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Chinese students in US face culture and social barriers

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The number of Chinese studying in the United States has risen rapidly in recent years. They account for more than 30 percent of all international students at the university level. The large numbers are raising new issues for the culture and management of American universities.

Yubing Shi and Leixin Zhu are graduate students on their way to class at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. They’ve been studying in the US. for more than five years; both completed their undergraduate degrees here.

“When I first came to the women’s college which I attended in 2009, I didn’t see a lot of Chinese students on campus. All the American students were very curious, like ‘why do you come to the US?’ Nowadays, I guess they don’t ask such questions because they are used to, there are so many Chinese people around,” said Lexin Zhu, Georgetown University.

In 2015, the US hosted just under one million international students at colleges and universities.

There about 300,000 students from China, representing almost a third of all foreign students.

Chinese students are by far the biggest foreign national group on U.S. campuses, posing new challenges to administrators, professors and of course, the students themselves."

The non-profit group the Institute of International Education has been closely tracking the progress of foreign students in America for almost a century.

“I think the challenge has been very large numbers of students who then tend to huddle together a little bit more than if there were just a few on campus. And so the challenge really has been to make sure that they integrate with the rest of the campus rather than just stay among themselves,” said Peggy Blumenthal, Institute of International Education.

Yixuan Huang and Han Bao are also public policy graduate students. But they completed their degrees in China, so they’re still in the process of adjusting.

“The thing happens to me that when I came here I feel less passionate about English. I used to love English so much. But the scariness, keep me away from it. And also here when I’m stuck with Chinese friends, I don’t use English that much. So I don’t make any progress. So, I’m just struggling I guess,” said Han Bao, Georgetown University.

But they’re working hard to integrate now. Professors encourage them to express their own perspectives on issues of public policy. Outside of class, they’re also broadening their social circle.

“I believe it’s a good thing for more Chinese students to explore the world and I also think that Chinese students are actually changing the stereotypes now, that people make think they’re, like nerds who never integrate like that but what I observe is that we are changing stereotypes and we are socializing with people so I would think it’s a good thing that we have a larger Chinese student body here now,” said Yixuan Huang of Georgetown University.

The universities themselves are learning to adapt their support structures to help encourage integration.

“We’ve seen student service offices get more and more creative about how to help with that integration and certainly in schools where there is a residential dorm, pretty much Chinese students are placed with American students or other students not from China, as one of integrating. And in classes there are certain strategies that people use to make sure that when they are assigned team research they don’t just have people pick their own team,” said Peggy Blumenthal of Institute of International Education.

“Get engaged. Don’t be afraid, just because you don’t speak perfect English. I mean I’m still learning to speak in right English, even though I’ve been here for so long. Try to have some fun here. Not just study and finish homework. Absolutely, you have to finish your degree, but enjoy the life here in the States,” said Yubing Shi of Georgetown University.

With the new challenges, come benefits. Chinese students, who pay the full tuition, help universities provide scholarships to U.S. students who couldn’t otherwise afford it. The number of U.S.-China university partnerships provide new opportunities for academic collaboration. Many more U.S. students are studying Mandarin helping to foster understanding of each other’s cultures and ideas.

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