Before the Chinese New Year, a shocking story renewed a long-running debate over the necessity and value of studying abroad, especially when the student is not prepared for overseas study and life.
The story concerns 22-year-old Chenyu from Harbin, capital city of Heilongjiang Province. After splurging 2 million yuan (US$295,875) on two years’ “study” in New Zealand, he returned home empty-handed; he did not even finish his preparatory courses, let alone graduate with a diploma.
He managed to enter a college in China after returning home, but he dropped out again two months later after failing to accomplish anything, not even able to conduct normal communication with others.
Since then, he has made himself homebound, spending the whole day playing online games. He is so incompetent in life that his grandmother has to feed him food.
Chenyu’s sad story has a lot to blame: his parents’ divorce and their respective remarriages in his childhood, as well as the overindulgence by his grandmother, who has been taking care of the boy since the breakup of the family.
But what might have exacerbated the boy’s condition and might have made the family miss a good chance at saving the boy from ruin was the family’s decision to send him abroad for study.
Many Chinese parents consider studying abroad a brilliant path for their children toward success regardless of their children’s real conditions.
Encouraging students to study abroad is one of China’s basic national policies. In some sense, China’s transition from a feudal dynasty to a modern nation started with the opening of its long-closed door, with an influx of foreigners bringing modern knowledge, technology and science, and sending students to study in Western nations.
China’s first batch of overseas students dates back to the end of 1872 when the Qing Dynasty government dispatched a group of 30 students to the U.S.
Following the steps of their predecessors, in the ensuing decades, thousands of aspiring young people traveled afar to Western countries and went through hardships, toiling away at books, in the hope of acquiring much knowledge to serve their motherland.
Among those who returned home with a wealth of knowledge were prominent scientists Qian Xuesen, Qian Sanqiang and Qian Weichang, respectively dubbed as the father of China’s space program, atomic bomb and kinetics.
After China embraced reform and opening up, the number of Chinese students studying abroad has been growing steadily. In 2017, over 600,000 Chinese went to study overseas, and about 1.45 million were studying abroad, making China the country with the largest number of students studying abroad. In the four decades after the beginning of opening up, a total of 5.2 million Chinese have experienced studying abroad.
Obviously, studying abroad has become part of Chinese people’s lives. What deserves examination is the confusing purpose of some parents to send their children overseas. Common reasons for which some students go studying abroad include: to evade the cutthroat domestic college entrance examinations, to improve English proficiency, and to “see the world.” Some wealthy parents simply send their children to enter an exclusive school like Eton College to live and dress like a “nobleman.”
Such rash moves often come with a price. As an English teacher, I’ve seen too many failed attempts. Many students whose English was far from sufficient for them to survive overseas life fooled around for years and returned home with no diploma or degree. Some even made little progress in English after spending a few years and millions of yuan overseas.
Some youngsters who lack self-care ability or self-discipline were thrown out to a strange foreign country, leaving them at the mercy of luck and chances. Unfortunately, many, like Chenyu, were too fragile to survive.
For those who are mentally or morally immature, consequences could be disastrous. Yukai Yang, 22, a former chemistry major at Lehigh University in the U.S., was charged on Dec. 20 with attempted homicide after he allegedly poisoned his roommate over several months by mixing toxic amounts of thallium into the food and drink of the roommate, a native student.
Only fully prepared students can benefit from their overseas studies. Preparations include language proficiency, academic aptitude, life skills, a good knowledge of the culture and customs of the nation concerned, and clear goals.
(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer.)