Life as an academic nomad: Travelling the world for my education | Top Universities

Life as an academic nomad: Travelling the world for my education

By Aisha Khan

Updated September 1, 2022 Updated September 1, 2022

Making the leap to study in a new country is often considered one of the most significant milestones on any student’s bucket list. But what if you could study abroad full-time instead of for only one exchange semester? 

Ayasha, a master’s student on the Erasmus Mundus scholarship programme, spoke to to tell us what she’s learned from living in several countries and how students can benefit from a global education.  

The beginning of her journey 


Ayasha started her journey as an academic nomad back in 2017, when she was completing her bachelor’s degree in her home country, Kazakhstan.  

She said: “I did an exchange semester in Spain, and it made me realise I don’t speak enough languages, nor had I been to many countries. The world is huge and there are so many opportunities out there, so I went to three different countries on exchange programmes and it was a life-changing experience.  

“During my master’s, I realised I wanted to do something similar where I can move to several countries and experience different education systems.”  

“I’m currently doing my master’s in South European studies through the Erasmus Mundus scholarship,” (an integrated study programme that allows you to move from country to another, involving at least three different higher education institutions).  

To give you a flavour of how diverse the programme is, Ayasha has already studied at the University of Glasgow and the Autonomous University de Madrid, with Marseille in France lined up as her next destination.  

The benefits of being an academic nomad 

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“The biggest advantage of studying on this programme is being able to improve my language abilities,” said Ayasha.  

Apart from my native languages (Russian and Kazakh), I can also speak English, Spanish and French, and I’m currently learning Turkish. I like the fact that it’s very multi-national. I’ve studied with people from 20 different countries - everyone I know is a polyglot”.  

In addition to learning a new language, Ayasha said there are other benefits to studying this way: “it gives you an opportunity to work in the country that you are living in. For example, I did an internship while I was in Glasgow, and I think studying and working in a country provides a much richer experience than just visiting on holiday.  

“I’d recommend making the most of a student visa which allows you to work up to 20 hours in countries such as the UK.” 

On a personal level, Ayasha says jumping from one country to the next each semester means you’re constantly exposed to an intercultural environment: “It widens your horizons and you’re able to see the world from different angles.  

“I realised I was becoming a different person and I wasn’t looking at a situation with the same perspective as before. Studying abroad does come with its challenges but it shows that you’re adaptable and flexible, as well as giving you the opportunity to become tolerant of other cultures. As clichéd as it sounds, I was finding myself by figuring out what my interests are and what matters to me”.  

The differences in education systems around the world 

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In terms of her education, Ayasha enjoys the fact that each university allows you to specialise in your area of interest. From having studied public policy and the Arab world in Spain, she’ll be focusing on migration issues next in France.  

With that experience in mind, what has she learned about different education systems around the world?  

“The evaluation system can vary in different countries – sometimes you’re graded by your final score whereas other universities require you to pass several assignments, such as group projects, a presentation in addition to your final thesis.  

“An interesting difference is how teachers evaluate your work. In some universities you have to submit your work anonymously which I think is good in terms of eliminating bias, whereas other universities are more relaxed. Being able to notice those differences has really allowed me to compare countries and work out what I prefer most”.  

What has she noticed about differences in teaching style? “Some universities teach in a way where they give you a limited amount of information so that you have more time for independent work.  

“Whereas, in the UK for example, seminars are an opportunity to explore your subject through group discussions and debates. I really liked that teachers in UK universities gave you time to think about a question and encouraged you to voice your opinion in class”.  

Advice for prospective students 

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To make the most of studying abroad, Ayasha often makes a list of things to do in each country she lives in. “I find it useful to make a list of new foods to try or events to attend. For example, in the UK, I was making a list of places to see in Scotland. One of the key advantages of studying in Europe is that you’re only a few hours away from a huge range of countries”.  

While moving from one country to the next can seem like a daunting prospect in terms of making new friends, Ayasha recommends leaning on clubs and organisations for international students. “International students will understand you the most and many universities organise events such as international dinners and language exchange clubs to help you make friends”.  

She also suggests finding events where you can meet locals to grow your network, including festivals and book exchange clubs. 

Having said that, she recognises that it takes time and courage to step outside of your comfort zone. “A big part of the journey is realising that you might not always have the same group of friends, but there’s also excitement in being able to find a network of people who you can share this experience with.  

“One of the best things about being an academic nomad is that you’re surrounded by young leaders who are all striving for something bigger – it helps keep you motivated during tough moments”. 

This article was originally published in July 2022 . It was last updated in September 2022

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