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Alternative Placements Re-Shape Student Experience Abroad

Departments in the University of St Andrews’ School of Modern Languages are offering alternative placement options to students whose usual placements have become unavailable, or who may have safety concerns regarding studying abroad in specific countries. 


Currently, no students are permitted to study abroad in Russia. However, alternative study-abroad placements are available in Tallinn, Estonia, and Astana, Kazakhstan. While both options are offered through the Russian Language Undergraduate Studies (RLUS) programme, the locations themselves greatly influence students’ decisions.


For example, over 60 per cent of the Estonian population speaks Russian natively or as a second language, but the declining use of the Russian language has deterred some students from studying in Tallinn. 


Evie, a third-year studying Russian in Kazakhstan, explained that one of the reasons why she chose Astana over Tallinn is because “Russian is an official language [here]. In Estonia, Russian isn’t and there’s a declining number of speakers and people are unwilling to speak Russian in general.” She further commented that in Tallinn, “it is difficult to initiate conversations in Russian, and people don’t want to speak it.”  


Moreover, Evie said that the “financial aspect is absolutely huge and a massive barrier. There’s funding, but very limited available from the University, and that is definitely a problem!” 


Unlike other modern language study abroad options, RLUS requires students to pay for the language school separately. Alongside payment to the University of St Andrews, students must pay over £4000 for their studies abroad. Evie believed that in terms of financial support, “St Andrews could do more! However, if you can, it is worth the investment and in general life in Kazakhstan is cheaper than St. Andrews.” 


The University’s Chinese Studies department also offers an alternative study abroad option, allowing students to go to Taiwan instead of mainland China. The Chinese Studies department, founded by Professor Gregory Lee, holds no affiliation with the Confucius Institute, which is widely regarded as the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) propaganda arm abroad. 


In a past interview with the Daily Mail, Professor Lee stated that the department arranges study abroad programs in Taiwan in order to avoid Communist state interference. He further clarified that his efforts to build a strong relationship with Taiwan were “not necessarily for political reasons”, and described the island as “a relatively safe and stable place.”


Study abroad placements in Taiwan are especially attractive, given that the Chinese course at the University of St Andrews teaches in traditional rather than simplified characters. The former are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, whereas the latter are used in mainland China. In this way, students can fully utilise their accumulated knowledge from the two years of study prior to their year abroad. 


There is financial support available to students who wish to study in Taiwan. The University of St Andrews is the only UK university whose students are eligible for the Huayu BEST programme, which provides students with NT $25,000 (approx. GBP £630) to cover their living costs.   


A spokesperson for the University issued a statement to The Saint clarifying, “Our students can and do undertake exchanges in mainland China. We have a longstanding exchange arrangement with Renmin University which is open to students studying International Relations.  We have an agreement in place with Beijing Normal University (BNU) to send students to China but none have gone yet. Students can also undertake exchanges in Taiwan. At our partner universities in Taiwan, students can take a broader range of modules relating to Chinese language and culture.


Image by Stephan Law



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