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Overseas Chinese students weigh the opportunities and risks of returning to the motherland

of students choosing to go overseas in search of world-class educations. More than 300,000 Chinese students – disillusioned with the mainland’s exam-


based education system that smothers critical thinking – attended overseas universities in pursuit of a higher degree last year. Many of these students strive to gain a foothold working abroad after graduation,

but limited job opportunities send roughly 70% back to their homeland, according to recruitment consultancy Zhilian Zhaopin. Te Ministry of Education says the number of “haigui,” or students returned from overseas, surged from 50,000 in 2008 to nearly 340,000 last year. Tese students aren’t always quick to readjust. Many returning Chinese experi-

ence “reverse cultural shock” at institutional nepotism and lack of efficiency in Chinese companies. China Economic Review spoke with several current and former overseas students on what they learned about their home in their time overseas and why some chose not to go back.

Mr Wu Yang, 27, engineer at Arup in Beijing

In the US, the pressure to excel in order to stay in the country often forces Chi- nese students to make choices against their will. For example, if you want to pursue an academic career, you may have to suffer through topics that you may not be truly interested in. I studied structural engineering, an industry that is dying in the US. Tere are many limits to what

If Chinese students want to stay in a foreign country, they have to be flexible, regardless of whether they believe in what they’re doing

you can truly feel passionate about doing when in a foreign country. If Chinese students want to stay in a foreign coun- try, they have to be flexible, regardless of whether they believe in what they’re doing. I know a Ph.D. candidate in phys- ics who sold boxed meals part-time. He couldn’t find a job after graduation, so he pursued another master’s degree just so he could stay in the US legally. He con- tinued to sell boxed meals and probably owns a restaurant now.

16 China Economic Review • November 2012

Ms Liu Xiaoqin, 26, medical special- ist at China National Biotech Group in Beijing

I returned to China immediately after completing a two-year master’s degree in the US, since I was homesick and my boyfriend was in China. Job hunting went well. First I worked at a US biotech firm for one year and now am working at a state-owned company. I realized that I am more at ease with a Chinese company environment. At the previ- ous foreign company, I mostly compiled data, which was tedious and less intel- lectually challenging. Since it’s a foreign firm, they wouldn’t share core technolo- gies with us. It made me feel like a cog in

Since it was a foreign firm, they wouldn’t share core technologies with us. It made me feel like a cog in a huge machine

a huge machine. But at the state-owned company I could leverage my experience and was assigned greater responsibilities. Te only thing that bothered me when I returned was that Chinese people ignore traffic rules and blare their cars horns.

he highest goal for China’s elite students used to be gaining admission to Bei- jing’s prestigious Tsinghua University or Peking University. In more recent years, however, the consensus seems to have shifted, with an increasing number

HOME FREE: Chinese students graduate from Nanjing University of the Arts

Mr Chen Yifan, 27, owner of a real estate agency in Sheffield, UK

In 2005, I came to the UK for a master’s degree in materials chemistry and even- tually got a doctorate in 2010. Most of my peers went back to China for work, because they thought it would be easier to find a good job. I decided to stay in

It’s never easy to start your own business, but that’s especially true in a foreign country

the UK for another five years in order to obtain a permanent resident visa. After graduating I looked for jobs related to my major, but the results were frustrat- ing. But I had helped a Chinese fresh- man who came to study to find a house at one point, and this gave me an epiphany. Some friends and I founded a real estate firm that helps Chinese overseas students rent houses in Sheffield. It’s never easy to start your own business, but that’s espe- cially true in a foreign country. In China, the government and families often give financial support to recent grads who start businesses. However, as all the other members of my family are still in China, I have to be independent and overcome problems on my own. I hope I can help my family relocate to UK someday, when I really belong to this nation.

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