Studying overseas is not a panacea for Chinese parents
Published: Nov 15, 2018 06:48 PM

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

The deeper my daughter's overseas college application goes, the more aware I am of the "studying abroad trap" so many Chinese families are falling for.

It's become politically correct to blame China's huge population and limited educational resources on the stiff competition taking place in our local schools. Whenever a child fails an exam or does not perform well, the new solution for many Chinese parents is to think that they should simply send their child to a country whose schools have less students and, thus, less competition.

Numerous agencies promoting this logic have successfully lured thousands of families into paying for their services. Instead of chasing the Chinese Dream, a growing number of parents and their children are now pursuing the American or British academic dream.

These agents are really crafty in the way they use a few previous successful cases to bait new customers. They brag about how this boy - who is kind of like your son - was admitted by a famous college of the US and how that girl - who reminds us of your daughter - enrolled in a top British university.

But is this the truth? As a mother currently assisting my daughter to apply to foreign colleges without the help of such services, I can reasonably claim "Of course not!" I have gotten to know quite a lot of other Chinese families who also want to send their children to attend overseas universities. But by the 12th grade, many parents realize that their children are in fact unfit for studying in foreign countries.

To be more specific, they are unqualified to attend upper-tier universities. English proficiency is the first and biggest hurdle. Even though many Chinese children's English isn't that solid, some slippery agents mislead them into believing that practice makes perfect.

Thus, many of these students go and spend tens of thousands of yuan on TOEFL (a test of English as a foreign language) training courses to improve their basic listening, reading, writing and speaking skills - which are the threshold for all international applicants.

The final results, however, are very divided. Some make gradual progress to achieve scores of 80, 100, over 110 out of a total of 120. These are the right people to study abroad, as the language won't get in their way. But many others achieve unsatisfactory scores even after being coached by different tutors.

The standardized SAT test of the US, which is administered in the senior year of high school, also puts a large number of Chinese students under great pressure. But given the fact that there are no SAT testing centers in the Chinese mainland, most students here are not able to take the test, and even if they could they probably wouldn't pass it since Chinese curriculum is very different from State-side schools.

Independent and critical thinking poses another tremendous challenge for many Chinese students. China's cramming- and rote-memorization style of learning has been criticized by many experts, teachers, parents and the students themselves, which makes sitting in international classrooms - where open debate and discourse are encouraged - extremely uncomfortable for some Chinese youth.

Some students' inability to live far away from their family also adds stress to their lives. Without the support of their "helicopter" parents and a social network of other Chinese kids, Chinese entertainment and Chinese food, many students live lonely and withdrawn and depressed lives overseas.

What's more, even if your student is admitted to their school of choice, are you parents aware of the very low graduation rate in foreign countries? Compared with China's almost 100-percent graduation rate, it turns out that Western universities are not all they are cracked up to be, with many students eventually dropping out.

Since my daughter is presently processing her DIY application, we have personally researched and sifted through all of the requirements from every school's official website, and we are well aware of the steep road ahead of her. But if you are not truly prepared both psychologically and academically to study overseas, sending your child abroad could turn out to be a big emotional and financial disaster for your family.

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