Students cast eyes stateside
Updated: 2018-01-18 17:13:51
(China TEFL Net)
At an international cultural festival held in October at Inner Mongolia University in Hohhot, resident students from the United States talk with a Chinese visitor.
He wanted to know-should he stay or should he go?
That is, should he study in a Chinese or US university? That's the question Wang Yi's parents encouraged him to contemplate during his early high school years.
He did research and took standardized tests. And he eventually opted to enroll in a stateside college in 2016.
"It would have been hard for me to get into top Chinese universities like Tsinghua or Peking," the 19-year-old Beijing native says.
"Studying abroad also presents better opportunities."
Fast forward to today-Wang is a sophomore leading a busy and independent academic life at the University of Washington in Seattle.
He takes classes and works on projects with a diverse student community.
Wang spends a lot of time in the library. He's rarely in bed before midnight.
"College life is supposed to be like this-demanding but fulfilling," he says.
Wang's engineer father inspired his interest in mathematics and physics. He plans to pursue aeronautics and astronautics.
China remains the largest source country for overseas students in the United States and Chinese account for nearly a third of international students there, according to the 2017 Open Doors report released in November by the Institute for International Education, a New York-based organization that focuses on international student-exchange programs.
The report also points out Chinese undergraduates outnumber Chinese graduate students in the US. The States offers few undergraduate scholarships for international students but comparatively more for graduate schools. But Chinese families can increasingly foot the bill for undergraduate education, too.
The increase of Chinese students in the States "represents the growing income of Chinese citizens and their ability to send their children overseas", says Frank Whitaker, minister counselor for public affairs at the US embassy in Beijing.
And there's good reason they're selecting the US, says Education USA network's regional educational advising coordinator Christina Chandler.
"The families are more interested in the education of the child and the best opportunities available," she says.
Many Chinese families can afford to send their children to US undergraduate programs and then enroll them in graduate schools, she says.
Beijing No 80 Middle School college counselor Sun Mingfang says: "We had two international classes to prepare students to study abroad two years ago. We have five today. More parents want their children to receive education that offers cultural diversity, English-language proficiency and broadens their horizon."
And parents tend to be more practical in selecting schools, rather than spending their life savings on top universities like Harvard, Yale and Princeton as they did previously, she says.
"They not only consider multiple factors, such as rank, location and job prospects, but also are more likely to respect their children's choices."
New York University
Many Sino-US education programs have been established since China opened up its education sector following its World Trade Organization entry in 2001.
A growing number of Chinese are studying in the US, while many US schools like New York and Duke universities are operating joint ventures in China that are independent legal entities approved by the country's Ministry of Education.
Zuo Hancheng applied to the New York University Shanghai when he was in high school in 2015.
"China needs more business professors with systematic training and international vision," the 21-year-old business and finance major says.
"I value New York University's business resources and liberal arts education."
NYU Shanghai graduates receive two degrees-the NYU bachelor's degree and the NYU Shanghai diploma.
Zuo says NYU Shanghai's programs offer a good mix of Chinese and global experience.
Last year, he participated in the Hyperloop One Global Challenge competition sponsored by Hyperloop One, a US company working to develop the futuristic transportation technology.
He served as a co-leader in charge of government and policy research.
His team's design in the competition was a high-speed transport system, a magnetic corridor to run between Shanghai and Hangzhou, and focused on the Hyperloop's social and environmental impacts.
Zuo says the English-language environment, interdisciplinary approach, diverse student body and high academic standards are preparing him to study overseas later.
The NYU Shanghai also offers study-abroad programs that last for a semester or more.
Zuo is currently taking classes in New York.
"So many Chinese and American universities have these exchange programs, or dual-degree programs, that open up many more opportunities for students to study abroad," Chandler says.
"It adds to the number of undergraduate students."
A growing number of Chinese are also opting for optional practical training, the Open Doors report says.
OPT allows graduates to temporarily work in their fields of study.
