Why do so many Chinese students come to the US for their education when China has a number of excellent universities? US colleges and universities produce “Hai Gui” graduates. Hai Gui, a Mandarin term, which literally translates to “sea turtles,” is typically used to characterize Chinese students who matriculate in the US and upon graduation, “swim back” or return to China to live and work. Hai Gui students typically command top salaries and Chinese employers actively pursue them. The rationale: Chinese students, educated in the US, are known for acquiring a valuable and highly desirable interactive social skill set during their US tenure. Beyond developing socially, Hai Gui are known for taking on western leadership characteristics; in particular, becoming more assertive, outspoken and self-confident. Because of the Chinese approach to learning and eastern cultural norms, these attributes are not prevalent amongst Chinese graduates from Chinese institutions. As a result of their academic experience and cultural immersion, Chinese students who studied in the US are known for being motivated problem solvers and requiring minimal supervision. Additionally, Hai Gui typically lead multicultural delegations and can comfortably converse and socialize in predominantly English-speaking marketplaces like Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.
However, the reputation of current Hai Gui is in jeopardy because of the “multiplier effect,” a phenomenon in which universities are bombarded with applicants and students from one specific locale. The multiplier effect is particularly noticeable amongst Chinese applicants. Many Chinese scholars, who sense there is safety and support in numbers, will apply to and attend a school where they already have friends or relatives in attendance. Each new student may attract ten more applicants, resulting in ensuing waves of student applications. Many universities have reported receiving hundreds of applications from Chinese students who all live in the same small town or province in China. The multiplier effect has created entire Chinese apartment complexes and communities in relatively small college towns like West Lafayette, IN and Champaign, IL.
The multiplier effect has additional ramifications. Because of the growing number of Chinese students on US campuses, Chinese students are speaking less English and spending a greater amount of time studying and socializing with other Chinese students. As a result of living and interacting primarily with other Chinese students, many educational leaders foresee the levels of fluency and desirable interactive skills amongst Chinese students declining. Not surprisingly, the prestige and reputation of a US education amongst prospective Chinese employers is expected to decline and diminish over the next few years.
There’s no doubt international diversity helps prepare all students for careers in the global workforce. How can US institutions maintain lucrative international enrollment, attract future global leaders and create an interactive and dynamic campus culture? There is a two-part solution. In order to maximize cultural exposure on a diverse campus, administrators must strategically establish vehicles and venues, in which, students can meet students with backgrounds different from their own.
One part is to design a national Global Citizen Program. Students can wear a button, symbolizing global intrigue, on lapels or showcase the insignia on backpacks. The symbol sends a message to other students and encourages cross-cultural interactions; “I want to learn about cultures different from my own. Please introduce yourself to me.” The Global Citizen Program can be financed through corporate sponsors, advertised via student friendly social media platforms and promoted pro bono by organizations like MTV.
Part two: Administrative leaders increase interaction not just on-campus, but in dorms and apartments. Cross-cultural understanding, knowledge and respect are maximized when students from different backgrounds live together. Residence halls can be more proactive by publicizing the benefits of having a roommate from a different country or culture. Resident Assistant orientation should include modules on how to mediate cross-cultural challenges and build unity amongst diverse student groups. This multicultural living opportunity will help students gain exposure to different ways of living, become more culturally astute and increase fluency in another language.
Academic leaders should be focused on preparing the next generation for a multicultural world and cross-cultural intelligence should be encouraged in students on every college campus across the US. The college and university environment is an ideal venue to move the next generation of sophisticated leaders down the cultural knowledge curve.