Foreign graduates in Shanghai face hard choices ahead

By Catherine Valley Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/5 18:43:40

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

According to the Chinese Ministry of Education, 88 Shanghai universities are ready to say "good-bye" to their Chinese students who soon will graduate and become the local job market's latest batch of candidates. Unfortunately, many international students who studied and graduated here in Shanghai are not blessed with the same opportunity to stay and work.

Finishing one's education abroad is indeed a good thing in terms of benefiting both life and career. But it also compounds the choices that foreign students are faced with as soon as we receive our diploma. All of a sudden we realize that spending several years in a Chinese university was actually the easy part. What to do next is where it gets rough for us.

"Should I stay and look for a job in China? Or should I go home and live with mom again? Or maybe I should apply for another degree? Or maybe I should just say screw it all and move to Ibiza?" Those are the questions stuck in our heads on graduation day. And trust me, it's not exciting to have such options; it's downright frightening!

After living abroad, people tend to change drastically from who they were upon arrival. Their dreams, thoughts and acquired knowledge normally exceed those who never leave home. It is actually quite unfortunate, because it makes an expat dream bigger and, thus, eventually expect far more from the future.

Returning home after four thrilling years in China to resume a regular life is too easy and even a step backward. The thought of becoming just another corporate cog along with their fellow compatriots is something like a nightmare for someone who has been living the exotic life.

As a result, many foreigners are desperate to find a way to stay in China (or move to an even more exotic country) rather than give up and go home. This is why so many foreign students in Shanghai choose to just get another degree regardless of age or career ambitions.

What is specifically tempting in terms of duration are Chinese PhD programs. For unclear reasons, they take only 2 to 3 years compared with 5 to 7 years in Western universities. That is why many foreign 25-30-year-old master's students tend to apply for scholarship PhD programs in China.

For reference, according to official information published by the Chinese Ministry of Education, enrollment in PhD programs in China increased by 23.4 percent annually since 1982, making China the world leader in producing PhDs.

In addition, foreigners applying for Chinese programs may enjoy some concessions. I personally experienced it when skipping internal exams for the school of journalism at a Chinese university.

After all, insisting on further studying in China has much less to do with a thirst for knowledge and more just to keep living the easy life of an overseas student. That life becomes even easier if one manages to nab a scholarship, with money automatically deposited into your bank account every month.

It is especially relevant to those who have once experienced a scholarship and know how to get the next one. Those students are usually aware of the procedures and application deadlines. They automatically work on proposals, get professors to write recommendation letters and, as the deadline approaches, they apply for a scholarship to many universities at the same time. In this manner, for many graduates the motto "never stop education" tends to sound to them more like "die, but get a scholarship."

As an international student myself, I've known many foreigners who have graduated from Chinese universities. Some go home, some manage to stay in China to work or continue studying.

But there is nothing wrong with packing up to share your experiences and knowledge with old friends back home. On the contrary, it might even be the wiser decision. In one way or another, what really matters is the experience which never disappears no matter where you are.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.


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