For international students planning to study abroad, the first hurdle to get over is often meeting the necessary degree requirements – especially for those who do not speak English as their first language.
Bridging the gap is the University of St Andrews’ International Foundation Programmes (IFP) at the International Education Institute in Scotland, where international students develop the various skills needed to meet the rigorous academic demands of a degree programme at the university.
Those who have attended or currently attending these programmes can attest to their effectiveness: Bohyun Bang, a 20-year-old student from South Korea in the IFP Social Sciences and Humanities, says that she wasn’t initially planning to study at a university abroad and instead had been intending to go to a South Korean university, but was not fully satisfied with her university entrance exam results. After some contemplation, she decided to apply overseas.
It was almost like an epiphany — Bohyun realised that in order to go forward, she needed to step out of her comfort zone and gain exposure to a new environment — one that would broaden her perspective of how she saw the world and what was important. She also wanted to experience a whole new lifestyle, to meet different people with equally different life stories and backgrounds.
This led her to choose the IFP programme at St Andrews, a decision that she has never looked back on. Although her high school grades did not meet Bohyun’s expectations for herself, they proved strong enough to succeed and thrive in the IFP programme at St Andrews, opening the door for a whole new chapter in her life.
“I’ve always wanted to know what it would be like to be a university student in the UK and I knew that St Andrews especially has a very high reputation for International Relations – which is the subject I have wanted to study as my major,” she explains.
“I wasn’t very confident in applying for the programme though, as St Andrews is one of the top universities in the UK, but I thought I’d try applying for a place anyway because what’s there for me to lose in giving it a try? With the end of the Foundation Programme approaching closer, I am very happy that I decided to apply, because the past year in St Andrews has been one of the best years in my life so far!”
Bohyun also explains how the International Foundation Programmes helps prepare students for university life, giving them the confidence and skills to become critical thinkers and excellent speakers as they improve their English skills.
“As the Foundation Programme is aimed to prepare international students to study in a UK university, I was required to do the same kind of tasks students do in the university such as writing essays and completing different coursework. Also, in the second semester of the September entry Foundation Programme, my tutors for the academic subjects would make me lead seminars either individually or in groups,” she shares.
“Here, I would be given a particular topic to research on and present in front of the tutor and classmates, being the one to lead the class for that day. Although it was pretty stressful when preparing for the seminars, after each one, I found myself more confident about studying the subject as well as using English in front of a big group of people.”
She concludes: “I feel like these experiences have given me a head start in getting to know what it’s like to be studying at a university. The IFP has given me enough practice on using English in an academic way and doing in-depth research for different subject choices.”
Joining a supportive community and network
When students join the IFP programmes, they’re supported in all aspects by their professors and friendly peers.
Bohyun Bang said that the best thing about the International Foundation Programme is that students always have help, both from supportive teachers and from their peers. Whenever she had difficulty understanding a particular topic or subject, she could easily arrange a private meeting with the instructor. Her new-found confidence allowed her to open up and reach out to friends.
“Very often, I would get much more advice than I had expected when I first planned on asking the question, and get suggestions on things that I hadn’t been able to think about before! It wasn’t only the teachers that I got help from, but also my friends who were doing the programme with me. Because the IFP consists of a small number of students – especially when compared to the huge number of students in ordinary university lecture halls – I could form very close relationships with other students doing the course,” she recalls happily.
“My friends and I would often study together after classes and go through what we had learned that day. When the deadlines for essays or exams were drawing closer, we would go to the library together or sit around a big table where we would ask questions to one another and help anyone struggling. I don’t know if I would have made it through without the help of my teachers and friends!”
A memorable international student experience
Foundation students have access to all the same facilities and resources that other undergraduate students enjoy at the University of St Andrews, enriching their study abroad experience. World-class facilities at the university include a number of impressive libraries, over 50 sports clubs, a vibrant performing arts scene at the university’s renown Byre Theatre, and several nearby cafes and study spaces.
Bohyun summarises her experience aptly: “There is much more to living in St Andrews than just studying! There are so many sports clubs and societies that students can join. As for me and many of my friends, going to the gym at the University Sports Centre has always been one of the most important daily accomplishments. There are so many social events for the students to participate as well and I got to meet a lot of amazing people with different cultural backgrounds and life stories there!”
“The whole experience in the Foundation Programme of St Andrews has been an adventure that I cherish, and I am pretty sure that the experience will have a huge impact on my future life. I find myself very lucky to have spent such an amazing time with wonderful teachers and students who were very supportive and a big joy to be around!”