There have always been many reasons Chinese parents cite for sending a child abroad to study in high school. For many, it is for their children to learn both the language skills and the cross-cultural adaptation skills that are crucial in a global economy. Many parents want their children to learn the specific skills that may not be emphasized in local schools. Still other parents just want to give their children the motivating jolt that comes with being nudged out of your comfort zone. In the end, though, all of this is usually connected to the real, long-term goal: attending an American university.
Whatever the reasons, contemporary scholastic emigration is part of a long historical tradition. Despite a few dustups between the two countries in the 19th century, for example, aristocratic Russians of the time considered speaking French to be a mark of sophistication and status, and would send their children to study in Paris. Europeans of earlier days would also spend time studying in Paris or Rome or London, and people in Inner Asia went to Beijing, Istanbul, or Baghdad to receive knowledge and culture.
Contemporary China is no different. Usually affluent Chinese parents are sending their high school children to the West to study, in numbers that grow every year. This strikes some as initially odd, considering that the dominant geopolitical story of the new millennium has been the rise of China (with the overriding question asking if the 21st will be “the Chinese century”). But that is missing the point: China isn’t sending its best and brightest overseas because it can’t handle them; rather, they do so because the study abroad experience provides the vital tools and knowledge needed to help China, and it has an incredibly positive influence on both the global and personal level.
Here are some of the main benefits that come from an international study experience. These are Chinese-specific, but the broader lessons can be applied to anyone.
It is unsurprising that China has the largest educational system in the world, but despite that (or perhaps due to a flattening effect of such a massive undertaking), it lags behind the West in many areas of technical education. Private universities, with non-mandated curriculum, are still fairly new. When studying abroad, a Chinese student can cut a fuller educational swath, and the broadness of it allows for better opportunity and a more ambitious future. Studying abroad will help Chinese students secure a job when/if they return- they’ll have a leg up on what is currently a brutal job market in China. Interestingly, however, over half of Chinese students in the U.S. stay in the U.S. after university
There’s a debate as to whether Mandarin will replace English as the global language in the possible “Chinese century”, in the same way that English replaced French as the global language relatively recently. Regardless of whether or not it does (and it is possible that its glyphic complexity will prevent it from doing so), right now English is still the dominant language of business, culture, and science. Studying in the U.S. (or the UK or Australia) provides a language-immersive learning environment that can’t be replicated in the classroom. This is a huge leg-up in a world where it is as important to communicate with someone 12 time zones away as with someone in the next office.
This is tied into language, but isn’t exactly the same. In the global economy, communication is about more than a shared language. There are so many cultural norms, expressions, attitudes, and other non-standard modes of functioning abroad to learn if you want to feel comfortable around the people with whom you are doing business. Studying abroad helps to understand a culture, and to avoid misunderstandings or awkwardness.
Paying It Forward
There’s always a bit of apprehension involved with sending kids to study abroad that is different from normal and understandable separation anxiety. There is a false idea that doing so is in some ways betraying your home country. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. While China might be lagging behind in some areas related to education, students who study abroad and then return are helping to strengthen the Chinese system for the next generation, bringing with them knowledge which otherwise might have taken decades to filter in.
Educational emigration is wonderful for the student and for the home country, and the “brain drain” objection that many level against those who study abroad is an overrated phenomenon, as many students end up returning to their home countries. And, it is great for the globe. The more people experience other cultures, whether from traveling or hosting, the more likely people are to understand each other and therefore get along. It helps break down the walls of xenophobia from each side. What is learned by all involved lasts many lifetimes, for many people, and its effects ripple positively throughout the globe.
The international student experience is both challenging and exciting. Whether you are a student considering studying in America, their parent, the host family, the Head of School, an international coordinator, or even a potential classmate, there are as many opportunities for confusion as there are to learn. The ISPA is here to help bridge that gap, to ensure that this opportunity and adventure is met with the highest level of success.