How Much Did Chinese Students Learn from American Universities?

Foreign university graduates in China are no longer scarce, they are like thousands of little sea turtles- a popular term in China referring to abroad returners, climbing back to the motherland’s shore. According to China Studying Abroad Returners Job Search Blue Book 2015, the total number of studying abroad returners reached 409,100, increased 12.10%. Among which, the U.S. is the most popular destination.

Many parents send their kids to the U.S. for more diverse educational methods, but we can’t help to wonder, how much did these students learn from American universities?

A blog was recently shared on many online platforms, the title was “Four Years Later, My Son Didn’t Embrace Berkeley, Neither Did Berkeley Remember Him”. The writer, Connie, was a Chinese mother whose son just graduated from University of California, Berkeley. She expressed in the article her regret of pushing her son to attend Berkeley. “Education in the U.S. is certainly very advanced, it is also the reason why America holds such status in the world right now. But when we are able to receive this education, are we ready?”

The reason for this question comes from her son’s college experience. Being used to Chinese classrooms, he didn’t understand why there was no textbook in his classes but so much research. And even so, he didn’t bother to ask around or talk to the professor.

Connie also described her son’s social situation. He wanted to blend in American society before studying abroad and lived with two American students in the first year. His former American roommates joined fraternities and partied all weekends, which he didn’t understand. Later he moved out with other Chinese students and raised two cats because he felt lonely.

Many of his Chinese classmates stayed in their own circles as well. They didn’t understand American values or bothered to blend in. In the end, they completely missed the colorful and diverse university life which they expected before going to America.

Connie’s son had already decided to apply for medical schools in Australia. Apparently, the U.S. didn’t leave him much of a positive experience.

Why can’t numerous Chinese students blend in American society?

Culture shock happens to every international student. But what Chinese society needs to understand is that studying abroad at famous American universities simply cannot continue to be treated as a result of high SAT score and parents’ peacockery demeanor. Cultural learning especially cannot be measured as such.

Also, the purpose of many applying students is reluctant. Some desire to find well-paid jobs with their high score, some are convinced by parents, some are urged by consultants, and some dream of the endless luxury brand outlets. With so many studying abroad intermediary agencies available, getting in a decent American university is also no longer difficult, as long as you have the fortune.

But they seem to forget that attending university means so much more than a mere tool to acquire a job. The significance of experience is especially emphasized in American society.

Because of language barrier and cultural differences, many Chinese students don’t intend to join any clubs or societies on campus. When compared to their active American classmates, they lack suitable social skills which are required to work in the U.S. They also often feel isolated and thus, settle within their own circles.

“I studied Business Administration since my parents didn’t allow me to major in Mass Communication,” said Li YuYang, 22, graduate of California State University, Fullerton. “I joined in the Chinese student club and attended their Halloween event. But other than that, I didn’t really participate in school activities.”

California State University, Fullerton is located in Los Angeles county, close to neighborhoods such as Rowland Heights, which is known to be popular among Chinese immigrants and international students. Also, Mandarin and Cantonese are spoken even more frequently than English in certain areas of Los Angeles.

“I know I shouldn’t hangout in the Chinese circle all of the time,” Li added. “But whenever I see someone from China, especially from Beijing, I was just drawn to them. Perhaps I was too homesick. Then it became a habit and I just didn’t bother [to outreach].”

Li is not the only one, this situation has become a social phenomenon of Chinese students in the U.S., as well as stereotypes. Though it’s untrue, the lack of integration has led many Americans to believe Chinese students are all “Fuerdai”- rich, flashy, wearing Armani, racing Lamborghini, and good-for-nothing.

Therefore, even though language barrier is difficult to break and insecurity is constantly triggered, Chinese students should still keep trying to embrace the local culture. It would behoove them greatly to make cross-culture friendships and to understand American history and worldviews.

Why can’t study abroad returners easily find their place in Chinese society?

Summer is graduation season, many students have already returned to China assuming it would be easier and more comfortable to settle down back home. The first thing on their to-do list would be finding a well-paid job. One might ask, with so many returners enter the job market nowadays, do they really get their dream jobs because of abroad degrees?

The reality is not so optimistic. According to China Studying Abroad Returners Job Search Blue Book 2015, most returners are making couple thousand yuan a month. 32.8% of Ph.D. holders, 40.86% of M.A. holders, and 47.74% of B.A. or B.S. holders are making less than 5,000 yuan a month. These numbers don’t include the ones who are still searching.

The general public used to perceive foreign degree holders as if everybody could make six figures fresh out of college, which is also why countless parents want to send their children abroad. But the truth is, you don’t exactly need a degree to work in China. And as hiring managers, they don’t comment so highly on returners either. In fact, there are a few stereotypes according to an article on Sohu Learning by Liu JiangHua.

First of all, Human Resource managers assume most returners come from wealthy families, and therefore they wouldn’t work as hard as people who couldn’t afford to study abroad. HR needs someone who will cherish the job. Returners are also perceived as unstable because they have high expectations on salary and life style. Reported by CCG in 2015, 80% of returners are unsatisfied with their salary and 39.5% have switched jobs within the first two years.

In addition, domestic college graduates understand the mercurial Chinese market and society much better than returners, who have been absent for at least a few years. They even have better English skills than some returners.

When the frustration of reverse culture shock added to returners’ miserable job search process, many start to regret studying abroad.

“I am currently looking for a job, hopefully the salary would be between 5,000- 10,000. But either way, I’ll start somewhere,” said Tian Yuan, 23, recent graduate from the University of Illinois, Springfield. He studied Accounting and received Bachelor degrees from both UIS and DaLian Foreign Studies University. In order to take care of his parents, he returned to Beijing.

“I don’t feel like my degree is going to help me much,” said Tian. “I didn’t really like my major towards the end either, felt like I wasted money and time.”

He also expressed that he would take a while to settle back in, but he believed it wouldn’t take him long.

Salary isn’t the only problem for returners, work duties are also unsatisfying, according to an article by Hu QiYuan on Some have decided to start a company themselves.

In Hu’s interview, Lu ZeHua is a returner from Nottingham University, he had a job in the field of Business Administration, but later he decided to start his own studying abroad intermediary company with a few other returners.

“I studied economics, thought it would be more stable to work in national banks and corporations when I returned home,” said Lu. “But I prefer to do what I like, even though the future is uncertain with many challenges, I still want to try my best.”

He expressed that although he was very busy everyday, he felt his life was more meaningful this way. He and his partners wanted to once again fight for their dreams.

Even so, thousands of parents still want to send their kids abroad no matter what. But one thing must be made clear: Looking through numerous cases, attending a top 10 university does not guarantee your success, and studying a top 10 major does not guarantee you a bright future. You need to make everything happen yourself.

Comparing to Chinese society where countless parents and intermediary agencies tend to take care of everything, the U.S. promotes independency. It’s not simply living without parents and cooking for yourself, it’s a self-actualization of thinking independently. American education emphasizes independent research and development of unique perspectives, as well as teamwork. One must explore a certain subject enough by oneself and observe much of the world in order to make a very in-depth analysis. Social skills and common sense are also crucial when it comes to group projects.

None of the above skills could be taught or attained when someone has an entire team taking care of him or her. The confidence coming from accomplishments made independently is also more secure and earnest than otherwise. Therefore, independency and desire to explore are absolutely necessary to succeed in American universities.

Perhaps for studying abroad, the best advice still comes from International Relations Associate Professor of Beijing Foreign Studies University Shi ZeHua, “Don’t study abroad just because you can, it should be a meaningful journey of cultural learning and self-development.”

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