From Ja­pan to the over­seas hopes of a ris­ing son

In just 30 years study­ing abroad has be­come com­mon­place for Chi­nese

China Daily (Canada) - - RAILWAY - LEI LEI

Yuan Pucheng was one of the very lucky ones. At the age of 27 the nurse was among just a hand­ful her hospi­tal chose to send to study in Ja­pan — at the Chi­nese govern­ment’s ex­pense.

It was the early 1990s and Yuan was just one of hun­dreds of other med­i­cal per­son­nel keen to re­al­ize a dream of broad­en­ing their pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence in an­other coun­try.

“At the time, even get­ting a rec­om­men­da­tion to study over­seas was dif­fi­cult,” says Yuan, who stud­ied at a col­lege that is part of Tokyo Med­i­cal Univer­sity dur­ing 1992 and 1993.

“Al­most all the peo­ple I know who stud­ied over­seas were rec­om­mended by some or­ga­ni­za­tion or other and stud­ied at the govern­ment’s ex­pense. I was one of the lucky ones be­cause I could speak a bit of Ja­panese. You had to do some very strin­gent train­ing and pass a re­ally tough test be­fore you were given the nod.”

Of the few Chi­nese who stud­ied over­seas in the 1980s and the early 1990s, al­most all did so thanks to fi­nan­cial sup­port from the govern­ment. That is hard to credit these days when you con­sider the in­ter­na­tional educational op­por­tu­ni­ties now avail­able to Chi­nese. One of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the great changes is Yuan’s son, Sun Yuan.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school and scor­ing well in an English com­pe­tence test, Sun en­rolled at Monash Univer­sity in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, in 2013. How­ever, un­like his mother two decades ear­lier who had to rely on govern­ment fund­ing, his fam­ily paid his way.

“I scored 7 in IELTS (the In­ter­na­tional English Lan­guage Test­ing Sys­tem exam) and then started to pre­pare ap­pli­ca­tion ma­te­rial, in­clud­ing a score sheet of my se­nior high school. I had the nec­es­sary qual­i­fi­ca­tions, so it was rel­a­tively easy to get of­fers from Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties,” says Sun, 23, who opted for Monash over Syd­ney Univer­sity and Queens­land Univer­sity and is now in his last year of a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in jour­nal­ism.

Yuan mar­vels at how easy it was for her son to pur­sue his over­seas am­bi­tions com­pared with those of her gen­er­a­tion.

“We are much bet­ter off fi­nan­cially than we were in those days, and when he at­tended mid­dle school his English was good, so study­ing over­seas was some­thing he could do rather than go­ing to a Chi­nese univer­sity.

“An agency helped him get the visa too. Young peo­ple these days def­i­nitely have more choices than we did.”

Be­hind this greater free­dom lie pol­icy changes that have made China the largest source coun­try for over­seas stu­dents.

As the coun­try started to open up and im­ple­ment eco­nomic and so­cial re­form in 1978, it be­gan to make it eas­ier for more stu­dents to go over­seas, where they could study in fields in which the coun­try needed to catch up.

In Au­gust 1978 the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion called for more un­der­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate stu­dents to study over­seas, a mile­stone that is re­garded as the gen­e­sis of send­ing stu­dents to study over­seas at the govern­ment’s ex­pense.

How­ever, in re­al­ity trav­el­ing over­seas at one’s own ex­pense was be­yond most peo­ple’s means.

“The other thing is that if you wanted to study abroad you needed a visa, and they were dif­fi­cult to get,” says Yuan, who re­tired from a hospi­tal in Shang­hai last year.

“Liv­ing stan­dards in China were low and de­vel­oped coun­tries were wary about grant­ing its cit­i­zens visas, think­ing there was no way they could sup­port them­selves and pay their ed­u­ca­tion fees.”

Chen Zhi­wen, ed­i­tor-in-chief of a web­site that pub­lishes in­for­ma­tion about ed­u­ca­tion, re­calls how dif­fi­cult it was to study abroad in the 1980s.

“At the time, there were so many bar­ri­ers to do­ing so that hardly any­one re­ally thought se­ri­ously about do­ing it. It was noth­ing but a pipe dream.”

Be­ing able to get a visa es­sen­tially came down to hav­ing govern­ment fi­nan­cial back­ing, Chen says.

“Any­one else was al­most sure to have their visa ap­pli­ca­tion re­jected.”

In the mid-1990s the pol­icy of sup­port­ing stu­dents go­ing over­seas to study was fur­ther re­laxed. Those will­ing to pay their own way would no longer be re­quired to pay a fee to the govern­ment, and in the late 1990s agen­cies that helped with ap­pli­ca­tions to study at over­seas ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions were set up, and the num­ber of those mak­ing ap­pli­ca­tions be­gan to surge.

“In the 1980s go­ing abroad to study was seen as a bit of a craze, but these days it has be­come just a nor­mal thing to do,” Chen says.

Now China has be­come the big­gest source coun­try for univer­sity stu­dents for more than 10 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, Bri­tain, Canada, Ja­pan and the US. The 2015 Open Doors Re­port by the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion says China be­came the top coun­try of ori­gin for stu­dents go­ing to the US in the 2009-10 aca­demic year. It has re­tained top place six years in a row, af­ter eight years of dou­ble-digit in­creases.

Even as the num­ber of Chi­nese go­ing over­seas has risen, their ages have fallen.

The Open Doors Re­port said that in the 2009-10 aca­demic year, 127,628 Chi­nese stu­dents stud­ied in the US, 31 per­cent of them un­der­grad­u­ates. Five years later that fig­ure has shot up to 41 per­cent.

Among the Chi­nese un­der­grad­u­ates in the US is Zhou Yu­tong, 20, who stud­ies at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity in Wash­ing­ton. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from a high school in Bei­jing, Zhou went to the US to pur­sue a bach­e­lor of arts de­gree in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and French lit­er­a­ture in 2014.

“I thought go­ing abroad would be good for a change,” Zhou says.

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