Chinese students regret their decision after matriculating into US universities

By Zhang Xinyuan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/4 16:58:39


Some overseas Chinese students say that studying in the US crushed their American dream. Photo: IC

Two years ago, Roy Zhang's lifelong dream was to go to a university in the US. However, despite finally realizing his dream and attending one of the top 30 best universities in the US, he is filled with regret.

"Studying abroad is like a siege; the people outside of the city want to get in, and at the same time, the men inside the city want to get out," Zhang said, likening studying abroad to marriage in the classic  Chinese novel Fortress Besieged.

"I lost so much studying in the US, and some of what I lost is irretrievable. Also, I don't think the results can pay back what my family invested in my study abroad." 

Studying in the US has been a dream for many Chinese students over the years. About 544,500 Chinese went to study overseas in 2016, a Ministry of Education report said. Another report, released by Shanghai-based media research group Hurun Report on March 2016, found that the US is still the country that attracts the most Chinese students, far exceeding other destinations.

However, some of those already studying abroad are having doubts about their previous determination.

The subtle trend reflects the statistics, as according to an NBC News report this March, the US is facing a drop in international students. Nearly 40 percent of the schools that answered a recent survey conducted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers reported a significant drop in the number of applications from international students from countries and regions such as China, India and the Middle East, the report said.

Zhang Fan, a manager in charge of teaching and research at, a teaching institution that coaches students who plan to study overseas, has also noticed the change. He has been in the industry for 13 years and said the growth in the number of students studying abroad has slowed.

Metropolitan interviewed some students who have come to regret their decision to study in the US to see if their experience can help explain the drop in numbers.

Not worth it?

According Zhang and the other interviewees, unless you are a top-notch employee in the science and technology or engineering industry and can go to Ivy League universities or one of the top 20 universities in big cities, it makes no sense to study in the US unless your family is obscenely rich.

Zhang is a business major at a university in the US, which makes him and his family quite proud. But one year away from graduation, if he could choose again, Zhang would go to a Chinese university without even a second thought.

With his academic scores, his teacher had suggested that he would have been a shoo-in for top universities in China, like Zhejiang University or other universities in Shanghai, but he opted to study abroad.

"If you can go to a top 10 university or a universities participating in project 211 or project 985, don't come to the US and settle for a top 30 university. You will find that the quality of your classmates are generally lower, and your chances of making useful business connections are fewer," Zhang said. "You will never get to see what real elites are like and are not able to blend into the mainstream community in the US."

Zhang also said that attending his university limited his chances of catching up with the new social and business trends. His university is in a small town in Illinois, and according to Zhang, there are barely any people in the town, and "everything is outdated and boring."

"When I came back home to Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province last summer and saw the boisterous streets at midnight and how technological advancements such as Alipay have made life so convenient, I was even more upset about how much I have missed," he said.

In addition to fewer people, fewer choices and barely any social events to meet people, it's also very difficult for people like Zhang to start a romantic relationship.

"My advice is that unless you can go to Ivy League schools or good universities in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, don't bother to come to the US because it's just a waste of money," he said.

"The reality is that I am going to a university that is not as good as the one I could have gone to in China, and our family is out 2 million yuan ($302,000)."

Hang Wei graduated with a bachelor's degree in media from Purdue University two years ago and now works at a news agency in Beijing. She also regrets going to the US to study.

"I didn't have a clear goal. I did not know what I wanted to achieve when I decided to study overseas, so I just came back with an average degree and slightly better English language skills," Hang said.

"When I came back, I didn't have any advantages over domestic students in the job market. I earn 7,000 yuan a month, just like most recent graduates from local universities. I don't know whether I can ever repay what my parents invested in my study," she said. "I feel so guilty that I spent so much of my parents' money, and my parents have to live paycheck to paycheck to support me."

She thinks studying overseas is not a good decision for middle-class families or families that have do not have a lot of disposable income because the financial return doesn't match the investment.

"We should have used that money to buy an apartment in Beijing, which would've yielded better financial returns. But we can't because the money is gone," Hang said.

Hang and Zhang are not the only ones who feel their study abroad doesn't pay off in the job market.

According to a survey released by the research and consulting firm Center for China and Globalization in August, 44.8 percent of returning overseas students have a monthly salary that is lower than 6,000 yuan, and nearly 70 percent of them said that wages are lower than what they expected.

These are still not the most tragic cases. Apple Luo, who owns an overseas study agency said that one of his high school classmates sold his family's apartment in the suburbs of Beijing so that he could study finance at a US university. However, three years later after he got his master's degree, the price of the house they sold rose from 800,000 yuan to 5 million yuan, yet his monthly salary still has not reached 10,000 yuan.

In recent years, it's not uncommon to read about families selling their apartments to support their children's overseas studies in the news.

According to Zhang Fan, it's the parents who would calculate whether the return could match their investment.

Most students just enjoy the experience of studying overseas, assimilating into a different culture, and becoming more independent in their life, he said.

"My students have moments of regret, like when they can't sleep for days because they have a deadline to meet or their American flatmate smokes marijuana all day and makes their dorm all stinky," said Zhang Fan. "But in the end, they never regret the experience of being able to study and live in another country."

Attending a university in the US is often not worth the investment, says some students. Photo: IC

Security reasons

With an increase in the frequency of incidents that threaten the lives of international students in the US, more and more people are opting to stay in their home country, Chinese students included.

Zhang Yingying, a 26-year-old visiting scholar in the US, was kidnapped in June and is presumed dead. Another Chinese student, Guo Chenwei, who was studying at the University of Utah in the US was shot dead by a man named Austin Boutain in October, China News Service reported in November.

Zhang Fan said that after the series of security incidents, many of his students and their parents all expressed concern about whether it is still safe to study in the US. "Many potential students just abandon their plan to study overseas, not just plans to go to the US, other countries as well," Zhang Fan said.

Xia Yingzhi (pseudonym) is a freshman who studies at a small town university in the US.

Xia lives off campus for cheaper rent and a quieter study environment, so she has to commute to school every day by bus.

"In winter, after 7 pm, the whole town just shuts down leaving just dim street lamps and barely any people. I always get scared and lonely, and when other people look at me, I hold my bag tightly to my chest and walk as fast as I can," Xia said.

"After the abduction and shooting incidents, I got even more scared and even slipped into depression. I go to campus counseling from time to time."

Xia doesn't share her feelings with her family because she doesn't want them to worry, which adds to her loneliness.

Missing out

For Roy Zhang, what made him truly regret studying overseas was missing an important family event.

"My grandmother suddenly passed away from a heart attack, and it was during Chinese Spring Festival, and I didn't have any vacation in the US, so I couldn't even come back for the funeral," he said.

To Roy Zhang, he has expanded his horizons and is independent, but he can never make up for not being there to see his grandmother for the last time.

"Many people I know who have studied overseas have missed out on important things with people that matter most to them: grandparents, parents, girlfriends, friends," Roy Zhang said.

"Our country is getting stronger, and the education level is improving. I don't think we have to cling to the thought that we have to go across the ocean to receive a good education. My experience studying in the US has actually crushed my American dream and made me more patriotic toward my own country."

Newspaper headline: Not all it’s cracked up to be


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