THE CHINA CRAZE: What's Motivating Students?

By Rubin, Kyna | International Educator, September/October 2010 | Go to article overview
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THE CHINA CRAZE: What's Motivating Students?

Rubin, Kyna, International Educator

With China so hot, study abroad in the People's Republic is appealing to students in a broadening array of disciplines. Programs are adapting to changing student demand both for now and for the future.

"The Chinese own US now." That's how one U.S. student sees it. As the comment might suggest, his 2009 semester in the PRC was not inspired by a passion for Qing history or Tang poetry, the sort of esoterica that jazzed students of China two and three decades ago.

Instead, the desire to be part of the China boom is what fueled his study abroad. This student's attraction to China arose from that nation's economic prowess - and China's large investment in U.S. debt is one sign ofthat, in his view. He hopes someday to launch a China-related company. But to thrive in China's corporate world, he believes he'll need deeper country expertise. That's why he returned to China after graduation to enroll in more advanced Chinese language classes.

"The days of Chinese making exceptions for individuals who don't know anything about their language or culture are over. The Chinese have the bargaining chips now," he says.

China's for Everyone

As an economic powerhouse that some experts predict may outshine the United States in the not-too-distant future, China is attracting expanding numbers of U.S. students eager to know its secrets to success. Some plan to make it part of their business careers. But not only the management and finance types are heading to China: everyone is. Environment and pre-law majors, even computer science and interior design students want a China stay under their belts and on their résumés. Less-directed studente simply want to be part of the China fad. (For example, U.S. program providers in China saw their numbers spike in the lead^up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.) The China studies majors steeped in history and literature are still going, but today they make up a smaller portion of the numbers.

And those numbers are ballooning. Based on the latest available figures, total U.S. students on Chinese campuses jumped 19 percent to 13,000 in 2007-2008, compared to the previous academic year, per the Institute of International Education's Open Doors 2009, But the sum swells when a broader swath of students is included. According to China's Ministry of Education, which, unlike Open Doors, counts students enrolled in short-term and summer programs and directly enrolled at Chinese universities, almost 19,000 U.S. students studied in China in 2009.

The growth, even under the more limiting formula used by HE1 propelled China to fifth place on the Open Doors 2009 list of most popular education abroad destinations, edging out Australia. The trend is expected to continue. In November 2009 President Obama announced a plan to send 100,000 students to China in the next four years. Exactly how the government will help U.S. universities reach that goal is unclear, but the intent to cultivate more China know-how is clear.

Pointing East

Where's the push toward China coming from? Everywhere - from the U.S. president to state politicians, the media, institutions, and parents.

In 2008 Wisconsin's Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton signed an exchange agreement between the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Qmghusi University, citing the U.S. -China relationship as the most important one in the world. At the same time, UW's international studies dean proposed that China become that institution's top education abroad destination (up from fourth place) within five years. But pressure also came from students, says study abroad adviser Erin Polnaszek. "We weren't able to send everyone who wanted to go with our previous offerings," most of which were geared to Wisconsin's many China and East Asian studies majors. To meet more diverse student demand, since 2008 UW's international academic program office has added six new programs, (UW's business, agricultural, and other schools also send students to China through their own separate channels.

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