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China needs to improve its perception to get students from States

Updated: 2014-02-21 13:16
By China Daily ( China Daily )

More resources and effort should be put into improving Americans' perceptions about China so more will study in China, said education practitioners and American students who have studied in China.

"People have these stereotypes of China, but they don't really know the country," said Stephanique Brown, a political science student at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. She spoke as a panelist at the symposium - Studying Abroad in China: Opportunities and Challenges for Students - held at China Institute in Manhattan on Feb 20.

"When I was applying for the study-abroad opportunity, people kept asking me 'Are you sure you want to go to China?'," said Brown, who studied at the g-MEO Chengdu American Center for Study Abroad in Chengdu in 2013. "But for me, China is the safest country.

"You need to build positive image of China beyond the political arena. I think that's the area where some of the initiatives should focus," she added.

"Not necessarily even a negative image. It's the lack of knowledge (of China)," Carola McGiffert, keynote speaker at the symposium and president of the 100,000 Strong Foundation, commented on factors that may stop some students from choosing China as a study-abroad destination.

The Washington-based 100,000 Strong Foundation, launched in January 2013, aims to strengthen Sino-US relations through helping Mandarin language learning and study abroad programs. It is an offshoot of the US State Department's 100,000 Strong Initiative, which tries to meet US President Barack Obama's call for 100,000 Americans to study in China by the end of 2014.

Despite the obstacles, the number of US students going to China is steadily on the rise and might well reach Obama's target by December, according to McGiffert.

"The number of Americans who go to China to study has gone up by about 3 percent every year for the past three years," she said. "Over the period, there are about 68,000 Americans who have studied in China."

McGiffert said there are scholarships available for studying in China. The Chinese government offers a variety of opportunities from Confucius institutes and the China Scholarship Council.

"The Chinese government has set the goal of seeing 500,000 foreign students studying on their (Chinese schools) campuses by 2020, and a large chunk of that 500,000 will be Americans. So there are also scholarships from the schools that receive these students," she added.

The US government also offers scholarships, including the Fulbright Program, theGilman Scholarship and the Chinese Flagship Program.

"But in terms of total amounts, their financing is limited. So we need to do well beyond what the government is able to do," McGiffert told China Daily, emphasizing that financing remains the biggest challenge for American students to go to China.

Zoe Spencer, associate professor of sociology at Virginia State University who taught at Chengdu American Center of Study Abroad last year, echoed the need for more financial support.

"If they (the students) worry where the next dollars are going to come from or if their financial aid is not in place, I can't expect them to perform well (in class)," she said.

Spencer also emphasized that being able to send the students to China is only the first step for the institutes that host the programs.

"The institutions should bring on-going support to their students. Study abroad councilors need to do at least monthly check-in to make sure the students are well," said Spencer, who said she experienced some "adjustment issues" when she first arrived in China.

Spencer, along with a few other students, spoke about the cultural shocks they experienced in China, including the language barrier and the use of squat-toilets at certain places in China.

But the biggest shock for Anya Dunaif, a Brooklyn high school student who participated in China Institute's Summer Study in China program last year, was the popularity of American culture in China.

"It wasn't until I arrived in my host family's house when I realized how different things were (from the US), but actually also how similar we were as well," said Dunaif. "They watch American TV shows every day. My host parents watch Graceland, which I've never watched."

"My Suzhou host brother was actually Facebook messaging me to ask for a signed poster of Taylor Swift. They (Chinese) are so interested in American culture and American pop culture," said Matt Bonan, a senior at Ramsey High School in New Jersey, who also studied in China last summer.

"I think part of the aim of China Institute and 100,000 Strong (Foundation) is reciprocating that interest and getting students interested in Chinese culture," he said.

Zhang Yang contributed to this story and can be reached at