Xi Yang, MSc Economics, University of Birmingham
I am an international student currently studying MSc economics. This is the first year of the course and my first time in the UK. Actually, there are a reasonable number of difficulties while I am taking these modules.
The biggest problem I have found is the listening skills. As an international student, one has to catch up with what the lecturers have stated in class. You know, the teachers often speak at a normal native speaker's pace. Sometimes, it is hard to follow the instructors in detail, which can be a barrier to grasp the key elements in handouts. Often, some international students are ashamed to ask questions in class, or even after class. Day after day, problems stick together and I do not know which to tackle first.
The next problem is the translation issue. For international students, if we want to totally understand the context from lectures, we have to translate English to our mother tongue. In some circumstances, we can not find the right interpretation for the terminology. The lecturers in foreign countries can only explain them in other words; maybe they are still struggling for us to understand.
The third problem is our relatively lower reading speed. We international students read the core books and supplementary books recommended by the lecturers much more slowly compared with native students. Therefore, we need much more time to grasp the ideas of the book. This kind of problem is hard to solve. We have to practice more.
The final problem is the different way of thinking between the English and people from some other parts of the world. We international students often find it very difficult to understand the formulae and conclusions from the lecturers and handouts. At first, we do not know why. We gradually find that teachers often omit some very important steps (for us they are important) to derive these formula and conclusion. I guess the lecturers think we are eligible to handle them by ourselves.
I once asked my academic tutor for translation and understanding of the terminology. He recommended the dictionary of economic terms to me. It does some help, but not all.
Some of my classmates advocate that we can divide into study groups after class and discuss the contents and assignments. Some students well understand some parts of the lecture, while others are good at other parts of the lecture. We can communicate and exchange our ideas. It does help to some extent.
In my opinion, firstly, I suggest that the lecturers speak a little more slowly and in a more compatible way so that we international students can follow the class more easily. Secondly, the department could automatically divide students into seminar groups and assign us with some tasks which should be solved together. Thirdly, I hope the lecturers can state the derivation steps more clearly on the handouts, or at least write them on the blackboard when we are having class. Finally, I wish we international students could have internship opportunities to apply our knowledge in the real world.
Differences I've found between China and UK:
Schedule difference: Chinese students often start their lectures at 8:00am sharp instead of 9:00am here; finish their lectures at 6:30pm, the latest, compared to 5:00pm here. What's more, Chinese universities usually have optional classes at night, from 7:30pm to 9:30pm.
Teaching methods: Chinese universities also have lectures. However, they do not have TA classes or seminar groups. If students grasp the whole chapters, they can get a very good result. Therefore, Chinese students do not have private TA, but just lecturers.
Support from staff: in the UK, we have lecturers' emails so that we can freely contact them; the same in China. We have full-time student mentors, who are required to have already obtained at least the Masters degree, we can contact them for everything we have trouble with, and they are ready to help us at any time, even during the night. Different in UK, student mentors are part-time, even undergraduates can be mentors.