We Love the ‘Nordic Way of Life’ A study on How International Students’ Perception of Europe and the Nordic Countries Influenced their Study Abroad Decision
Abstract: This study combines theories about how international students evaluate different study abroad destinations with research regarding the Nordic Model, sometimes also referred to as the Nordic brand, and Brand Europe. The aim of this study was to explore how shared perceptions among international students about Europe and the Nordic countries can be exploited in order to market Nordic higher education globally. In particular this study, however, aimed at answering the following more specific research question; how the study abroad decision-making process of international students, choosing to study in Sweden, is influenced by their perception of Europe and/or the Nordic countries. In order to answer this question semi-structured interviews with international master students, studying in Sweden, were conducted after which the study’s conceptual framework was inductively generated from these interviews. Up until now it has been assumed that the study-abroad decision-making process of international students consists out of three distinct stages: (1) the individual decides to study abroad, (2) the individual selects a host country and (3) the individual selects a host university. The findings of this study, however, suggest that a fourth stage should be added – at least for international students going to Europe. The respondents in this study namely first decided that they wanted to study somewhere in Europe, before choosing a specific host country, and during this initial stage of the decision-making process their perception of Europe thus became vital. It was primarily the respondents’ perception of the quality of education in Europe and the European culture as either easy to adapt to or different and exciting, which attracted them to Europe. The respondents’ perception of the Nordic countries on the other hand, was found to influence their choice of host country and found to correspond very well to different aspects of the Nordic model or brand. The respondents namely viewed these countries as well-functioning, peaceful, prosperous and egalitarian societies. In addition the respondents also found the Nordic culture and lifestyle appealing. The majority of the respondents, furthermore, stated that their perception of the Nordic region in general, in combination with their perception about Sweden and finding a suitable degree, constituted their main reason for choosing Sweden – wherefore cultivating the Nordic brand, and what it stands for, seems to be crucial to attracting international students to the region.
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