China a growing trend

A recent article in the NYT (link at bottom) showed that China is now the 5th most popular destination for American study abroad students, after Britain, Italy, France and Spain. Apparently, over 11,000 students from the US studied in China last year, which is a 10 fold increase from 10 years ago. The article very clearly states that this is due to increased interest in economics and politics rather than a growing interest in culture or history, but this drastic increase is still quite surprising.

I will say I am happy to know that many more students are studying abroad in China, but one things does bother me a bit. From my understanding, to study abroad in France, Spain, or Italy, a high level of that language is required, whereas (as this article points out) most of the study abroad programs in China are all taught in English. Shouldn’t there be similar standards for language for China? I studied in Hong Kong, which is actually probably even worse; I think maybe 10 percent of the people I studied with made any attempt to learn any Cantonese or Mandarin, other than various curse words…

Anyhow, good to know that China is no longer such a far away destination; interest is starting to grow!

Lewin, Tamar. “Study Abroad Flourishes, With China a Hot Spot.” New York Times. 17 Nov. 2008.


  1. Hi Gina,

    Glad to have you here. I think the China study crowd may be a bit different from some of the other places. As you point out there are a lot of programs where people go to China just to go to China, rather than to learn Chinese and become China Hands. This was actually true even back when I studied in China (Eastern Han period). There were a lot of people who seemed to have come to China to drink beer and see cool stuff. Both fine ideas of course, but sort of messed up by registering for classes.

  2. I think the reason more Chinese programs don’t require Chinese to study is for two reasons. First, US students are still far more likely to have studied French, Spanish, or German (however Italian is far less common) in high school. Even if they haven’t studied it in high school, they may be able to take classes in a university in French, Spanish, or German after two years of study of the languages. It would be challenging, but it’s possible.
    By comparison, Chinese (as well as Japanese and Russian) are less likely to be taught in high school and it takes far longer to get to a point where a student could be directly enrolled in a university in China. And even when Chinese is taught in high schools, I would argue it is often taught poorly (but that’s a different argument).

    Secondly, I think there is a lot of pressure from US faculty to have the classes students take overseas be challenging and worthwhile especially if they count for major credit. As someone who taught in a Chinese university for two years, I think US faculty would be concerned about the quality issue if their students were directly enrolled in Chinese universities. So you end up having hybrid programs that are taught by US based faculty that are trying to maximize the number of people who be eligible which means they are not necessarily language focused.

    By the way, if anyone teaches Chinese character writing there is a very interesting development by some Oberlin College graduates. There is an open beta called Skritter ( looks to be very good.

  3. I do understand your reasoning, although the quality of classes is not necessarily better in the English speaking world; I heard of a study abroad program in Australia where you can literally take a class on “partying” and it counts as a sociology credit or something. The NYU program at ECNU actually has some pretty fantastic faculty teaching in their program.
    I did some asking around, and actually more and more programs are requiring Chinese. There is a UPenn program at Fudan that now requires functional Chinese. So maybe it is just a matter of time, or maybe it will change when secondary education catches up.

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