The experiences of international Open University students

Rebecca conducted interviews with three Open University students at different stages in their education - here are their stories.

The Open University is full of students from all age groups, cultures and countries, however we tend to focus on the experiences of the UK students within the Open University, as this is by far the most common student. 

The Open University has had over 7,000 students from overseas, so I decided to ask a few of them some questions to give others in a similar position a chance to hear their experiences. 

I have conducted interviews with three Open University students at different stages in their education – one is starting their journey in October 2020, one is partway through their degree, and the other has completed their education with the Open University. 

Here are their stories… 

A little background information...

Georgii is 19 and lives in Moscow, Russia. Georgii spent a year in a Russian brick university, however soon realised that the Russian education system isn’t the standard he expected so decided to continue his studies with the Open University in order to experience a British education via distance learning. Georgii is also a referee board volunteer in figure skating and also plans to attend a course in game design in the future.

Tala is 20 years old and has lived in a variety of countries, including Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Tala is a volunteer with the OU Students Association and currently volunteers in a variety of roles, something she is passionate about as she feels this shows international students are able to play a vital part of the student community.

Anas is 31 years old. He is a Syrian refugee who has been living in Jordan since 2013. Anas has completed his Diploma of Higher Education with the Open University. Previously, Anas was studying Law at Damascus University and reached his final year, however he didn’t graduate.

Open University pathway and current situation

Georgii is completing a degree in Sport, Fitness and Coaching and is beginning his first module in October 2020.

Tala is working towards a Health Sciences degree and has finished his stage 1 modules. Tala joined the OU in October 2019 and will be beginning his stage 2 modules in October 2020.

Anas has recently completed his DipHE in Law.

How do they finance their degree / diploma?

Georgii explained that his parents help pay for his study via debit card.

Tala said she is very blessed to have his parents pay for his degree.

Anas explained that he received a scholarship financed by the EU and British council in Jordan. He said that this was for studying a Bachelor of Law, however due to financial issues he could only receive financial assistance for a DipHE.

How do tutor groups work for overseas students?

Georgii hasn’t begun his studies yet, so can’t comment on his tutor group set up.

Tala explained that a lot of her peers live in the UK and she didn’t have much contact with most of them. She said that he made friends with others on different tutor groups on the same course but doesn’t know of any overseas students from her modules. 

Tala went on to say that she had a good relationship with her tutors, however she said this could have been a closer relationship if she could have attended face to face tutorials. Tala told me that she was almost always in touch with her tutors and found them both to be really supportive and hopes to keep in touch with them when she moves on to his level 2 modules. 

Anas said that his only contact with his tutor was through email and feedback on his TMA’s, however whenever he had a problem or needed help they were always very helpful. 

Additional assistance for non-English speaking students

Georgii explained that he isn’t sure if he will need assistance as he hasn’t started yet, but he hopes he won’t have any trouble understanding things. He told me that sometimes he finds it difficult to formulate what he is saying correctly and he can make mistakes, but he hopes to learn from these mistakes. 

Tala told me that she was always in British schools growing up, so despite moving schools multiple times he was always exposed to the English language. Tala explained that a number of students from different countries attended her schools so the main language spoken was English. 

Tala went on to say that at home she speaks both English and Arabic and finds that her schooling has helped her a lot when joining the OU as she has not required any assistant. She said that there have been some instances were some of her OU friends would say a very English phrase which she wouldn't understand, but other than that she has been okay.

Anas told me that English is not his native language, and as he was studying law he found a lot of words and phrases that he found difficult to understand. Anas explained that through the use of dictionaries, websites, YouTube and other resources he managed well. 

Staying motivated when fellow students are in another country

Georgii told me that his main motivation is to get a British education, something which he views as being the best in the world. Georgii is also thankful for an education that allows him to work and improve himself in other areas at the same time.

Tala explained that when she began studying with the Open University, she joined module-specific Facebook groups. She used these to discuss both module topics and to generally chat and form friendships. Tala told me that even though all of her peers lived in the UK, she never felt like she was too far away from them.

Tala went on to say that during her first year she gets a lot of motivation from her mother, who was always around to remind her to study, and he wants to make her proud. She also participates in the OU Students Association Community Drop-ins, as well as similar events held by the OU, and finds these help her to feel less alone as she can discuss her highs, lows, struggles and worries with outer students.

Anas explained that his family helped to encourage him, as well as his friend who was also studying at the same time. 

Favourite thing about the Open University

Georgii said that his favourite thing is the ability to study online and not having to waste time getting to classes. 

Tala explained that her favourite thing about the OU is that it has allowed her to do things that she thinks wouldn’t have been possible at other universities. Tala said that she loves opportunities to get involved, set up clubs and groups for other OU students.

Tala went on to say that she has really enjoyed the social aspect of it, particularly with everything happening in the world in the first half of 2020. Tala said that, in a nutshell, she loves the flexibility and freedom one gets when studying with the university.

Anas told me that, as a refugee in a low resource country, he has to work for up to 10 hours a day, so having the opportunity to study online was a brilliant thing for him and gave him the golden opportunity of a university education. 

Advice for others who are looking at studying with the Open University and live outside of the UK.

Georgii said that he would like to tell people that they shouldn’t be afraid to sign up to the Open University. He said that if they have desire and motivation then they will be okay.

Tala said she would tell any students looking to study with the OU, but are outside the UK, to not worry as they will find a place to fit in and will be perfectly fine. She said that it might take a little bit of effort sometimes, but remember that living outside of the UK won’t put you at a disadvantage when it comes to your studies. As long as you are active online and stay in touch with your tutors and peers, you will be just fine.

Tala went on to say that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it and don’t be ashamed if you need help with the English language, as you are not alone. She said that you should never struggle alone and you will find someone who can support you.

Anas said he would tell people that at first the experience may feel strange, and you may face some difficulties along the way as it is a new experience. However, you will get used to it after a short period of time, especially after submitting your first TMA which will be soon after the starting point.

I would like to thank Georgii, Tala and Anas for their time and words of wisdom. We all hope that their experiences can make other international students feel more comfortable when initially joining the Open University.

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