The number of Chinese graduates in such programs reached nearly 60,000 in the 2016-17 academic year, an increase of 14.6 percent over the previous year and more than five times the number for 2009-10.
University of Notre Dame alumnus Li Gen applied for OPT before graduating in 2015.
"I was hoping to stay in the US longer, and OPT helped me," the 25-year-old says.
"It gives you one extra year to work for an organization or a company to gain experience and helps you to apply for an H-1B work visa."
The sociology and political science major worked at the international humanitarian agency Catholic Relief Services.
Li cooperated with colleagues from a wide variety of backgrounds to raise funds, plan events and support disaster relief. He also helped with the organization's social media platforms and learned how to use different online systems to convey messages to the constituents.
The experience not only helped him develop such skills as communication, writing and management but also helped him find jobs later.
He's currently a program coordinator at the University of Notre Dame Beijing Global Gateway.
"OPT is a great opportunity for students to gain work experience in their fields," says Chandler.
"It helps them to explore their field of work, take what they've learned and put it to use, and gain some valuable experience."
Whitaker says work experience also makes students competitive in the international workforce.
But OPT can also fall into gray area.
The duration varies among fields. Most OPT in recent years has focused on science, technology, engineering and math, which typically offer longer programs.
Some international students change majors to spend more time undertaking OPT.
Chandler encourages students to make the best personal choice.
"It's not about the name of the university, how long you get to stay, what your friends are studying or what your parents want you to study," she says.
"You need to choose what's important to you. The best choice for you is the most important."
Studying abroad: Wise decision or not
Studying abroad was seen for long as a guarantee of a great job and a promising future. But that view no longer holds. A recent survey by the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank, which polled 1,821 young people who had studied abroad, found about 40 percent of the returnees' monthly salaries to be below 6,000 yuan ($922), lower than the average monthly salary in Beijing of 9,942 yuan. Up to 68.9 percent of those polled acknowledged that their pay was below expectations.
The survey also showed that while the returnees enjoyed advantages over domestic students in terms of a global view, English-language proficiency and cross-cultural communication skills, they had a hard time fitting into the local job market.
Studying abroad is a universal plan B for those who don't have a better choice, but applicants who have an overseas education don't necessarily enjoy an edge in the job market, according to Feng Lijuan, a human resources expert at 51job.com. Some experts say in order for Chinese students to reap the benefits of studying abroad, they need to "be pushed out of their comfort zones".
But others believe the advantages returnees have should not be underestimated. Studying abroad can be a life-changing experience as the students have to deal with everything in a completely new environment.
"By adapting to, communicating with and understanding a different culture and people, students can change their attitude toward studying and life, which has a lasting impact on their careers and personal lives," says Xie Shaoyuan, marketing director of Education International Cooperation Group.
So, should students still go abroad to further their education despite the current low-income prospects?
Global experience outweighs the financial burden.
1. Studying in a foreign country can be a life-changing experience as students have to learn about different cultures and interact with people from various backgrounds. It is also a good way to nurture their sense of empathy and global competence.
2. Today, studying abroad may not be as financially rewarding as it was a few years ago, but the connections and the new worldview developed through this unique experience is precious.
3. In the current situation it will take them longer to earn what they have spent on their studies abroad, but with the right career plan they are likely to have a good future. Besides, with command of a foreign language and an international network, their salaries will see greater increase in the long run.
Career success not a given; opportunities at home.
1. A foreign diploma is no longer a passport to a good job. Returnees do not necessarily enjoy an advantage in the local job market, compared with domestic graduates. The key to success is to work hard and have a clear goal, no matter where you study.
2. Many Chinese youth pursue higher education overseas to avoid the pressure of the national college entrance exam, or seek to cushion their landing in the fierce job market. For those who find it hard adapting to a foreign environment, studying abroad is not a wise choice.
3. It costs much money to study abroad, which is a financial burden for many families. And with China's rapid development, students might miss some great opportunities at home if they spend years abroad.
Source: China Daily
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