China attracting fewer and fewer U.S. study-abroad students

China is continuing to decline as a destination for U.S. study-abroad students, slipping from fifth place to sixth (behind Britain, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany; with Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, and Japan completing the top ten).

This likely indicates that the craze for learning Mandarin has already peaked. Greater awareness of the unhealthy levels of pollution in China may also be a factor.

chart showing how US enrollments in study-abroad programs in China were low in the 1990s (about 2000 students), grew sharply in the 2000s (to almost 15000 in 2011), and have been declining ever since
Note: The dip in the 2002–2003 school year was a result of worries about the outbreak of SARS.

Meanwhile, almost all other parts of East Asia saw increases in 2015–2016 over 2014–2015:

Destination Students in 2014-15 Students in 2015-16 % Change
China 12,790 11,688 -8.6
Hong Kong 1,508 1,612 6.9
Japan 6,053 7,145 18.0
Macau 3 4 33.3
Mongolia 71 71 0.0
South Korea 3,520 3,622 2.9
Taiwan 880 980 11.4


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2 thoughts on “China attracting fewer and fewer U.S. study-abroad students

  1. This change likely reflects the end of the honey moon period, during which it was assumed that knowing Mandarin would be of immense benefit in the career market. The huge jump in learning Mandarin was not driven by a love for the language or culture, but for utilitarian reasons, and these reasons have largely proved to be illusions, since Chinese companies have shown that they have no issues with conducting business in English, while international companies also prefer to hire local Chinese who speak both Mandarin and English, rather than Americans who can do the same.

    It probably also reflects a concern with China’s economy, which has slowed in recent years and is becoming less friendly to international businesses.

    This article goes into more detail:

    “For U.S. students, China’s notorious pollution is a concern. Job opportunities are another. As multinationals in China hire mostly local Chinese, a growing percentage of whom have studied abroad, they have less need for foreigners who speak Chinese.

    “I came to China thinking I could learn Chinese and get a high paying job. I learned very quickly that was not the case,” said Ian Weissgerber, a 25-year-old American graduate student in China. “A lot of Chinese can speak English just as well as I can, and Chinese is their native tongue too.”

    “It really comes down to money,” says John Thomson, a veteran China study abroad executive. “You’re taking yourself out of the job market for a couple years to study an extremely difficult language with no guaranteed pay-off at the end.””

  2. Pingback: More Americans studying in Japan | Pinyin News

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