The grad­ual in­crease of stu­dents re­ceiv­ing ed­u­ca­tion in the US at an early age is ex­pected to con­tinue as more Chi­nese fam­i­lies be­come wealth­ier and are in­creas­ingly in­flu­enced by Western cul­ture.”

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Teng Zheng, deputy gen­eral manger of Shang­hai CIIC Ed­u­ca­tion In­ter­na­tional, an agency that helps ar­range for Chi­nese stu­dents to study abroad, said that Cana­dian sec­ondary schools are get­ting more ap­pli­cants from China be­cause it’s a log­i­cal choice — Canada has the same ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem as the US but it costs less.

Nev­er­the­less, the US is still the top des­ti­na­tion for Chi­nese stu­dents, fol­lowed by Canada, United King­dom and Aus­tralia. Ac­cord­ing to the 2014 Open Doors Re­port is­sued by the Bureau of Ed­u­ca­tional and Cul­tural Af­fairs at the US depart­ment of State, there were 274,439 Chi­nese stu­dents study­ing in the US in the 2013/14 aca­demic year, up 16.5 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year. Chi­nese stu­dents now make up 31 per­cent of the in­ter­na­tional stu­dent com­mu­nity in the US, and their num­bers have grown steadily for seven years.

The num­ber of Chi­nese teenagers study­ing in the US has also in­creased by more than 60 times in the past decade. A to­tal of 23,795 Chi­nese stu­dents were study­ing at US se­nior schools dur­ing the 2012-2013 school year, and it rep­re­sented a stag­ger­ing 365-fold in­crease from just seven years ago, ac­cord­ing to the An­nual Re­port on the De­vel­op­ment of Chi­nese Stu­dents Study­ing Abroad, which was pub­lished by China’s So­cial Sciences Aca­demic Press in 2014.

In 2011, China over­took South Korea to be­come the largest source of over­seas high school stu­dents in the US. To­day, one out of five in­ter­na­tional stu­dents at ele­men­tary and sec­ondary schools in the US comes from China. And the fig­ures are likely to grow, ac­cord­ing to Yang Xiong, the di­rec­tor of the youth in­sti­tute at the Shang­hai Academy of So­cial Sciences.

“The grad­ual in­crease of stu­dents re­ceiv­ing ed­u­ca­tion in the US at an early age is ex­pected to con­tinue as more Chi­nese fam­i­lies be­come wealth­ier and are in­creas­ingly in­flu­enced by Western cul­ture,” said Yang.

One of the main rea­sons why par­ents are send­ing their chil­dren over­seas is be­cause they be­lieve the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in Western coun­tries to be more ad­van­ta­geous than China’s. They be­lieve that the high schools abroad pay more at­ten­tion to the all-around de­vel­op­ment of their chil­dren, some­thing that is per­ceived to be sorely lack­ing in China.

“Chi­nese par­ents are send­ing their chil­dren to study abroad for the one key rea­son that the cur­rent state of ed­u­ca­tion in China doesn’t meet the ris­ing de­mand among par­ents and stu­dents for high-qual­ity and per­son­al­ized ed­u­ca­tion,” com­mented Teng.

This fac­tor is also why Cao Bilu had de­cided to send her 17-year-old son David Wang abroad. She is also plan­ning to em­i­grate.

“US sec­ondary schools place equal em­pha­sis on aca­demic abil­ity and prac­ti­cal skills, in­clud­ing fos­ter­ing an in­no­va­tive spirit, an­a­lyt­i­cal skills, and lead­er­ship qual­i­ties. All these help to pro­duce well-rounded and cul­ti­vated teenagers,” said Cao, whose son is study­ing at a pri­vate sec­ondary school in In­di­anapo­lis, In­di­ana.

Cao also claimed that she had no­ticed a change in her son af­ter just a year, say­ing that he had trans­formed from a play­ful stu­dent who was al­ways bored of study­ing, to a ma­ture in­di­vid­ual who had a keen in­ter­est in prac­ti­cal projects.

“He said he was inspired by the Western ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, which al­lows him to pur­sue what­ever he is in­ter­ested in, such as tak­ing ten­nis classes, paint­ing lessons and ath­let­ics pro­grammes,” said Cao, who added that David has also de­vel­oped a thirst for knowl­edge, opt­ing to take up op­tional cour­ses in Math­e­mat­ics and Physics meant for stu­dents in the higher grades for self im­prove­ment. And her son is a changed per­son even dur­ing times of leisure, hav­ing switched from play­ing video games to de­sign­ing them.

