help fund my education.  In her fifties, she went into a busy private hospital and worked shifts. Night shifts were tough for her because she could not sleep after that.

I know, many people feel that the local universities are below par. But honestly I don’t understand what’s the problem- because often we don’t apply the knowledge from the degree in our working life. We were often not keen to hire local graduates not because we look down on them but mainly due to their command of English, both written and spoken are sometimes a joke (I’ll get to that in the next point below).

Honestly- unless your child is studying to be a professional – for example to be a doctor, dentist, engineer, astrophysicists, where formal education are required in order to enter the field…. then you may want to send to a good university if you can afford it. But you also must make sure that is your child’s passion (and not your unrealized dreams that you are forcing your child to live in)  and interest because he or she will need to spend the next 30 years doing that job each day.

Otherwise, if the plan is to enter into corporate – at entry level we would just accept mass communication, social science, marketing, business administration and even sometimes sports science, occupational therapy (even though our field had nothing to do with that).

So if your child does not have a burning ambition to be a doctor, engineer, astronaut or specific professions like that, just let your child choose the course that he wishes to study. Get minimum a degree so that he would be paid a degree holder’s salary. They are only young once so let them enjoy a little. Don’t pressure them into something you wish you have the chance to study but is really not what they want.

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Eventually when they come out to work they would need to leave your protective nest and deal with the realities that you are powerless to protect them against… nasty bosses, back stabbing co-workers, work pressure, bad breakups, etc. Don’t kill yourself (being in a highly paid but pressurized job that is clearly ruining your health) to pay for an education towards a path that your child detests.

I went to a local university and got a Bachelor in Applied Science. I studied in another state but still within Malaysia and learned to be independent, made lots of wonderful friends and had a meaningful time. Which brings me to the next common reason:

2. Local graduates tend to have a poor command of English
Yes, if you are going to depend on the local syllabus to teach your child English, then he is going to have a hard time in future. My mother had education till Senior Cambridge level which is equivalent of Form Five today. Yet her spoken and written English is excellent. Nowadays when speaking to retirees or older folks, I could tell straight away who went through the Cambridge education system and who went to the system now because the mastery of English is between the sky and the earth.

Having said that, there are things you can do to improve your child’s English. My mom forced me to speak English to her when I was 6 years old and got us enrolled in a community library because she could not afford to buy English story books for us. From young she instilled the reading habit in us and when I was in my teens, she encouraged me to read lots of novels. Nowadays your kids can improve their English through YouTube.

So you can see that I have basically learned English through reading. My grammar knowledge is actually very poor because I don’t have a proper foundation. I just learnt to put together sentences that makes sense. Therefore if you find broken grammar here and there, please be kind enough to excuse me.

If there is a will, there is a way. My best friend studied Mandarin till form 5 and got an A for it. Her English was very bad and both her parents did not speak English. She did not let those set her back- when both of us went to different universities located in different states, she frequently wrote me letters in English. Initially, I really did not understand what she wrote. But 3 years of continuous writing (we did not have Google translate so she used a dictionary a lot), her English improved. When we go out to eat, she would purposely speak English to the waiter. She did not care even if it is broken English.

After she graduated, she manage to land in a foreign company. Her first boss was a mat salleh.  Mat sallehs are straightforward folks so he often would criticize her English. But he still kept her because he liked her working attitude…. my friend was extremely hard working, could accept criticism and willing to learn. Furthermore her calculation skills were excellent (one of the advantage of studying in Chinese school) which was much required in the job and what many of the excellent English speaking staff he had hired before were very much lacking in.

Today, she is holding a very senior position in one of the top company that you would want to buy your car from.

Of course, if you send your child to overseas, your child would come back with a much better command of English both spoken and written because the poor thing will need to pick up by hook or crook in order to survive in a foreign country. There are other ways of improving written English that does not require leaving the country ala sink or swim style.

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3. Because you keep comparing yourself to others
Maybe your social circle, relatives and families consists of friends who are wealthy who send their kids to international school and overseas. Mixing with them may make you feel inadequate.

I have some friends who wanted to send their kids to international school (elementary and high school) because they say the school are better than the public schools in Malaysia. But I did ask them to reconsider because going to those schools may change the value in their child from a young age. Most of the kids that goes to private school are chauffeured driven and often carry the latest gadgets. Peer pressure is really real and the kid would be pestering you to buy for them so that their friends would not laugh at them.

