April 17, 2006
China Students Use Internet to Prep for Study Abroad
By Doug Young
SHANGHAI -- Chinese students are putting the "world" back into the Worldwide Web, using the Internet to prep each other in ultra-fine detail on the unfamiliar and often laborious process of applying to study abroad.
Online chatter in China's cyberspace has intensified to a virtual roar, as many U.S. colleges this month issue admission letters for their Class of 2010.
A posting at one of the most trafficked local sites, www.cuus.cn, keeps an ongoing list of the latest admittees from China, including one to Harvard, one to Princeton, five to Yale and six to Stanford, among the 65 schools listed.
Earning a degree from a foreign university has become big business, not only for schools looking to diversify their student body, but for Chinese students, who hope that an overseas education -- with four-year tuition often running $100,000 or more -- will open doors for them and end with lucrative jobs.
"Without the Internet, you don't know where to start, and you don't know there's a way you can get into American universities," said Chen Shuang, a Shanghai high school senior who will go to Stanford in the fall.
"These sites tell you how to apply, how to write your essays, and also how to prepare for the SATs and the TOEFL," she said, referring to the crucial Test of English as a Foreign Language.
The Internet provides not only an information exchange, but also helps to hook people up for everything from advice on how to write admission essays to prepping for interviews, said Tina Shi, a graduate student who went to Stanford last year from Shanghai.
"Students also use the message boards to facilitate offline events. In my year, we had four or five application teams, each with 10 to 12 people," she said.
"They get to know each other from the online setting and do offline events, like editing each others' personal statements and resumes. They also do mock interviews."
With admissions over and done, the topic in online chat rooms and message boards has turned to the next, and often last, stage in the study abroad process: getting a visa.
Recent postings are full of advice on the visa application process, which centers on a trip to the local consulate and a brief -- usually five minutes or less -- interview, for which many Chinese spend hours, or even days, preparing.
The biggest fixation is on U.S. visas, since the largest number of Chinese students end up going to the United States.
Postings from one site contain everything from detailed reports of a variety of visa interviews, to the temperature inside the consulate waiting room, to commentary on which officers like to ask which questions.
Sites also contain descriptive designations for many of the visa officers, such as "the bald good-looking man" and "blonde little sister."
"Most of the visa officers are very nice," says one posting from someone called Annekoo in an internal message board for Fudan, Shanghai's top university.
"Their work is very demanding. It's not that they don't want to let you go (to the United States), but rather that their country doesn't want to let you go. If you soothe them with a few sentences first, it will have a good effect."
Another posting advises visa applicants to say they would return to China after graduating, giving reasons such as to be reunited with family, and also to mention that they have no interest in seeking work in the United States.
"But don't go overboard by talking too much about your patriotism or wearing traditional Chinese clothing," it says.
U.S. consular officials take pains to point out that seven of eight student applicants now get visas, and that the total number has grown steadily in the last two years, up 25 percent to 7,198 in 2005 from 5,748 in 2004.
"The officers all realize their interviews are going to be microscopically analyzed and shared on the Web," said a U.S. consular official. "The interviews are short. But our officers do a lot of interviews, so they can come to decisions very quickly."