In 2017, at the commencement of Maryland University, student representative Shuping Yang gave a speech on why she chose to go to the U.S. for college. She started out by saying “It’s because of the fresh air.” She talked about how the fresh and clean air seemed like a luxury for her. In addition, she mentioned that she got no taste of freedom in China while in the U.S. she can do whatever she wants. 

Her speech raised a huge controversy in China — people regarded her as someone who defamed and lied about things in China just to get the audience entertained and show that she was highly educated. As a Chinese citizen, I know what she said is not true and these are not the reasons why so many Chinese choose to come to the U.S. for higher education.

Going back in history, the first wave of Chinese travel to America started in 1871, during the Qing dynasty when Tseng Kuo-fan and other two ministers wanted to send children to the U.S. so that they could know about its government and industry, utilizing the idea “Learn from foreigners and compete with them.”

Throughout the years, this trend has been less meritocratic and  more civil. It is approximated that 545,000 Chinese students went to the U.S. in 2017, which is a 36 percent rise compared to 2012. Every year, thousands of mainland Chinese students travel to Hong Kong or Macau for their SAT tests and the level of crowdedness is nothing you can image. 

If you asked most of the  Chinese students, they will say that they go overseas because they want to escape the Chinese University Entrance exam which is the Gao Kao system. They are afraid to be put into that stressful environment where you need to study almost 18 hours a day without break. Failing that test is not an option since they can only redo it the following year. Parents at the same time also sacrifice their life to accompany their children. For example, they will give up their job and squeeze into a small apartment with their children so that their children can commute to school more conveniently.

Because of the one child policy since the 1980s, Chinese parents have had high expectation for their only kid. They are willing to put a huge investment into their kid’s education if they are going abroad, starting from going to an expensive international school, signing up for the standardization test, finding an agency to help their child apply and so on.

Going to the U.S. for education is not an easy choice for Chinese students and what exactly do they get from it? 

Escaping the Gao Kao system, they get to choose to study things they are truly passionate about instead of choosing a major based on future job opportunities or family honor. They choose computer science because they like coding not because it is easy to get a job. Additionally, when they are immersed in American culture, they get to see our own one more clearly. 

For example, people gather during a Chinese festival, making dumplings and watching the gala. They realize how distinctive Chinese culture is when they communicate with people from all over the world. Last but not least, they experience more, and experience is the best teacher of life. Someone may sign up for a wine-making class for the first time or may argue with the professor about one specific concept. As the saying goes “Never be a frog in the well”–  go and explore the world.

That’s why students choose to come here. The Exeter community not only offers you experience that you can take home for life, but also allows you to contributing your part of the culture to it.