Learn Chinese in China
ZhangKaiRong

Alienation of Chinese students overseas

25 posts in this topic

Interesting article from The Economist 1843 (hope those in China can access it as well)

 

I think we discussed this issue on this board several times, so nothing groundbreakingly new for old dwellers here.

I'm not too optimistic for the future: Chinese students overseas will always stick together, as well as foreigners studying in China will also stick together. Clearly, there are outliers, but they are the minority in this story.

For me, what fascinating in this story is that Chinese companies still believes that they get their hand on "fully Western educated" employees with these Chinese youngsters, which is clearly not true. My country is a non-English speaking one, and the universities here are also full of Chinese - if they can't get into the English-language bachelor of their preference, they're willing to get enrolled for the same program in the local language, even though they only have one year of language program before starting their BA, and they're starting the language from zero. And yeah, they eventually graduate. Cheating on exams, asking people to write their thesis on their behalf is quite commonplace, as well as "borrowing" ideas from the Internet without indicating the source. There were occassions when a Macroeconomics essay included English sentences without any coherence or context, and when the (Chinese-speaking) teacher put the sentences into Google translate, he realized that these sentences were full copy-pastes from a study prepared by a student at a Chinese university.

 

As the article outlined it, universities need money, and wealthy Chinese can make degree programs in the red or break-even point turn into highly profitable, but the cost might be the general niveau of education.

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I used to be of the same opinion, but on further reflection I think it just places greater emphasis on the institution/programme studied.  Here in the UK, if you find yourself paying £9,000 to sit in a room with a load of Chinese kids who speak terrible English, then maybe you can be spending your £9,000 better - or maybe you're just in roughly the same boat they are.

 

I went to a Russell Group university and studied a hard science.  There were a handful of Chinese students out of about 160 in my year and they were either awesome, or got crappy grades.  I spoke to a member of staff at another Russell group university last week who said they get students from China on a 2+2 group that go direct into 2nd year here, but could probably go direct into third year, and are invariably in the top-10% of graduates.

 

If you're a good university, you'll already be pretty keen on maintaining your academic standards and are unlikely to affected.  If you're a Chinese company blindly employing people because of their foreign credentials, well, that's your problem.  I think people are more clued into this now though.

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There's a lot more to being able to comfortably hangout with a group Americans than just being able to study in English. In addition to good oral English skills, there's also so much slang and pop culture references you need to be able to pick up on. Then you need to be able to contribute enough for them to like you and want to keep your around. I'm not surprised that so many just end up sticking to their own people instead.

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@ZhangKaiRong, I definitely felt like I've read that same article a few years ago. But indeed it's another article addressing the same issue as before.
 

I work at a high school in China. While none of them have Chinese passports, a lot of them are ethnically and to varying degrees culturally Chinese. I also know a lot of US (and Canadian, UK, Australian, and European) admissions officers. I also have a lot of Chinese friends who have studied overseas and returned to China. I also knew international students from China when I worked at US colleges (residential liberal arts colleges which have some similarities to University of Iowa and many differences) and when I worked at a US boarding school.


I think a lot of US (and UK, Australian, and even Canadian) universities could do a much better job of working on integration of foreign students. This isn't limited to Chinese students mind you - lots of Middle Eastern and South Asian students which are enrolling in the US in big numbers too have these concerns. More of these articles focus on Chinese nationals because they represent the largest population of foreign students in China. Schools that do it well do outreach both to the foreign students and work with their US population of students, faculty, and members of the local community. Universities and colleges where the big reason for bringing in foreign students relates to money, tend to do a worse job than universities where they are recruiting students for enrichment of the university learning environment. While both can be done, I can pretty easily tell you which places put a much stronger emphasis on the first than the second.

But ultimately, even universities which do a good job of providing opportunities won't necessarily succeed when the students coming in don't try. I would argue that the type of students a university matriculates (fu'erdai versus 'middle class' Chinese, and marginal students versus outstanding students) make a huge difference to what the outcomes are for student integration. There will always be the awesome students like Mingjian from the article who break outside the bubble, just as there are foreigners in China (many who read these forums), who get outside the expat bubble here. I especially like the part where Mingjian rejects the overtures by the people proselytizing Christianity. When I worked with Chinese students in the US who were applying to college from my boarding school there were some who specifically looked for US universities without a huge Chinese foreign student population to avoid the temptation to solely engage with it and probably to avoid situations where US students just wrote them off.

I've also had Chinese speaking students who went to middle school and high school in the US and Canada where their English language skills either plateaued or got worse. They basically only used English when they had to in class and were usually living in communities with lots of Chinese speakers (LA area, Vancouver, Toronto, New York). When they came back to live in China with their family and attended an English medium school like mine their English language skills improved very quickly. I understand why, but it seems counterintuitive.

I agree that it will continue to be an issue, but I think it's a bigger issue at some types of institutions than at others. I also think that not all Chinese with overseas degrees have really picked up all the skills they might have by studying overseas, which is a shame given how expensive it is go attend. But then again, not everyone who goes really wants what is being sold and is more focused on the degree that is being conferred.

Thanks for posting that.

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this situation already bugged chinese students who went abroad for studies, doesn't matter whether they went to english speaking or non english speaking country for studies 90% they will hangout with their own people and rarely integrate with local society. i had lot of friends and meet chinese students who went abroad for studies (most went to US, UK, or Australia) for very long time but still has difficulty to enganged in english conversation even some of them barely speak at all and i wonder what the hell they doing during their study and how come they pass all the exam and even graduate :shock:

 

the rest of 10% mainly come from middle class chinese family, they are the one who study hard and try to score higher marks in their test but because of burden of all school assignment and make them unsocializeable so their oral speaking ability also limited but they can understand and write perfectly.

