For each summer and winter, the price of flying from China to the United States soars. Tens of thousands of young Chinese in ponytails or sneakers eagerly head to their dream factories — American colleges — with bulged backpacks hiked up on shoulders and heavy suitcases rolling behind. After a more than a 13-hour journey, they present customs officers with neatly arranged sheets and pamphlets showing their destination to the exotic land: New York University, Boston University, the University of Florida, University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, among others.
In the past decade, China has witnessed an explosion in the number of students studying abroad. The Institute of International Education (IIE)’s annual report says the number of Chinese students studying in the United States surged 23.5 percent in the 2010-11 academic years. China has been the top country of origin of international students since 2009.
Undergraduate students are the major force driving the growth. By the 2010-’11 academic year, the number saw a 43 percent rise, with a total of 56,976 students comprising one-third of all Chinese students living in the United States.
Jawee Perla, senior advisor of International Student and Scholar Services at American University, said Chinese students now account for 12 percent of the international student group, at the largest at American University. Though the number of undergraduate students is still less than that of the graduates, its rapid rise cannot be overstated.
“There are 43 Chinese undergraduates in 2011, but this year the number is 52,” he said. “We see a large number studying in a range of disciplines in Kogod School of Business, Washington College of Law and School of Communications, etc. ”
For Chinese graduate students, the numbers of applications also continued to increase dramatically in 2012. Applications from prospective students increased 18 percent in 2012 following a fluctuation of 21 percent in 2011 and 20 percent in 2010. This is China’s seventh consecutive year of double-digit growth, according to the survey from Council of Graduate Schools (CGS).
Unlike domestic students, international students, especially those at undergraduate level, have little, if any, financial aid. That means they pay almost 100 percent of tuition and fees.
“It is a large amount of money,” Perla said, “For undergraduates at AU, they have to pay $38,982 for one academic year, but that only covers the tuition. The actual cost includes mandatory fees, rooms, health insurance, etc. All of that together is about $57,000.”
With so much money to pay, Chinese parents are still willing to send their only child to the States. Perla said there are several reasons.
“With the expanding Chinese economy, the increased prestige of foreign education, and with certain economic factors, such as China’s one-child policy … it (is) possible for families to support fewer students for higher education, spend more money and pour more resources to their only child to study overseas,” Perla said.
The flood of Chinese students studying in America is also a new manifestation of Confucianism, which emphasizes education. Even before middle school, children from middle-class families begin to pay close attention to the information of meiguo liuxue — studying in the USA. They devote hours every day after classes preparing for American standardized exams from the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) to the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). With the support of education programs and test trainings, they often score in the top quartile of those exams.
Eric Kuang, a first-year public relations graduate student at the University of Florida, has been in the States for only two months. Recalling those days of preparation for tests, he describes them as “a pleasant misery.”
“Compared with TOEFL, I think (the) GRE is a more difficult task for me. Memorizing thousands of words is very hard, and I usually devote three to five hours to that. But studying with some of my best friends made it less hard. We encourage and help each other to overcome the difficulties,” Kuang said. “So even if I’m not satisfied with my final scores, I still think it was a good journey to me.”
Kuang said he enjoys his new life.
“It is a totally different experience compared to my previous life in China” he said. “But there’s still far to go to completely adapt to this environment.”