300,000 Chinese Students Attend U.S. Colleges. What Will They Learn About American Life?

Editors David Wertime and Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian talk to three young Chinese about how studying stateside changed their views of the United States — and their home.


In the fall of 2016, hundreds of thousands of overseas Chinese assembled on U.S. campuses and classrooms to kick off the new school year. Their ranks have soared in the past decade, from 62,523 in the 2004 – 2005 academic year to 304,040 in the 2014 – 2015 academic year — a population nearly equal to that of Pittsburgh. For Chinese undergraduate and graduate students, it’s a formative time in their lives. For many, it’s also their first encounter with life in the United States.

In December 2015, as part of its China U series, which tracks the U.S.-China education relationship, Foreign Policy surveyed 185 Chinese nationals who had studied at a U.S. institution of higher education. FP found that after studying in the United States, a majority of respondents formed a more positive image of the country. But a majority also said their time abroad made them see China in a more favorable light.

In this episode of The Backstory, FP editors David Wertime and Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian speak with three Chinese students and graduates to learn how their time in the United States has complicated their images of their host, and their home.

About the participants:

Zhaoyin Feng is a D.C. correspondent for Hong Kong-based Initium Media and has an M.A. from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

Zach Zhou is a paralegal who graduated from American University earlier this year.

Boyang Xue is a second-year M.A. student at SAIS. 

David Wertime is the co-founder and senior editor at FP’s China channel, Tea Leaf Nation, and focuses on Chinese Internet freedom, social trends, politics, and law. A former lawyer in New York and Hong Kong, Wertime first encountered China as a Peace Corps volunteer. He is a term member at the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations. Follow him on Twitter at: @dwertime.

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is an assistant editor at Tea Leaf Nation. Before joining FP, she lived and worked in China for more than four years. Bethany is a Jefferson fellow with the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. Follow her on Twitter at: @BethanyAllenEbr.

Subscribe to FP‘s Global Thinkers and The E.R. podcasts on iTunes.

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