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There or Back Again?: The Motivations and Future Plans of Chinese Students in the United States Open Access

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China sends more students overseas than any country in the world. Already a nation with a long tradition of foreign-educated students playing a leading role in its development, it is in the midst of the largest study abroad movement in its history. This paper examines the current generation of Chinese students in the United States – their reasons for leaving China and their intentions for either returning or settling overseas after they have completed their education. It is based on extensive one-on-one interviews with Chinese students enrolled during the 2011-2012 academic year. Most of these students were studying on their own funds, and pursuing an American degree represented an elite alternative option to the educational opportunities that were available to them in China. As they contemplated their long-term plans, the majority of students expressed a strong intention or openness to moving back after graduation. A closer look at their motivations, however, throws into question the basis of China's current "reverse brain drain." Are more graduates returning home because they see a changed China with a booming economy? Or does the pursuit of overseas credentials suggest a coping strategy that allows certain individuals to skirt ongoing problems in China's educational and professional environment? The two trends hold vastly different implications for the future of China's overseas student phenomenon. This paper also contains recommendations for the United States about how to better retain and accommodate Chinese students.

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