“Study­ing abroad has re­ally driven him to be­come more proac­tive in ex­plor­ing what he is good at. As a re­sult he be­comes more con­fi­dent about ex­press­ing his own opin­ions, which re­ally im­pressed us,” added Cao.

For the next seven years, it will cost Cao about US$40,000 an­nu­ally in tu­ition fees and ac­com­mo­da­tion ex­penses, but the mother has no qualms about the fi­nan­cial out­lay, say­ing: “I think it is very wor­thy to get my son out of the high­pres­sure school life in China, and see the bright and con­fi­dent smile on his face.”

China’s ed­u­ca­tion author­i­ties have al­ready no­ticed the prob­lem and are tak­ing steps to lessen aca­demic bur­den at pri­mary and mid­dle schools, en­sur­ing stu­dents get enough time for sports and de­vel­op­ing other in­ter­ests.

Ac­cord­ing to Teng, his team at Shang­hai CIIC Ed­u­ca­tion In­ter­na­tional has no­ticed a shift in the mind­sets of par­ents, who now pre­fer to send their chil­dren abroad as early as 15 or 16. Pre­vi­ously, the av­er­age age was 18.

“More and more Chi­nese par­ents, those hold­ing good aca­demic de­grees, high po­si­tions or in­come, are hop­ing their chil­dren can en­joy an in­de­pen­dent lifestyle and the style of ed­u­ca­tion in the US and be­come com­pe­tent in for­eign lan­guages,” said Teng.

“And they be­lieve it is much quicker for younger chil­dren to get used to the over­seas study life, which will also en­hance their per­sonal abil­i­ties.”

To other par­ents like Wen, this move is also a strate­gic one — it is nor­mally dif­fi­cult for high school grad­u­ates in China to be ad­mit­ted to top univer­si­ties in for­eign coun­tries be­cause of the lim­ited num­ber of places for in­ter­na­tion­als stu­dents and the ris­ing num­ber of ap­pli­cants.

“How­ever, if you grad­u­ate from a high school in the same re­gion where you are plan­ning to ap­ply for fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion, the chances of be­ing ad­mit­ted to a pres­ti­gious univer­sity will be far higher,” said Wen.

While mak­ing the big move to a for­eign land may be an ex­cit­ing ad­ven­ture for some, it can re­sult in a cul­ture shock for oth­ers.

Schools usu­ally pair teenage stu­dents with host fam­i­lies when they first ar­rive and this ar­range­ment is vi­tal in help­ing the for­eign stu­dents as­sim­i­late into the lo­cal cul­ture at a com­fort­able pace.

How­ever, those who lack such a sup­port struc­ture may find it tough to kick start their new lifestyle. Jiang Wenqian, a 20-year-old sopho­more at Univer­sity of the Arts Lon­don, still re­mem­bers the lone­li­ness and help­less­ness she had to en­dure when she first ar­rived in Lon­don four years ago at the age of 16.

“I was forced to study at a board­ing school where most of my class­mates were born in the UK as my par­ents wanted me to have no lan­guage or cul­tural bar­rier with the lo­cals,” said Jiang, who re­called that she barely could com­mu­ni­cate with her peers on the first day of school.

It took her al­most half a year be­fore she made friends and dared to speak in public. The tough start to her over­seas ex­pe­ri­ence left a neg­a­tive im­pact on her as well, as she started to de­velop an in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex when she en­tered univer­sity.

“If I could choose, I would stay with my fam­ily for a bit longer, prob­a­bly three more years. Maybe teenagers nowa­days are more in­de­pen­dent and broad-minded, which makes it eas­ier for them to adapt to the for­eign cul­ture. But that wasn’t the case for me,” said Jiang.

Ex­perts also warn that Chi­nese par­ents should not “blindly” send their chil­dren over­seas be­cause the lat­ter may not nec­es­sar­ily be ma­ture enough to live in­de­pen­dently.

“Par­ents must en­sure that their chil­dren are very well pre­pared be­fore com­menc­ing their over­seas study ex­pe­ri­ence. Some may find it hard to un­der­stand and com­plete their school work or in­te­grate into the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties,” said Yang.

“The most im­por­tant thing is that par­ents need to be a lit­tle wiser and pay more at­ten­tion to what their chil­dren re­ally need, in­stead of mind­lessly fol­low­ing the cur­rent trends.”

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