The number of international students at US universities has hit an all-time high and the biggest group—around 31%—is Chinese students, a number that has jumped fivefold since 2000. As the number of Chinese nationals studying in the world’s most powerful democracy increases, what impact does this have on their views of their home country?
To try to answer this question, Foreign Policy ran an online survey of young Chinese nationals who went to the US to study. Ninety-four women and 92 men participated; around 81% were the first in their family to study abroad, and most respondents were between 18 and 29 years old.
When asked if living in the US had changed their view of their host country, 84% of respondents answered yes. Sixty percent of respondents had their views of the US positively changed since studying there, while 23% had more negative feelings. And a positive view of the US did not necessarily translate to a more negative view of their home country—55% of respondents had a more positive view of China since studying in the US.
A study earlier this year looked at the view of Chinese students and scholars in the US on the democratization of China. Researchers found that overseas studies led respondents to be more supportive of Western liberal democracy. But the longer students stayed in the US, the more suspicious they were about Chinese democratization. They weren’t sure why, but speculated:
These findings appear to support the ‘dark side’ of democracy argument because residing in the US provides an opportunity for individuals to develop a full understanding of democracy, including its weaknesses. A more plausible explanation is the re-socialization effect: the respondents have already assimilated into US society and are unwilling to participate in China’s democratization
China is the largest exporter of international students in the world; around 450,000 Chinese students studied abroad in 2013, the latest available figures, which is an increase of 17% over the previous year. The US continues to be the number one destination for the vast majority of Chinese students.