IV. How do former Chinese students feel about their time studying in America?

A majority of students from China find Americans friendly and welcoming, but many still feel distant from American society

Most of our sample reported that they initially felt welcome at their American school and had a favorable first impression of campus and of Americans in general. Their feelings about Americans were similar — most somewhat or completely agreed that Americans were friendly. Nevertheless, a sizable minority reported feeling distant from American society or very homesick for China while studying in the U.S., as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11. How Welcome Did Students Feel in America?

Traveling in America while studying in the U.S. makes fond memories

One way Chinese international students experienced life in America was through travels around the country, a positive experience for most of our respondents. A full 82 percent of our sample reported traveling to other cities and states for pleasure while studying in the U.S. Almost half went on to add some detail in an optional open-ended question, offering insights into some of the ways these students experienced a broader picture of American life.

Many described their travel experiences as their fondest memories of America. Indeed, the experiences they describe feel quintessentially American, whether they were camping, visiting new cities, watching 4th of July fireworks, or “learn[ing] how to smoke marijuana and [drink] alcohol.” They traveled with friends, family, and churches — popular destinations included Disneyland in California, museums in D.C., and natural landmarks in national parks like Yellowstone. The ability to travel across the country as students, seeing different landmarks and taking part in unique cultural experiences, was an important part of many respondents’ time in the U.S. Many described the warmth and openness they felt from Americans during their travels.

A large majority of Chinese international students would do it over again if given the choice.

Looking back on their experience at American universities, most of our respondents were very positive. When reflecting on if they would do it over again, 83 percent responded yes, and when asked if they would encourage their children to study in the U.S., 79 percent said they would, regardless of whether they had stayed in the U.S. or returned to China.

After graduating, some 16 percent of our sample returned to China right away for a job. The remainder did not return immediately, staying in the U.S. for various reasons including graduate school and Optional Practical Training (OPT). Eventually, 38.6 percent became U.S. citizens, while some 4 percent of respondents said they tried but failed to stay in the U.S.

Note: This is a multiple choice question and respondents may choose more than one answer.
Figure 12. Where Students Went after Graduation

Both push and pull factors appear to have reduced the proportion of Chinese international students staying in America after graduation. The desire to remain appears relatively high, despite barriers and reports of increasing discrimination. On one hand, many more undergraduates and a slightly greater number of graduate students are trying but failing to secure jobs or other opportunities that would allow them to remain in the U.S. On the other hand, China’s booming economy and the government’s talent recruitment efforts through the 2010s may explain why higher numbers of Chinese graduate students chose to return to China for work in recent years. If China’s labor market continues to show weak numbers on youth employment and/or the U.S. alters its immigration policy to make it easier for international talent to stay, more Chinese graduate students may opt to remain in the U.S.

Question: After I completed my undergraduate degree(s), I... (please check all that apply) (Toggle to see more results)
Note: Horizontal lines across the top of data groups indicate significance of the difference between them. NS = not significant; Single star (*) shows significance level p < 0.05; (**) indicates p < 0.01; (***) indicates p < 0.001.
Figure 13. Where Students Went after Graduation by Cohort

Significant numbers of Chinese international students stay connected to their U.S. schools and friends after graduation

A significant number of our respondents have remained connected to their American university experience in various ways, as shown in Figures 14, 15, and 16. More than a third of respondents report that they remain active in a U.S. alumni association. As a benchmark comparison, about 24 percent of Penn State’s active addressable alumni are members of the Penn State Alumni Association, one of the most successful alumni associations in the country.

Even more striking, 47 percent of respondents report making financial contributions to their university after graduating. In contrast, the average U.S. alumni giving rate is only about eight percent.

Many former Chinese international students have kept in touch with friends from campus, with 35 percent mainly keeping in touch with Chinese classmates and 43 percent keeping in touch with a mixture of both Chinese and American classmates (Figure 16). These figures are further evidence of the broad ties made and sustained over the years by these students during their time in university.

Figure 14. Participation in U.S. Alumni Associations
Figure 15. Respondents Who Donate to a U.S. University
Figure 16. Post-graduation Connections with Classmates/Friends

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