The numbers of Chinese students, as the largest group of international students in the U.S., has increased dramatically in recent years, according to the Institute of International Education.
The institute said that from 2005 to 2009 India sent the most students to the U.S. From 2010 to 2016, China became the largest source of international students in the U.S.
Even though the numbers of Chinese students continue to go up, that growth has slowed down in 2015 and 2016, according to Open Doors Report.
In 2011, 3,374 Chinese students were enrolled at Michigan State University. In 2015, 5,527 Chinese students were accepted to study on campus, according the Office for International Students and Scholars.
“Right now, about 70 percent of our incoming class this year was from Michigan, and the other 30 percent was from abroad and other states in the U.S.,” said Patricia Croom, the university’s director of international admissions, recruitment and student success.
MSU is trying to keep a balance between out-of-state students and students from overseas, Croom said, while keeping total international and out-of-state enrollment under 30 percent of the student population. She said that number may drop in future years.
A different education system in the U.S.
Chinese educational institutions use a “teach-centered system,” said James Dorsett, director of Office for International Students and Scholars in Michigan State University. Chinese instructors teach in the class while students take notes. Students rarely ask questions.
When Chinese students are considered unspoken students in class, it is not only because of the language barriers they have, but also the educational ways in China that Chinese students accepted since elementary school.
“The U.S. has an excellent quality of college education, which is totally different from the educational system that I received in China,” said Ran Bi, a freshman majoring in media and information.
“I want to gain a different experience in a different area. MSU became my final choice because of its sports atmosphere and major ranking,” Bi said.
“The U.S. has a better academic atmosphere than other countries in the world, including paper publications, research and the abilities of professors,” said Xiaoran Zhang, a doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry, is spending her fifth year at MSU. “So when I applied for being a student of analytical chemistry major, I chose the U.S. As for MSU, I came here because it offered me a full scholarship to me.”
After graduation, Zhang said that she wants to find a job in a pharmaceutical factory in the U.S. before going back to China.
“As a fresh graduate, it is not competitive enough to find a job in China because there are too many returned students from foreign countries,” she said. “Also, I would like to say that living in the U.S. makes me feel less stressful than in China.”
Looking at rankings
Lei Tang, a sophomore majoring in education, said that she originally chose to study communications, but then she changed her major after she came to MSU.
“I figured out that communication is not what I imagined about the media industry, and my parents wanted me to find a stable job in the future, which caused me to choose education eventually,” Tang said. “Also, people thought highly of the education major because it is on the top list.”
Chinese families often choose overseas universities by comparing school rankings, said Tom Melcher, chairman of Zinch China, a company providing study abroad information to Chinese students.
Yongle Pang, who has a doctorate in chemistry, works as a staff scientist in Covance, Wisconsin.
“I was interested in the topics that MSU chemistry professors were researching when I applied to the U.S., so I made a choice that MSU would be my destination for the years to come,” he said.
Facing a new culture
“I chose MSU simply because when I applied to 17 universities in the U.S., only MSU gave me the offer,” said Ke Ma, who is earning a doctoral degree in chemistry. “I have not met any big challenge so far, but I did have some cultural issues with my American colleagues in terms of food culture.”
Ma’s boss loves Szechuan food, he said. One day when they had a meal in a Chinese restaurant, Ma ordered a course of chicken that was not de-boned. His American colleagues did not eat that course.
“That was a little bit embarrassing for me because I did not realize that American people preferred boneless chicken,” Ma said.
Cultural conflicts, including stereotypes and language barriers are one of the challenges that Chinese students often face, especially when they try to adapt to the American culture, according to a study by Arizona State University researchers Kun Yan and David Berliner.
“I have a class which mentioned stereotypes about Chinese students,” said Tang, the education sophomore.
Tang was surprised classmates thought all Chinese students were rich and that Chinese students never talked in the class. Tang was trying to change that.
Another cultural conflict can be language.
Bi, the media and information freshman, the biggest challenge during his first year at MSU was that when his American friends were making jokes, he could not understand what they were laughing at.
“When I really do not understand their jokes, I ask them why they laughed,” Bi said. “If their laughing points were from dramas or songs, I would just watch or listen to it later, trying to join in next time.”
MSU’s Dorsett said hanging out with American students and joining clubs is a good way to build confidence for students whose first language is not English.
“For international students, the most helpful is oftentimes getting out of their comfortable zone and meeting people who are not like them, who do not speak Mandarin or Cantonese,” he said.