An increasing number of Chinese students are heading to the world’s second largest continent to gain their higher education

By Zhang Xinyuan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/3 5:03:40

Liu Xin is one of the over 60 Chinese students at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. Two and a half years ago, when she started her master's degree program, there were only 20 Chinese students attending the university.

She went to Africa in 2010 to become a volunteer teacher at the local Confucius Institute. After she had been working there for three years, she became really interested in Africa and their education system and decided to stay and further her education.

Many Chinese students have their eyes set for American and European universities for overseas study because of advanced social development, while some Chinese students go against the trend and receive their education in African countries.

"According to my observation, the number of Chinese students who go to African countries for higher education is growing in recent years," said Li Lianxing, secretary general of the China-Africa Report Project at Tsinghua University.

"The increase is not big, but the number is increasing, which means more Chinese students recognize Africa now," Liu said.

A growing base

In China we can see more African students on university campuses, which is a signal of a deeper China-Africa relationship, and the same trend is happening in Africa as well.

Li said that most Chinese students choose to study in universities in South Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa.

According to him, there are three types of Chinese students in Africa. One type is language students who major in local African languages such as Swahili and Hauser in China and go to African countries to study the language.

Another type is non-language students who major in law, economy, culture, education or agriculture and go to African universities for six months to a year to learn more about the culture or for research, said Li. "The above two types of students are all funded by the Chinese government." 

A third type has been growing in recent years. More Chinese choose to develop their career and build a life in African countries, and some of their children tend to receive higher education in African countries, he said.

Liu said that some Chinese who work in Africa also further their study in their free time. "Many of my Chinese classmates choose to join the MBA program, since they work in a Chinese state-owned enterprise, and an MBA degree could help advance their career."

In addition, as China and Africa's relations and cooperation are heating up and more Chinese companies and investors come to Africa under The Belt and Road Initiative, more talents that understand Africa are needed, said Li.

"Besides, the new generations have more internationalized, curious mindsets, and are more willing to see and experience Africa themselves without any stereotypes, rather than just reading about it in a textbook."

Not an easy choice

When Liu announced her plan of going to Africa, her friends were shocked.

"They just assumed that all African countries are poor, really hot and in chaos."

However, when Liu got to Nairobi, she was delighted by the natural environment, the sight of green everywhere, the temperature and how comfortable it was.

For her, life in Africa is good, but receiving an education is not easy there due to language and cultural barriers. 

The education institutions in Africa do not have a system for overseas students yet. They do not offer English or local language classes. Overseas students can only join the local students' classes and professors do not teach differently for overseas students.

"I spent the first year in school copying other students' notes because I could not understand what the professor was saying," Liu laughed.

Although the construction and other facilities in Liu's university are quite outdated, fortunately, her classmates and teachers are very helpful, and there are some academic exchanges with other universities.

Besides language barriers and outdated facilities, high living costs also pose a challenge.

"I believe the living costs here are even higher than Beijing; one bowl of Lanzhou noodles costs 40 yuan ($6)," Liu said. "For a one-room apartment without any furniture, the rent is roughly 3,350 yuan a month."

Lü Delun, a radio broadcaster at CNR, went to the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Africa for a year several years ago. He was funded by the Chinese government, and the government gave him $100 per month as an allowance.

He recalled that he received half a year's allowance altogether and spend it in one month. "I didn't live a life of luxury or eat expensive food; it was just expensive to live there," he said.

 Another challenge is that it's difficult for Chinese students to find a job and stay in Africa in some cases.

"The local companies in Africa prefer to hire locals, so it's difficult for foreigners to settle in. Even the Chinese companies in Africa are required to employ locals," Liu said.

As the conditions in various parts of Africa are different, some Chinese students are lucky to be able to live a safe life there like Liu and Lü. Meanwhile, others face life and death situations due to the spread of epidemics and chaotic political situations.

Wang Fan, the associate editor of social media at China News Service studied at the University of Jos in Nigeria for a year and a half for his master's degree several years ago. He had near death experiences several times.

He explained that he suffered from malaria and typhoid fever at the same time.

"I was burning up to 40 C for days. A professor at Peking University who was at my school even died of malaria when he got back to China."

Once when he got to Jos, a riot broke out and hundreds of people died. During the time he was there, three riots occurred.

Another time, he was almost killed by a taxi that was so old and shabby that its brakes did not work.

Wang Fan standing on Dala hill located in Kano in 2009, a northern area of Nigeria. Photo: Courtesy of Wang Fan

What the experience brought

Zhao Lei is a professor at the School of Asian and African Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University. Zhao spent two years at University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania for his master's degree in Swahili.

According to Zhao, the Chinese government is funding more students to study in Africa. The university he teaches in, for example, has doubled the quota and is planning to send more students to Africa.

For him, life in Africa has shaken his values and taught him how to remain optimistic in difficult situations.

"Life in Tanzania is very hard for the locals, but they still are very happy and dance and sing every day. It makes Chinese wonder what truly brings happiness, and what the goal of striving is," Zhao said. "I believe that's what most Chinese people feel when in Africa."

He said that the biggest advantage for studying in Africa is to broaden one's horizon and to understand a civilization that is different from Eastern and Western civilizations. "Besides, experience in Africa could be of an advantage for students to further their studies in Western universities."

Wang also benefited from his learning experience in Africa.

"After I returned, I took part in proofreading and examining two books about Hausa, and whenever the news agency I work in reports on topics about Africa, my colleagues turn to me," he said.

Zhao Lei standing with his master's degree tutor in the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Photo: Courtesy of Zhao Lei

The future of study in Africa

A lecturer at the School of Asian and African Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University, Ma Xiujie, spent seven years in South Africa and just received her PhD in linguistics in 2017 at Rhodes University. Some Chinese students have consulted her about studying in Africa.

"I believe that in the future, more Chinese students will choose to study in Africa, though the increase of students would be limited because the economic and educational development in Africa is still a long way from other countries," Ma said.

She said that under The Belt and Road Initiative, the cooperation in economy, politics and culture between China and African countries is becoming more frequent, and China needs talents that really understand Africa, especially for people who study specific subjects such as African politics, geographical conditions and mineral conditions.

"To make sure the China-Africa cooperation goes smoothly, we need to understand the real Africa with our own eyes."


Ma Xiujie participates in the initiation ceremony of local Xosa people. Photo: Courtesy of Ma Xiujie


Newspaper headline: Study in Africa


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