The Chronicle of Higher Education has a recent article detailing the increase in the number of Chinese international students at America's universities. According to the article, more than 275,000 Chinese international students will be matriculating at American colleges and universities this fall. That's almost three times the number from any other country. The pivotal question is, why? Why are so many Chinese parents working so hard to send their only child to a foreign school?
As reported in The Chronicle, the simple answer is that Chinese parents want what parents in every culture want -- the best opportunities for their children. The more complicated answer traverses history, economics, and sociology. Historically, only the very wealthy could afford to send their children overseas. Now, with the rapid growth of China's middle class, more families are able to pay for the tutoring, consulting, and college campus trips that enable their children to be exposed to and apply to American schools. Further, though changing, China's economy still favors the progeny of the politically-well connected. Thus, despite the rising incomes of China's burgeoning middle class, the best opportunities remain reserved for the children of the political elite, creating an impetus to seek opportunities elsewhere. Finally, China's education system as of yet hinges on a yearly national exam. Students who fail to get into the best schools through this system, or are disillusioned by the test-focused nature of Chinese education, see American schools as an attractive alternative.
While the article's title focuses on the parents, it is a bit of a misnomer. The effort to get to America is just as taxing on -- and driven by -- the child as it is the parent. The reporter follows two girls as they forgo other activities to engage in untold numbers of hours of studying for the SAT and learning English. One of the girls seeks therapy under the pressure. And yet, when each of the girls gets their college acceptance letters, they deem the process worth it.
Do these Chinese students at American schools add to the "Tiger Mom" and "Model Minority" myths? Perhaps. After all, one of the girls shrugs off the SAT math section with, "Most Chinese students can get an 800 on that!" But, as The Chronicle article illuminates, behind the stereotypes are three dimensional individuals that fret about their future and dream about a different life. They work exceedingly hard because their options feel limited; not to mention, because their parents have the resources to enlarge their options.