The Motivations and Experiences of Youth From the People’s Republic of China Who Study in First World Countries
Vanessa Fong

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Harvard University

Primary Discipline

My project will follow a cohort of young adults from Dalian City, China on their quests to study in First World countries such as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Most of these youth are subjects of a longitudinal project I began in 1997. Some of them are already abroad, while others are trying to get opportunities to study abroad. I will spend time living with those currently abroad, as well as with those currently in China. Using a survey and participant observation, I will try to answer the following questions: Why do Chinese youth want to study abroad? What factors enable some of them to do so? What factors prevent most of them from doing so? What factors cause some of them to continue seeking opportunities to study abroad even after many setbacks? How do they choose which countries to study in? Why do some of them try to become permanent immigrants after studying abroad? Why do some of them return to China after studying abroad? My study will provide insights about the motivations and experiences of international students that will be helpful to educators, policymakers, and international students themselves.In addition to documenting the experiences of Chinese students who permanently immigrate to their host countries, I will also be able to document the experiences of two kinds of people that usually fall between the cracks of scholarship on immigration and international education: Those who initially want to study abroad but are prevented from doing so or lose their desire to do so; and those who return to their home country after studying abroad. I will also be able to learn about the factors that cause individuals to choose particular countries as their study abroad destinations, and compare the experiences of Chinese youth studying in different First World countries. Finally, I will be able to document the experiences and motivations of international students who fall into a broader academic and socioeconomic range than that represented in the existing literature on international students. The bulk of my previous research was conducted in Dalian, a northeastern Chinese city where I observed the home and school lives of teenagers born under the one-child policy that began in 1979. My proposed study of Chinese youth who study abroad will be part of a longitudinal project that follows members of this cohort throughout the course of their lives.The process of applying for student visas and admission to First World schools often takes several years, during which many applicants put their lives on hold, avoiding courtship, marriage, opportunities for further education in China, and jobs that require long-term contracts. Chinese citizens’ visa applications are often rejected by First World countries. Some applicants give up on the idea of study abroad after the first setback; others, however, continue pursuing study abroad opportunities for years, often targeting several different countries in succession. My project will examine the social, economic, and psychological factors that cause some youth to be more eager and persistent than others in the pursuit of study abroad. I will also examine how Chinese youth understand and evaluate differences between different countries’ policies regarding visas, international students, and immigration.I hope that the results of my project will help educators and policymakers make it easier for international students to achieve their goals. My analysis will also provide international students and prospective international students with a comparative perspective on the options, obstacles, and opportunities they might experience in their quests to study abroad.
About Vanessa Fong

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