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The institutions aren't helping, at least here in the UK. There's a lot of emphasis on getting in foreign $tudent$, and in many cases that basically means China - it's such a huge market, with a strong demand for foreign education. Courses are designed to appeal to Chinese students, partnerships are more likely to be set up with Chinese institutions than anywhere else, admin and accommodation officers may speak Chinese. The rest is inevitable. This is from Bristol.

 

Quote

 

The majority (approximately 80%) of international postgraduate students studying at the University come from China, so our postgraduate residences usually have a mix of students that is representative of this. 

Within the flats in each residence, we aim to create a mix of students in terms of nationality, whilst trying to ensure that no one feels isolated. As we have so many Chinese students, we cannot always create a mix of nationalities and so if you are a Chinese student, it is likely that you will be living with all other Chinese students. 

 

 

That said, international education is very much a business. Expecting anything else would be ambitious. The determined student could find a university and course with a more diverse mix, and make an effort to take advantage of it.

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I work directly with international students at a UK university. As already mentioned, a major problem with not being able to integrate with the local students is the language level of Chinese students. Often, the level required to enter the university is IELTS 6 (B2); this is considered the minimum level to survive academic study (questionable, but that's the standard). But in terms of having a high enough level to really make friends with local people, forming meaningful relationships....IELTS 6 often isn't enough. It can be, but only for the most outgoing and confident students, the same ones that'd be happy to chat with you even with a lower level of English. The universities are in a tight spot though; if they raised the entrance requirement they'd lose a huge percentage of those students - and their fees - so that isn't really an option. As Roddy said above, international education is a business.

 

For a lot of these students, English is just a means to an end. They don't like it, and they don't like being in England. They just want a degree certificate so they can get back to China asap. For those ones, there is simply no motivation to get better, improve their level, make friends, or integrate in any way.

 

 

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@roddy

don't forget the pressure of gaokao exam, not all chinese students can pass it just being rich, most chinese students who went abroad are never take gaokao exam and enroll in international school. the competition for gaokao is very real and harsh, if you aren't born in 1st tier cities you gotta score way higher than your peers (that came from 1st tier cities) to get even consideration

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I didn't know I had forgotten it, but thanks. 

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Many good points raised here, and I think roddy definitely hit the nail on the head. Many may start out with dreams of making foreign friends but very few have the language skills or cultural background to break into domestic student's circles, and they soon give up as all the stresses of living abroad sap their extra energy and motivation. So I suspect the vast majority of Chinese students end up falling into the category of pragmatists who are really coming for the degree certificate alone, not necessarily the education or the cultural experience.

 

This is both a sad result of the situation in China, but also the general trend towards creating an international business in education which encourages universities to focus on profits before people. Having a diverse student body on paper is pretty meaningless if they're all in their little boxes living parallel lives and never actually talking to each other.

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If anyone could come up with an easy, repeatable and above all viable solution for how a governing body can successfully integrate a large group of diverse people, they'd be deserving of at the very least two Nobel Prizes.

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Well, I would argue that some universities do it quite well. Building an inclusive community requires some key ingredients and it needs to be adapted to the local conditions, which means there isn't a "one solution fits all" approach. It also takes effort, which often translates at an institutional level into spending money. For the universities that merely seen international students as a way to increase revenue and essentially subsidize the cost of education for local students, the will to do that is generally pretty limited.


Universities have the ability to make this integration much easier through creating some structure in more social environments, but it does take international students putting themselves in somewhat uncomfortable positions too. Some will take that step regardless of the barriers and some won't regardless of how easy the university has made it. Language ability is certainly part of it. Dnevets is right that a 6.0 IELTS is not any where close to fluent, which creates problems in less structured English environments. An 80 on the TOEFL is also very low. Now, these scores are not so problematic for students whose first language is a Romance or Germanic language because they tend to have an easier time with learning English because of the similarities. However, if you speak Chinese or Korean or Thai (as examples), it's going to be tougher to get to the language level where you can integrate more easily.

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On 18/07/2017 at 1:05 PM, roddy said:

 the problem isn't so much the behaviour of the students as the fact they've got to travel overseas to a country they have little interest in for the sake of a degree. 

I think all this is true for the great majority of scholarship students studying in Chinese universities. 

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For scholarship students yes, there's probably a developing-world majority who don't have many options at home. For international students as a whole though?

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I don't know what the stats are but outside of Beijing and Shangai at least, I'd assume most students are developing-world students?

 

I understand it was the case that you'd be hoping to study engineering or whatever abroad and would wait to see which country you got allotted to, seeing China next to your name when the list went up could often be a rather depressing moment, I've been told. 

 

A chunky exception to the developing world bias might be Koreans but I think they tend to be in China on a 'language year abroad' from Korean university with a bunch of their friends, focused on passing an hsk and prone to sticking together in big Korean-speaking groups. 

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Silly question, maybe, but what proportion of Chinese students studying abroad in English-speaking countries go there to take degrees in English (i.e. its language and literature), and do students who come to study English (assuming there are any) experience higher or lower levels of alienation on average?

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You mean how many Chinese nationals go to English speaking countries to major in English? I'd say virtually none. It's rather uncommon to find Chinese nationals even studying something like psychology, though I've met a handful. STEM and business would tend to be the focus, though there are plenty students studying design, art, and architecture.

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The UK at least collects some decent statistics which might have some answers.

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