Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT
Why are overseas Chinese students increasingly returning to China after studying? Two decades ago, the answer to the question was, "My motherland needs me." Now, the words are in reverse, "I need my motherland."
The country has been losing talent for decades because many students decided to stay abroad to have a better life. Now, more Chinese students are returning because life is better in China.
Since the country opened up in 1978, 3.5 million Chinese students have left China during the "study abroad wave." Up until 2014, about 1.8 million students have returned, about 75 percent of the total amount, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
So, why come back now? "The official reason is I am an only child, and my parents want me to stay close," said my friend Lucy, 30, who got her master's degree in the UK. "The unofficial/lame reason is I can't get a job, so I have to get out."
Unlike their EU peers, many non-EU students have to find a job that sponsors their work visa; otherwise they face deportation. Students who major in computer science, design, biology and medicine might find it easier to land a job; students like Lucy, who major in arts, are less likely to get an offer.
Unlike the last generation of students, Lucy has no problem fitting in abroad. She speaks perfect English, has a lot of foreign friends and likes the European lifestyle, but she said she still constantly felt socially isolated and rejected.
"I can't say people are racists," Lucy said. "But at the end of a day, don't we all want to work with someone who is closer to us rather than a foreigner?"
According to a 2013 survey conducted by EIC, an overseas educational counseling service provider, about 22 percent of returned overseas Chinese students said they believed they would find a better job back home.
On the other hand, the job market in China is increasingly booming. Before coming back, Lucy had three Skype interviews. All the interviewers asked the same question: "Why come back?" Of course, Lucy gave them the official answer.
The glass ceiling is another problem that stops ambitious Chinese people from staying. "I don't want to do meaningless jobs that I am overqualified for just to stay abroad," said my friend Gena, who graduated from New York University with a master's degree and eventually returned to Beijing after working in the US for a year.
Before going to the US, Gena already had a few years' work experience in China. However, to get a work visa, she accepted an entry-level job offer. She said she had to work three times harder than her white colleagues to prove herself. The company that was willing to sponsor her visa offered her only $2,000 a month. What was it like living in New York on $2,000/month? "It was like the city was eating me alive and spitting out my bones," she joked.
Last but not least, the younger generation finds life abroad boring. One of my friends is leaving Switzerland soon. She is eager to open a new chapter in her life back home. "I know [it] will be chaotic, but it won't be fun if everything is predictable," she said.
This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.
17 Dec 2017
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