The Story Behind the Chinese Students in America

In the school year of 2016 to 2017, almost 351,000 Chinese students were studying in American universities. The Chinese students who study abroad are a minority in both China and America. No matter how good their English is, they are still different from the Americans, because our roots are Chinese. They were educated with the traditional Chinese values, but we can’t relate to the majority of people in China who came out from the Chinese education systems. How are they going to fit in the Chinese society? Why are they coming to the United States? Why is the number of students increasing so rapidly? Jiayang Fan’s article A Documentary Captures The Dreams and Anxieties of Affluent Chinese Teens at an American Boarding School gives a comprehensive answer.

This article talks about a documentary directed by  Miao Wang called Maineland. The documentary follows two protagonists, Stella and Harry. They are ambitious, affluent, eager to learn, and have high expectations of America. As someone who also moved to America for education, Fan relates this her own experience as a student study abroad at Deerfield more than a decade ago. By comparing, Fan talks about the similarities and disparities.

According to Fan, “ Ask any Chinese parents what it might mean for their progeny to achieve happiness, and they will likely cite not contentment but success” (Fan 2). In other words, she believes that the Chinese students want to study abroad because they can receive a better education in America, get a brighter career prospect and broaden their horizons.

As a member of this westward trend, I feel strongly related to this article. This trend traces back to the generation of our parents. They grew up in a time of the Cultural Revolution and the beginning stage of the Open and Reform. Most of them were very poor and lived in the rural area. Their only chance to break away from poverty was to study hard and perform well on Gaokao ( the Chinese college- entrance exam). The Gaokao gave them the only opportunity to “Tiao Nong Men”, which means jumping out of farm work and poverty and becoming a college student, an intellectual. Most of these intellectuals, after a long period of hard work, became a part of the current middle and upper class of China. Our parents’ experience made them cherish the financial securities they have now and realize the importance of education. Hoping to maintain the same social status and financial security to their progeny, parents would invest heavily in their children’s education. It’s common to see parents taking their child to after-school classes at the age of three or four, so their child won’t be left behind. Parents would even buy houses in districts with good schools, so their child can be assigned to the good schools. The beginning of the Open and Reform was also a time when the western culture was introduced to mainland China.  As the new generation of intellectuals of that time, our parents were the first people to see a world much more advanced than China in economy, technology, academics, entertainment, and many others. They yearned for the opportunity to study in America. However, due to the lack of financial ability and limited quota in the government supported exchange programs, many of them did not have the opportunity to study abroad. Decades later, when they have the financial capability, some of them send their child to America, to learn from what they believe to be the most advanced country in the world and to a certain degree fulfill their unfinished dreams.

In the article, Fan writes that “Harry’s father informs him that, as the only male child born in the past three generations, he carries “the hopes of the entire family.” “What you saw of the outside world far exceeded what I saw going abroad in 1981, at eighteen,” the older man says. “Now you don’t have to worry about tuition, you’re pretty lucky. You must seize this opportunity.”  Fan also referred to her own mother who also used the term” seize the opportunity.” As a matter of fact, my parents have also said the same term to me. They have been through an age that lack of resource and opportunities and they fear for the same things happen to their child. As the only child of the family, my parents gave me the best resource they can provide without any hesitation. This also comes with a price. Because of the resource they input, parents would also expect equal or better results. Each child bears the hope of the entire family because they have to support their parents and their grandparents.

The Chinese students who study in America also have struggles. Fan pointed out that many students face struggles such as high family expectations, cultural shock, and financial insecurities (Fan3,4). Nonetheless, there are more. Decades ago, most of the students who studied in America stayed and became American citizens. However, due to the rise of national pride and patriotism, and the increase of opportunities in mainland China, more and more students want to return to China after graduation and serve the country. I think the Chinese who study abroad are helpful for the development of China. As China plays a larger role in globalization, China needs people who have a knowledge of the global scene. Yet, because of the lack of role models and representatives returning to China after receiving western education, many students who want to come back face the question of how well the Chinese system will accept them after the training of Western education.

The story behind them is much more than just a group of Chinese students studying abroad. They reflect the history of China of the last 4 decades. The Chinese students who are studying in America are a group of people full of dreams and aspirations. They bear the dreams and hard work of two generations. However, just like Fan talked about, the Chinese students also have their own struggles and complicated feelings about traditional and new values.


Staff, Study International. “How Are Chinese Students at US Universities Faring in     2018?” Study International, Https://, 29 Jan. 2018,

Fan, Jiayang. “A Documentary Captures the Dreams and Anxieties of Affluent Chinese Teens at an American Boarding School.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 5 Apr. 2018,


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