Why So Many Chinese Students Come to America

. In 2018, the U.S. imported $540 billion worthof goods from China, but exported only 120. In response, President Trump imposed tariffs,immediately shaking the Chinese, American, and, therefore, world, economies. But while the trade war defines today’seconomy, another deficit will decide tomorrow’s. In the 2017-18 school year, 363,000 Chinesestudents came to study in the U.S., while only 24,000 Americans went to China. This, on the surface, isn’t all that surprising. What’s weird – really weird – is how fastit happened. All of a sudden, starting in 2007, Chinesestudents in the U.S. absolutely exploded, accounting for 93% of all international studentgrowth in the last decade. More students come from China to America thanthe next six countries combined, including India, despite having almost the same sizepopulation. So, why so many? Why so sudden? And is the U.S. right to worry about incomingspies? The answer has less to do with academics andmore with economics, complex social dynamics, and, above all, politics. On June 7th, Chinese cities become… eerilyquiet. Traffic is as busy as ever but no horns arehonking, stress is collectively unusually high, free water bottles are handed out, anddrones watch overhead. Today, tomorrow, and sometimes, on a thirdday, 10 million students across China take the National Higher Education Entrance Exam,aka the Gaokao, aka, the most important nine hours of a Chinese person’s life. The test covers Chinese language and literature,math, foreign language (usually English), and a choice of social or natural science. The top roughly 7-million scorers are admittedto college, and a select few are offered places in the C9 – mainland China’s equivalentto the Ivy-League. But unlike the SAT, AP, or IB, Gaokao scoresare really the only factor in Chinese college admissions. The first 18 years of your life, therefore,are dedicated to preparation. Leading up to the big test, parents burn incense,pray, and book hotels near the exam to avoid traffic. Students sometimes study with IV drips. Some, known as “Gaokao migrants”, travelto other provinces with higher admissions quotas in hopes of having a slight advantage. When the day finally comes, provincial governmentsorder quiet streets for concentration and fly drones to catch cheaters. Supporters of the Gaokao say it levels theplaying field – creating a meritocracy wherein any student, from any geographic or socioeconomicpart of China has the same opportunity for social mobility. Critics, in turn, argue a level playing fieldis only ever an illusion – that success is handed to those with families wealthy enoughto afford private tutors. Like continued middle-class growth, the nationalexam is both a practical and political tool for maintaining stability – shifting questionsof who has power and who is entitled to riches onto the individual. The extreme, sometimes insurmountable stress,they say, doesn’t even produce good citizens or employees. While Chinese students rank very highly inmath and science, they’re often seen as lacking in other skills like creative andcritical thinking, a side effect of their rigid education system. Classrooms are dominated by the teacher, wholectures behind a podium to a sea of totally-silent students expected to memorize as much as possible. To ask questions is both to disrespect yourteacher and admit to your peers that you don’t understand the material. Finally, discipline is placed above all else,with low performers at one high school not being allowed air conditioning. For any number of these reasons, some, disenchantedparents seek a way out. If their child performs poorly on his or herhigh school entrance exam, rather than lose face, families may place them in internationalschools, designed to prepare them for exams like the SAT, instead. Others pursue an education abroad with theintent of eventually migrating the whole family, or, simply, for more opportunity. The perception is that, while school in Chinais more intense up until the Gaokao, afterward, students feel they’ve satisfied their family’sexpectations and can relax at university, whereas American college is when studentsstart getting serious. In other words, students leave China on theirparents’ suggestion, who usually pay their tuition. And pay, do they! There are English lessons, extracurricularsfor admissions, exam fees, and travel costs. On top of that, families pay agencies about$10,000 per child for help in the process. In other words, this is only possible thanksto China’s rising, newly-wealthy middle-class, and the demographics which leave parents withonly one child to pay for – and, more importantly, only one chance to get it right. The truly wealthy get started even earlier- sending their child to an elite American feeder middle school, which can charge upto 60, $70,000 a year. And when old fashion studying doesn’t work,upper-class families resort to “gifts” – usually about $250,000, and as much as $6.5million. There’s one more, unexpected reason Chinesestudents come to America… When Deng Xiaoping began opening up the countryin the ’80s and ‘90s, creating thousands of newly rich families, he also, for the firsttime, allowed students to study overseas. For this reason, the first international studentswho returned to China were its most well-off, launching high-paying, high-profile careers. This association of studying in America andsuccess in life has never faded. So, while the American Dream may not be aliveand well in America, it certainly is in Beijing. Americans have Louis Vuitton, McMansions,and Porsche’s. Chinese people have Harvard and Yale. One hospital in central China even named itsmaternity wards after Ivy-League schools for good luck. All of these factors help explain this, butthey don’t justify this. Why did it all happen so fast? To answer that, we need to understand howschools really make money. Broadly speaking, in the U.S., there are twouniversity business models. The first way a school can make money is simple:charging students. Private schools are the Apple of education- they forgo massive market share in exchange for a smaller number of higher-paying students. And, because