Studying abroad brings benefits, but also risks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 July, 2010, 12:00am

Often, when a Chinese family announced to its relatives that they had decided to send one of their offspring to be schooled abroad, uncles and aunts would feign horror and jokingly commiserate with the young soon-to-be-exile for being 'sold off', alluding to the many Chinese workers who were sold off for manual labour abroad in the 19th century. Apart from the often unappealing cuisine, nobody believed that a life of study abroad would be quite so torturous, and the parents would board their children onto planes with a suitcase full of instant noodles confident they would return equipped for a better future.

Now, according to a recent study in a Canadian health journal, it appears that sending your children to study abroad can indeed be a risky exercise. The unregulated nature of a section of the education market means that foreign teenagers completing high school or studying English in Canada face a higher risk of cocaine use, sexual abuse and being lured into prostitution. The type of schools alluded to in the research appear to be the type of schools or education centres that do not provide boarding and arrange for its overseas students to lodge with 'home-stay parents'. Since such 'parents' have no legal obligation to care for or educate these youths, many 'home-stay students' do not receive the usual parental guidance. Many are reported to have high levels of sexual activity, cocaine use, and most disturbingly of all, 23 per cent of 'home-stay girls' reported being sexually abused.

Hong Kong parents are known for being extremely conscientious about their children's education, and hours of research are conducted before schools are chosen.

However, no matter how much parents analyse the promotional material, or how many times they visit the school campus and inspect its facilities, there can be no substitute for hearing from the mouth of other students who have gone through the same system, and can recount what they really experienced. The benefits of studying abroad are well known, but, as this study has highlighted, it is no guarantee of your children's well-being.