Challenges and Opportunities for Chinese Students in the U.S. 

An increasing number of students from China are now studying in the U.S.  According to a recent State Department study, 235,000 Chinese students are now in the U.S., a 21% increase.  While the majority of them are bound for colleges, a growing number are enrolling in high schools.  The main driver behind this trend lies in cash-rich Chinese parents eager to give their children quality western education.   Simultaneously, in the last few years, cash - strapped U.S. educational institutions are intent on attracting these students.   


While both sides seem to have met their needs, unexpected problems have also risen.   Why do they happen and what can be done?

Language Proficiency

Many Chinese students come to the U.S. with less than proficient spoken English language skills.  As a result of the Chinese education system putting intense focus on helping students prepare for formal English tests, listening and speaking skills are not well developed for most students.  When they come to the U.S., many struggle with thorough comprehension of class contents and social interactions.  This further hinders their ability to take full advantage of the array of resources the schools offer.   At the university level, a growing number of schools admit Chinese students under the condition that the students must enroll in English as Second Language classes for the first year of their university life.


Social Segregation

As a byproduct of insufficient language skills, social integration of the Chinese students has been greatly impaired.  It works like a bad cycle - lack of language skills leads to difficulty in communications, which then leads to lack of new local friends, which then leads to students seeking friendship among other Chinese students, which then leads to less opportunities to improve on English.  Essentially, this perpetuates the problem of Chinese students "self segregating" from the U.S. students.


Unsatisfactory social integration clearly has an effect on the psychological health of some of the students, especially those of younger age and are enrolled in high schools.  Far away from their families and friends, the students can feel lonely, disconnected and even disserted in the most severe cases.  On social media sites, you will even find comments from students calling their parents "cruel" to send them to study in the U.S.


Varied Motivation

The biggest "complaint" that American students report on Chinese students is that they don't care to learn about U.S. culture.  There is, unfortunately, truth to this, despite the sympathy the students deserve for their lack of language skills.  There are a various number of things that motivate the Chinese students heading to the U.S.   And there is an uneven level of student quality.   Those who wish to stay in the U.S. after study will likely put in more effort learning about the U.S. culture, making friends and ramping up on "survival skills".   Still others are simply here to get an American degree, visit the top tourist attractions and plan to go back to China to pursue opportunities after the study.  These students are not taking full advantage of the education opportunity they have gotten, and in some ways, "squander" them off with lack of efforts. 


As more evidence gather that shows the ill-preparation on both sides of this phenomenon - the students that come and the schools that admit them - it is clear more needs to be done.   Already, some schools start with a few measures to ease the process:

  • Raise admission English standard to ensure students are equipped with the right level of language skills to succeed

  • Provide advisors and resources to help incoming students better integrate.  For many years, international students have generally been left to their own creative devices to survive and thrive in U.S. campuses.  As their number grows, it is starting to have an effect on the overall campus experience for all students.  This has helped draw attention and hopefully convinces more schools to put more resources to help international students acclimatize and integrate.


  • Chinese students themselves need to be better educated of what to expect coming to the U.S., as do their parents.  They need to seek help and advice from those who have experienced it before.  And more over, despite the difficulties, they need to establish the right attitude and put in extra effort in learning about the U.S. culture and society, making new friends and understanding what it takes to succeed here in the U.S.


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