China needs to im­prove its per­cep­tion to get stu­dents from States

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By CHINA DAILY

More re­sources and ef­fort should be put into im­prov­ing Amer­i­cans’ per­cep­tions about China so more will study in China, said ed­u­ca­tion prac­ti­tion­ers and Amer­i­can stu­dents who have stud­ied in China.

“People have these stereo­types of China, but they don’t re­ally know the coun­try,” said Stephanique Brown, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence stu­dent at Fair­leigh Dickinson Univer­sity in New Jersey. She spoke as a pan­elist at the sym­po­sium — Study­ing Abroad in China: Op­por­tu­ni­ties and Chal­lenges for Stu­dents — held at China In­sti­tute in Man­hat­tan on Feb 20.

“When I was ap­ply­ing for the study-abroad op­por­tu­nity, people kept ask­ing me ‘Are you sure you want to go to China?’,” said Brown, who stud­ied at the g-MEO Chengdu Amer­i­can Cen­ter for Study Abroad in Chengdu in 2013. “But for me, China is the safest coun­try.

“You need to build pos­i­tive im­age of China be­yond the po­lit­i­cal arena. I think that’s the area where some of the ini­tia­tives should fo­cus,” she added.

“Not nec­es­sar­ily even a neg­a­tive im­age. It’s the lack of knowl­edge (of China),” Carola McGif­fert, key­note speaker at the sym­po­sium and pres­i­dent of the 100,000 Strong Foun­da­tion, com­mented on fac­tors that may stop some stu­dents from choos­ing China as a study-abroad des­ti­na­tion.

The Wash­ing­ton-based 100,000 Strong Foun­da­tion, launched in Jan­uary 2013, aims to strengthen Sino-US re­la­tions through help­ing Man­darin lan­guage learn­ing and study abroad pro­grams. It is an off­shoot of the US State Depart­ment’s 100,000 Strong Ini­tia­tive, which tries to meet US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s call for 100,000 Amer­i­cans to study in China by the end of 2014.

De­spite the ob­sta­cles, the num­ber of US stu­dents go­ing to China is steadily on the rise and might well reach Obama’s tar­get by De­cem­ber, ac­cord­ing to McGif­fert.

“The num­ber of Amer­i­cans who go to China to study has gone up by about 3 per­cent ev­ery year for the past three years,” she said. “Over the pe­riod, there are about 68,000 Amer­i­cans who have stud­ied in China.”

McGif­fert said there are scholarships avail­able for study­ing in China. The Chi­nese govern­ment of­fers a va­ri­ety of op­por­tu­ni­ties from Con­fu­cius in­sti­tutes and the China Schol­ar­ship Coun­cil.

“The Chi­nese govern­ment has set the goal of see­ing 500,000 for­eign stu­dents study­ing on their (Chi­nese schools) cam­puses by 2020, and a large chunk of that 500,000 will be Amer­i­cans. So there are also scholarships from the schools that re­ceive these stu­dents,” she added.

The US govern­ment also of­fers scholarships, in­clud­ing the Ful­bright Pro­gram, the Gil­man Schol­ar­ship and the Chi­nese Flag­ship Pro­gram.

“But in terms of to­tal amounts, their fi­nanc­ing is limited. So we need to do well be­yond what the govern­ment is able to do,” McGif­fert told China Daily, em­pha­siz­ing that fi­nanc­ing re­mains the big­gest chal­lenge for Amer­i­can stu­dents to go to China.

Zoe Spencer, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at Vir­ginia State Univer­sity who taught at Chengdu Amer­i­can Cen­ter of Study Abroad last year, echoed the need for more fi­nan­cial sup­port.

“If they (the stu­dents) worry where the next dol­lars are go­ing to come from or if their fi­nan­cial aid is not in place, I can’t ex­pect them to per­form well (in class),” she said.

Spencer also em­pha­sized that be­ing able to send the stu­dents to China is only the first step for the in­sti­tutes that host the pro­grams.

“The in­sti­tu­tions should bring on-go­ing sup­port to their stu­dents. Study abroad coun­cilors need to do at least monthly check-in to make sure the stu­dents are well,” said Spencer, who said she ex­pe­ri­enced some “ad­just­ment is­sues” when she first ar­rived in China.

Spencer, along with a few other stu­dents, spoke about the cul­tural shocks they ex­pe­ri­enced in China, in­clud­ing the lan­guage bar­rier and the use of squat-toi­lets at cer­tain places in China.

But the big­gest shock for Anya Du­naif, a Brook­lyn high school stu­dent who par­tic­i­pated in China In­sti­tute’s Sum­mer Study in China pro­gram last year, was the pop­u­lar­ity of Amer­i­can cul­ture in China.

“It wasn’t un­til I ar­rived in my host fam­ily’s house when I re­al­ized how dif­fer­ent things were (from the US), but ac­tu­ally also how sim­i­lar we were as well,” said Du­naif. “They watch Amer­i­can TV shows ev­ery day. My host par­ents watch Grace­land, which I’ve never watched.”

“My Suzhou host brother was ac­tu­ally Face­book mes­sag­ing me to ask for a signed poster of Tay­lor Swift. They (Chi­nese) are so in­ter­ested in Amer­i­can cul­ture and Amer­i­can pop cul­ture,” said Matt Bo­nan, a se­nior at Ram­sey High School in New Jersey, who also stud­ied in China last sum­mer.

“I think part of the aim of China In­sti­tute and 100,000 Strong (Foun­da­tion) is re­cip­ro­cat­ing that in­ter­est and get­ting stu­dents in­ter­ested in Chi­nese cul­ture,” he said. Zhang Yang con­trib­uted to this story and can be reached at yangzhang@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com.

Carola McGif­fert,

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