An Introduction to the Journal of International Students Special Issue: International Students in China

Tian, M. & Lu, G. (2020, eds.) International Students in China. Special Issue in Chinese. Journal of International Students, 10S(1).

The experience of Chinese students studying in Western countries is one important topic of international student research. The research enthusiasm surrounding Chinese students overseas is not surprising: since the 1990s, China has been a major global exporter of international students. The large population of Chinese students studying in Western, English-speaking countries lends itself to a potential large body of research data. From the perspective of policy-makers and practitioners, understanding the expectations and experiences of Chinese students is crucial for the healthy development of international education sectors.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, observations of Chinese higher education have revealed another important feature of its internationalization process. While China continues to send out their students abroad, the country increasingly enhances its ability to attract in international students. In the year 2001, 61,869 international students studied at Chinese universities. The number increased to 492,185 in 2018.

This trend did not attract much research attention in the first decade of the new century. In recent years, a growing number of scholars has begun to focus on international students in China. Nevertheless, the number of internationally published research is limited, and the scope, breadth and depth of the discussions remain inadequate.

It is noteworthy that we traced many more studies on international students in China in Chinese domestic research literature. This made us reflect on the impact of the language barriers faced by local scholars in disseminating their research in English in international journals.

Against this background this special issue of Journal of International Students was planned and organized. It focuses on the experiences of international students at Chinese universities, providing an important Chinese perspective on the international studies of international students. This special issue includes empirical studies, theoretical discussions and reflections on practices of international student education at universities in different regions of China. Intentionally published in the Chinese language, this special issue hopefully encourages native-Chinese-speaking researchers to contribute to this increasingly important research field. The following is a brief introduction to the nine articles included in the special issue.

The first article, “Stages and Characteristics of the Development in Chinese International Student Education over a 70-Year Period,” written by Lijie Li, analyzed the development of China’s international student education from 1949 onwards. Seven development stages were proposed. Key features of each stage were discussed.

Xiufeng Zhang and Hengwen Yang’s article, “Emergent Topics and Development of the Studies on International Students in China: A Visualized Analysis of CSSCI Journals from 1998 to 2018,” examined research papers in Chinese journals on international students in China. The articles, published between 1998 and 2018, were retrieved from the Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index database. The analysis led to the identification of key authors, key research institutes, popular topics and recent trends in the research of international students in China.

Why did Engineering Students Choose to Study in China?” by Guoyang Zhang and Jiabin Zhu explored the factors influencing international students’ decision to study for an engineering degree at Chinese universities. Data were generated by in-depth interviews with 22 international engineering students at a leading Chinese university. Drawing on the push-pull theory and the three-stage decision-making theory, their qualitative analysis revealed major factors attracting the participants to China, including the availability of scholarships, host university rankings and opportunities for personal growth and professional development.

Analysis of the Relationship between Learning Environment and Student Engagement: A Case Study of International Undergraduate Students in China” was written by Genshu Lu, Lijie Li and Mei Tian. The article explored the influences of learning environment on international students’ academic engagement. Drawing on a survey involving 1,428 undergraduate international students studying in six Chinese cities, this research revealed uneven academic engagement among the participants. While roughly one fourth of the participants reported to actively participate in learning, the rest was either inadequately engaged or lacked academic engagement. Environment influences were discussed.

Student engagement is also the focus of the article “Exploring Factors Affecting Behavioral, Cognitive and Emotional Engagement of International Undergraduate Students in China” by Meiqiong Gong and Yuhao Cen. This survey study examined the behavioral, cognitive and emotional engagements of 202 international students at a research university in Shanghai. The findings showed that gender, family college education experience and level of study programmes affected the participants’ emotional engagement. In addition, the research revealed the positive influences of supportive campus environment and effective student-faculty interactions on the three dimensions of international student engagement.

Lan Yu and Shucheng Zhu’s “Measurement and Analysis of Learning Engagement of South-Asian Students in Chinese Universities” focused on the learning engagement of 193 South Asian students at three universities in Beijing. Data were generated using a self-developed questionnaire. Results of the exploratory factor analysis revealed four dimensions of South-Asian student engagement. Correlation analysis showed the positive relationships between international student learning motivation, learning behaviors, learning strategies and learning outcomes.

Alexander English and Ruobing Chi’s “A Longitudinal Study on International Students’ Stress, Problem Focused Coping and Cross-Cultural Adaptation in China” explored the relationships between perceived cultural distance, coping strategies and socio-cultural adaptation. The longitudinal survey study involved 121 international students at four universities in eastern China. The results showed that the participants’ perceived cultural distance was not a predictor of their socio-cultural adaptation ability. Compared to their Asian counterparts, non-Asian participants were more likely to adopt problem-focused coping strategies. The research also indicated significant interaction effect between stress, coping strategies and cultures of origin.

International Student Education as the Cornerstone of Cultural Exchanges: The Case of Xi’an Jiaotong University” was written by Xiaojing Feng, Guangrui Wen, Tingji, Xiangzhe Sun and Wei Zhao. The article discussed teaching, learning and management practices of international student education at Xi’an Jiaotong University in China. Emphasizing humanistic values of international education, the authors reflected on the functions of international student education in the promotion of cultural exchanges and intercultural understanding.

In “Re-thinking International Students’ Voice in South-South Cooperation in Higher Education: An International Development Perspective”, Tingting Yuan reflected on China’s higher education and scholarship provision to international students from developing countries. The reflection was based on a focus-group study involving 40 international degree students in five Chinese cities. The research findings revealed “equality” (i.e. the participants reported little pressure caused by nationality or race) and “sustainability” (i.e. their learning experience is sustainable) as two features of international student experiences in China. The author stressed that the two features reflected China’s distinctiveness in its higher education provision in South-South Cooperation and its status in contemporary global political economy. You can read more details of this article here.

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