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.”
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.”