China, United States: hot destinations for foreign students exchange

The world is becoming smaller, and younger generations today are getting a chance that our parents and grandparents did not have – that is to travel the world, study abroad and learn about things we could only dare to think of before. The world has become more receptive, and has given us a chance to get to know each other, and perhaps to get rid of some of the biased opinions of each other we might have had before.

China and the United States, perhaps the two countries in the world that are getting a lot of attention, have quite a history of exchanging students, especially in the past 30 years. However, even before then, the basis for international student exchange had been founded, which helped build bridges not only for future business cooperation or political issues, but also for mutual understanding. That is, perhaps, what is differentiating the world we know today from the way it was over 200 or so years, while people were beginning to “get to know each other”.

Exchange students

Coming to the point, we can trace the roots of foreign student exchange. The first Chinese student, Yung Wing, went to study in the United States in the 1850s. This was the period of the two Opium Wars, and a few years before the Taiping rebellion, events which changed the course of the country’s history. As it later turned out, he would be the first of many yet to come. Today, Chinese students remain the largest group of international exchange students in the United States.

Five days before official diplomatic relations were established between the People’s Republic of China and the United States, fifty Chinese students arrived in America to begin their studies. Before the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, there had been no foreign student exchange for 30 years.  By 2003, the number of Chinese students in the United States had increased to 580,000.

Many reasons could possibly explain why so many Chinese students go to the United States to study. The first and quite obvious reason is the vast variety of higher education institutions in the United States. Students from around the world are attracted to the prestige.

Foreign students in China

By the time the first American students began to come to China, it was already the 20th century, the entire global scene looked different. As China began to emerge in its role as an important economic power in the world beginning from the 1980s, American students then began to learn the Chinese language and to travel to China to study.  In the 1970s and 1980s, there were the so-called “ foreign experts”, mostly students or recent graduates in the twenties, who came to China to teach English, some studied Chinese at the same time. Over the past years, China has become a popular destination for many young Americans.  Some came here not only to master the language, but also to complete Bachelors and Masters Degrees.

Thomas Pan is an international student at Tsinghua University. He grew up in the United Kingdom and completed his undergraduate degree in California.  In an interview for an MBA Blog, he says that 45 percent of his classmates in the MBA program are international students. He thinks that “a Chinese MBA degree may raise a few eyebrows or differentiate us back home.” But most importantly, he said that it opens doors to many perspectives in China. “We’re all here because we know that within China, our degrees open doors that no foreign degree can come close to opening, and that education in China is modernizing to international standards at an unprecedented pace.”  

The number of American students seeking higher education in China has been increasing rapidly. It grew at a rate of 90 percent from 2002 to 2004, according to the Institute of International Education, a research organization based in New York. 

Despite all the differences existing in our world, the time we live in has been giving us amazing opportunities to feel, experience and understand the entire world in a way we never thought possible, and being able to study abroad is one of the things that gives us these opportunities.

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