"First, I studied at Capital Normal University in Beijing between September 2002 and May 2003. Following one year of intensive basic training in the language and culture at Leeds University total emersion in the country was exactly what I needed. The speed at which my ability to communicate in Mandarin improved was phenomenal. Within six months I felt totally confident that I could communicate with anyone in virtually any circumstance and make myself understood. This is something I cannot begin to imagine having felt without the experience of living in China.
After an academic year in China, I spent one term studying at Ruprecht-Karls University in Heidelberg; the oldest and one of the most highly respected institutions in Germany. Having reached a certain level of competence in Chinese I took the opportunity to combine my Chinese and German skills and completed 3 modules in the Sinology Department. The time I spent in Germany was invaluable in allowing me to hone my German skills. I spent all day every day speaking German, living with German-speakers and absorbing the culture.
The time spent abroad during my degree was without doubt the most character-forming experience of my life. Since graduating I have held 3 major positions - all of them in international environments. For my first job - Immigration Consultant - it was a prerequisite to have spent some time living in another country. I simply could not have related to people who are relocating from one country to another without having gone through this experience myself. Another subsequent job was working for a China Consultancy. How could I have persuaded business people much more senior to me in terms of age and general business experience that I knew more about China than they did without having had the year abroad in Beijing?
At a time when the world is becoming increasingly globalised, Brits are already the laughing stock of many countries for their inability to communicate in any other language other than English. Whilst English may be the language of international business, we are denying ourselves many opportunities through our ignorance as a nation. Any action which prevents younger generations enjoying the opportunity I did to live abroad as a student is extremely short-sighted."