they attract high-income families,they can expect good, lifelong customers – aka endowments! On the other hand, the way public schoolspay the bills is a little less obvious. Lower tuition is made up for by state andfederal funding – aka, everyone’s favorite, taxes! Government subsidizing is great – when it’sgreat. Low prices grant low-income families accessto a great education. The problem is that state and federal governmentshave other priorities and are subject to economic downturns. During the 2008 recession, Americans spentand made less money, governments collected less revenue, and colleges received less funding. From 2008 to 13, states alone lost out on$283 billion. Now, ten years later, most of us have longforgotten the recession – but not universities. Still in 2018, state funding for higher educationwas down 13% from before the crisis. So, as government subsidies fell, schoolsimmediately turned to a new subsidy – international tuition. The current model is one where colleges cansegment prices without appearing to discriminate. In other words, tuition is set very high,but aid is handed out very generously. The average full-time undergraduate in 2017-18received nearly $15,000 in total aid. But while something like 85% of students receivesome amount of financial aid, international students almost always pay full price. At Michigan State University, for example,in-state freshmen pay $25,064 a year for tuition, fees, room, and board. Out-of-state residents pay just over double,and international students pay $9,133 on top of that. Across America, an international student generatesabout twice as much revenue as an in-state resident. Students also complain about a so-called “InternationalTax”, where schools place a greater emphasis on English courses to prolong their studies. Increasingly, Chinese students find themselvescaught between two worlds… As more and more students return home, 30%in 2007, but 80% today, they’re often disappointed by what they find. While English is still very valuable and manyfind high-paying jobs in America, the rest, “Haigui”, as they’re known in Chinese,have a disadvantage. One study found U.S. diploma-holders were18% less likely to receive a call back from potential employers than Chinese ones. On the other hand, they may also feel isolatedand unwelcome in America. Because schools tend only to keep one or twodorms open during breaks, during which international students tend to stay on campus, they getplaced in the same dorms, have less opportunity to perfect their language skills, and a hardertime socializing outside their bubble. At the same time, some Chinese students areexperiencing delayed or rejected visas and accusations of espionage. The fear stems from Confucius Institutes orChinese Student and Scholars Associations, groups set-up by or associated with China’sCommunist Party on American campuses. Officially, their goal is to help Chinesestudents acclimate abroad – like, by organizing parties around Chinese New Year. Chinese embassies also create WeChat groupsto organize students, even paying them to welcome Xi Jinping during his 2015 visit toWashington. Several Chinese students and faculty havebeen arrested or fired in recent years for alleged spying or failing to disclose connectionsto China. According to sources, President Trump seriouslyconsidered banning all Chinese students completely, only narrowly deciding against it after anambassador pointed out how it would harm American schools. Students in STEM fields, in other words, mostChinese students, are already subject to additional scrutiny. The truth is, visa issues are not yet widespread,and the U.S. government has, at times, even encouraged Chinese arrivals, with Trump declaring“We want to have Chinese students (go) to our great schools and great universities. They are great students and tremendous assets”. Regardless, issues are common enough to createa perception of risk, leading to an 8% drop of international students in 2018, who increasinglychoose other countries like Canada or affordable Thailand. The University of Illinois went so far asto take out a $424,000 insurance policy in case of a significant drop in Chinese students. The U.S. can and should be worried about Chineseinfluence on campuses. Their free, open-minded approach has the potentiallydangerous side-effect of also creating a vulnerable hole easily filled by nationalist propaganda. There has never been a better time in historyto be wary of China’s influence abroad. But there has also never been a more importantmoment to be cautious about conflating a government and its ideology with 1.4 billion individuals. Suspecting everyone of espionage leaves Americaeconomically and culturally weaker, not stronger. Every year, Chinese students contribute $15billion to the U.S. economy. Education is now Australia’s third-largestexport, more than tourism, and behind only iron and coal. But whether economically useful or not, culturalexchanges act as a countervailing force to propaganda – both exposing Chinese nationalsto a wider intellectual world and American citizens to foreign cultures. The fact that America has so many high-ranking,sought-after institutions – where even Xi Jinping sends his daughter – is a massivediplomatic advantage that risks being wasted if foreigners aren’t welcome. When students return to China, these schoolsoften constitute their entire conception of America, the one that spreads to friends,family, and, eventually, decision-makers. Cutting off Chinese students may help wintoday’s trade war, but welcoming them is the only way to stop tomorrow’s conflictsbefore they even begin. While not everyone can leave their countryand study abroad, we all have access to some of the most interesting classes online withSkillshare! For example, maybe after watching “The Magicof In-N-Out”, you want to start your own business – this course can help you createan amazing logo for it. Perhaps you want to avoid a marketing disasterlike Huawei, in which case, you should watch these brand strategy courses from the experts. Whatever you want to learn – like design,business, or investing

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