Let me tell you a little more about myself. Do you know that my high school was famous for its gangsterism when I was assigned there.  No sane parents wanted to their kids on that school then. My mom was about to go to the Education ministry to appeal when I begged my mom to let me go to that school. You see, my primary school was a ‘sekolah anak datuk‘ where my classmates’ parents mostly consist of datuk, tan sris, tau kehs, etc. Rich, chauffeured driven kids whose school I managed to get it because my mom went to appeal as it was not far from my house. Fortunately my classmates were mostly okay and nice. But the teachers… many of them looked down on me. So even though I scored all As for my UPSR, they still sent me to the gangster school.  I was sick of the prejudice that the teachers judged me because I was poor and mostly untidy- I just wanted to start afresh in a school that no one knows me before.

But the thing about the gangster school is that, before we are assigned to classes, we had to sit for some tests. Based on the results, they assigned us to the relevant classes. I ended up in the top 3rd class so most of my classmates are okay even though half of them also mixed with gangster kids from the weaker classes. However, I would have you to know that even gangsters have ethics. They do not disturb or make life difficult for non gangster kids. So in my 7 years of being in that school, I never encountered any problems.

I have to give credit to my headmistress,  a tough Malay lady who was transferred in when I was about form two. She was determined to turn our school around, did some crack down on the gangsters especially those outside drop outs who influenced our students. She did not back down despite the threats. The gangsters slit her car tyres, issue death threats and even burn down the school office. By now, perhaps you may have guessed which school I came from judging from all these clues.

Anyway, in the end, she did help to transform our school from a gangster school to one of the top school in terms of academic results by the time I graduate. We were blessed to have her as our headmistress. Eventually she was promoted to hold a higher position in the education ministry- I was really happy for her because she really deserved it.

Most of my classmates then came from poor or broken families. Today, few of them have migrated to US/ Canada/ Australia, one dropped out after form five and ended up with a few successful restaurants and others hold quite high corporate positions. In such schools, we become ‘real’ persons and not materialistic robots.

We learned to work hard and preserve in the face of challenges and obstacles. It is a trait that we build up when we do not grow up being spoon fed. Even right can be wrong and wrong can be right.

I used to have a close friend during high school whose mother constantly looked down on me. Actually the mother also came from a poor background so I don’t know why she was such a hypocrite. I felt she must have thought I was not smart or rich enough to be her daughter’s friend so she constantly tried to drive a wedge between us. After form five, she sent her daughter to private college while I continued to form six. There, her daughter started mixing with the ‘trendy’ gang and in the end, even this friend thought I was too uncool and she started avoiding me.

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When her daughter went to UK to study, she stayed with her boyfriend (who was actually a son of the parents’ church friends). She ended up being in a dysfunctional physically abusive relationship with the guy who turned out to be a psychopath. She got into deep depression,  became an alcoholic and dabbled in drugs. One day, her mom rang me in desperation to help talk to her daughter. By then, she already managed to drive such a wedge between us that there was nothing I could except to send this friend of mine some letters and gifts to cheer her up. But after I got my first job, I did help to get her into my company. But eventually she felt she was suited to sales and moved on.

Conclusion

This is just my humble take on the whole ‘the grass is greener the other side’ kinda education. I have known a few colleagues who had health problems and it would be better off for the sake of their lives to take a less pressurized job (but with less pay). Still, they continue to endanger their health and life because they aspired to give their kids the ‘best education’ which they did not have when they are young.

It is a perception. The education is only for 10 over years. In the end, your adult children would be spending the next 25- 30 years working. And while working to save enough to buy a few properties so that you can sell off later to send all your children to education… are you spending enough time with your children? Are you missing out on their growing years? Is it really worth it?

If you can only afford a local education, and if you invested enough time to instill good values in your children, I am sure they will not hold a grudge with you just because some of their friends could go overseas and they could not. Local educations (3+0) is much cheaper and still can earn a degree.  I never at once felt inadequate because I got a local degree instead of an overseas one. Instead, I am proud to be a local graduate.

There is no point you slog your guts out only to be able to afford to bring your kids to expensive restaurants or holidays when everyone is not really talking to each other but is instead engrossed in his/her own Smartphones/ tablets. Or taking photo or food and posting on Facebook on what a great family time when in fact, it was not memorable at all.

When I think back of my childhood, I treasure the time my mom took to have afternoon tea (my mom worked in shifts so she would do it on her days off or after coming back from morning duty) with us. She would bake something or just buy some kuih that we had with Nescafe, Lipton or Milo. We would just talk and it was then I started opening up to her about my study pressure and friends problem (initially I never talked much to her until she started the afternoon tea sessions).  Or there was a day after her morning duty that she brought us to sit in the bus, and then we had ice kacang at a roadside stall outside PJ State cinema before watching a movie.

I never went Disneyland or any mat salleh countries with my family- we could only afford Port Dickson (staying at government subsizied units) and Penang (putting up at my mom’s friend’s brother’s bachelor apartment). Yet I love both my parents dearly.

Instill within them good values, independence and resilience so that they can live well. It is the education of life and not an overseas education that truly matters.

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