Survey Methodology

Issues in data collection

Political sensitivities in the U.S.-China relationship make this a difficult time to conduct a survey of former Chinese students in America — even a strictly anonymous survey such as this. The high level of tension between the U.S. and China may well have depressed the number of survey respondents, and it may have discouraged responses from recent alumni in particular, as they are most directly impacted by the downturn in relations.

Due to the difficulties of fielding a large-scale survey of this sort, such as the impossibility of accessing information that would allow for the random sampling of this large and diverse population, we relied primarily on snowball sampling of Chinese international students. This was done most directly by contacting members of Chinese alumni groups and asking them to take the survey and share it with relevant friends and classmates. The survey was also posted on social media and shared with numerous organizations and individuals with connections to current and former Chinese international students, who shared the link through their own networks. A list of contacted organizations appears at the end of this section.

There are pros and cons to the broad snowball sampling approach. As with any non-random sample, we do not know if our results are representative of the population of Chinese individuals studying in the U.S. over these 30 years, and we do not attempt to make statistical inferences about the population outside our sample. Although we cannot test the external validity of our results, this approach allowed us to gather a wide range of experiences and compare responses over time. Our goal with this survey was not to draw definitive conclusions, but to add insight, open a discussion of issues affecting this important population, and encourage further research on aspects of the Chinese student experience over time.

We achieved a reasonable degree of variation in terms of gender, decade, type of institutions, and country of citizenship. We were less successful in terms of degrees, as there were far more graduate respondents than undergraduates. This may be due to the fact that undergraduates are more highly represented in recent cohorts, are typically less willing to answer surveys, and have returned to China in higher numbers than former graduate students. Another imbalance is that 77 percent of our respondents report currently residing in the U.S., although just under 58 percent of respondents are Chinese citizens. This is not unexpected, since it is more difficult to reach individuals living in China through social media, and they are likely to be less willing to take an American survey for various reasons. Thus, our conclusions may apply more to those individuals with the desire or opportunity to remain in the U.S., including both Chinese and American citizens.

Survey distribution

Our survey was conducted over a five-month period between mid-October 2022 and mid-February 2023. The U.S.-China Education Trust began the initial round of survey distribution by sharing the survey link via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts. Information about the survey and the survey link was also shared as a news article on USCET’s website and translated into Chinese for distribution via widely shared WeChat groups and WeChat posts.

An ad campaign was created through Meta and posted for a week on both Facebook and Instagram in mid-October. Meta estimated that this campaign would generate 500-1,000+ views, with approximately 65-105 clicks; the ad actually reached 16,840 views with 139 link clicks. Throughout the month of December, USCET shared the Chinese student survey with various Chinese alumni chapters and clubs from universities throughout the United States and China, prioritizing the availability of WeChat contact information and level of activity based on their websites. USCET also shared the survey with staff at American universities with large Chinese student populations, including those that maintain offices in China.

USCET sent the survey to a number of associations of Chinese American professionals and Chinese American academic-affiliate groups throughout the United States. Another critical group of respondents were members of the United Chinese Americans (UCA) , a broad-based civic association of Chinese Americans. In December, 2022, UCA shared the survey with some 25,000 individuals on its membership lists, including WeChat groups and chapters throughout the United States. An estimated 70-80 percent of UCA members came from China to the United States from China for the purpose of study, making UCA a key target audience.

From mid-December 2022 through mid-February 2023, USCET and other organizations contacted dozens of individuals via LinkedIn and email, asking them to take and/or share the survey within their networks to create a bigger snowball effect. USCET experienced a large number of spam surveys due to an “incentive mining” incident for several days in January 2023, and these spam survey responses were detected and deleted immediately.

Distribution to and through individuals continued through mid-February and the survey closed on February 15, 2023. By the end of the survey period, the survey had received just under 500 responses. After cleaning and coding, 404 survey returns were verified and analyzed to form the basis of this survey report.

Survey supporters

We would like to express our deep appreciation to The Henry Luce Foundation for their generous support of this project. We would also like to thank the many individuals who took the survey and shared it with their former classmates, and the dozens of other individuals who were not themselves eligible to take part in the survey but who provided support and shared the survey widely Special thanks go to USCET’s former program manager, Trenton Marsolek, who worked tirelessly on the survey, and to USCET intern Yifan Guo for data cleaning and coding above and beyond the call of duty.

Thank you to the following organizations for survey support and distribution assistance
  • American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)
  • Bush China Foundation
  • The Carter Center
  • China Center for International Educational Exchanges (CCIEE)
  • China Data Lab, 21st Century China Center at University of California San Diego
  • Global China Connection (GCC)
  • Institute of International Education
  • NAFSA Association of International Educators
  • National Committee on U.S.-China Relations
  • United Chinese Americans (UCA)
  • U.S. Heartland China Association
  • Yale-China
Partial list of organizations asked to share the survey

Alumni groups and universities

  • Berkeley Chinese Alumni International Association
  • Carnegie Mellon Alumni, Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen
  • Duke-UNC China Leadership Summit Alumni Group
  • Fudan University Alumni Association of Washington DC
  • George Mason University Chinese alumni
  • George Washington University AAPI Alumni Network
  • George Washington University China Alumni Chapters
  • Georgetown Club, Beijing
  • Harvard Club, Beijing
  • NYU Alumni Club, Shanghai and South China
  • Peking University Alumni Association of Southern California
  • Peking University Alumni Association of Washington DC
  • George Washington University AAPI Alumni Network
  • George Washington University China Alumni Chapters
  • Georgetown Club, Beijing
  • Harvard Club, Beijing
  • NYU Alumni Club, Shanghai and South China
  • Peking University Alumni Association of Southern California
  • Peking University Alumni Association of Washington DC
  • Penn State China Alumni Association
  • Princeton Club, Beijing
  • Stanford Club of South China
  • Stanford Law School, Shanghai Regional Chapter
  • Tsinghua University Alumni Association of Southern California
  • University of Minnesota, Beijing and Shanghai
  • University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, Beijing, Shanghai, Philadelphia
  • University of Washington, Beijing and Shanghai
  • University of Wisconsin, Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, and South China
  • Yale Club, Beijing and Shanghai
  • Arizona State University
  • California State University Northridge China Institute
  • Center for China-U.S. Cooperation, University of Denver
  • Duke University
  • George Mason University International Student Office
  • George Mason INTO Mason Program
  • Georgetown University Law School
  • Indiana University Gateway in Beijing
  • Oklahoma State University, Office of China Programs
  • University of Chicago Center, Beijing
  • University of Minnesota – China Center
  • University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School China Office
  • University of Pittsburgh Shanghai Office
  • University of Virginia, Darden School of Business Shanghai Office
  • University of Virginia China Office

Professional Associations

  • Chinese American Construction Professionals
  • Chinese American Cosmetic Professional Association
  • Chinese American Real Estate Association
  • Chinese American Scholars & Professionals Association of Florida
  • Chinese American Semiconductor Professional Association
  • Chinese-American Engineers and Scientists Association of Southern California
  • Chinese-American Professionals Association of Metropolitan Washington DC
  • Greater Orlando Chinese Professional Association
  • New England Chinese Language Teachers Association
  • Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association
  • The Chinese Language Teachers Association, USA

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