Overseas schooling can be tough

Updated: 2013-06-24 07:13

By Zhang Chunyan and Susanna Ma in London (China Daily)

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Overseas schooling can be tough

Parents from China planning private education for their children in the United Kingdom look around the prestigious Kingswood School in Bath. N. I. Syndication / for China Daily

Overseas schooling can be tough

Loneliness and anxiety could take a heavy toll on young pupils

Jinxing, 15, attends an English summer school every day in Beijing. At 1,800 British pounds ($2,812) per month, it is not cheap, but her parents consider it an investment in her future as she will soon enroll in a boarding school in London.

An increasing number of Chinese children are studying abroad. But sometimes the sense of displacement and emotional upheaval can take a heavy toll.

Last month, a Chinese student at an independent boarding school in the UK was jailed after stabbing another student.

He Minheng, who went to the Langley School in Norfolk, attacked another student with a knife. The victim sustained serious wounds to his shoulder and elbow.

He was sentenced to four years in prison. The judge said it was a "serious, pre-meditated" attack on an "innocent, unarmed victim" whose injuries were "appalling", although not life-threatening.

The defendant, who discovered his mother had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer when he returned to China on vacation, was left "isolated, alone and vulnerable", his defense team said.

The case put a spotlight on the difficulties faced by Chinese pupils abroad.

According to local media, He, a "gifted mathematician", had come to Norfolk when he was 17 to learn English.

With no family support, He was one of only two Chinese students who spoke Mandarin - the others at the school spoke Cantonese.

"Children who study in foreign schools are especially vulnerable to loneliness and feelings of isolation. A lot of them do not have family support overseas," said Chai Yin, an education expert in China and the founder of a project which provides services for students who are under 18.

In the past three years, Chai has witnessed a wide range of problems.

"Parents should understand that sending children abroad doesn't guarantee solutions for all their problems; instead, it's a starting point for new challenges."

In an unfamiliar environment where people speak different languages, communication is a huge challenge.

The only Chinese student among 150 junior students at a private college in Oxford, Junfei, 16, was sent to study in Britain at the age of 12.

Junfei said he constantly felt anxious, lonely and alienated.

When he first arrived at Oxford, he refused to step out of his room and cried for three days.

"I was scared, everything was so unfamiliar," Junfei said.

Gao Qin, Junfei's aunt and guardian, said the boy felt overwhelmed.

"The language barrier was a burden. He couldn't socialize or have any friends at the beginning," Gao said.

Junfei said: "I once got into a fight because I thought another student was teasing me. The school was about to expel me. They thought I was a troublemaker."

Zhang Xinwei, a child psychologist in Wuhan, Hubei province, agreed that challenges faced by young students in a foreign environment can cause problems.

"Academic stress and separation from parents both aggravate adolescents' anxiety," Zhang added.

In the UK, any student under the age of 16 must have a legal guardian.

Parents who don't have friends or relatives living in the UK normally turn to local guardianship agencies.

Most agencies provide counseling services and help to contact host families and local coordinators. Bright World, a guardianship company in West Sussex, charges fees per term for a package of services, including school admission support, 24-hour emergency calls and two visits per term.

Richard Purchase, director of Abbey DLD Colleges, said the London College has 440 students from 39 different nationalities and 16 percent of the students come from China.

The colleges also have campuses in other UK cities, and at Abbey College Cambridge, 50 percent of the students are from China.

"We provide induction programs which include details of how to register with a doctor, how to stay safe, where to eat and where to buy food," Purchase said.

However, some children do not feel emotionally close to their local guardians or teachers.

Shen Qiu, a 16-year-old student at a London college, said she only met her guardian once and that was at the airport.

After that, she never received any phone calls or visits from the woman. But the girl doesn't want to complain to the agency about the situation. "I don't think I really need the guardian. She is not my family or friend," Shen said.

Junfei is luckier because he has relatives in the UK. The boy has adapted to life in Oxford much better and made some friends. He will soon fly to China with his best friend for their summer vacation.

While homesickness is no longer a headache for him, Junfei feels the gap between him and his parents is growing larger.

"Every week we make a video call for about 20 minutes. The topics are always the same: My parents ask me to focus on study, behave well and take good care of myself," Junfei said.

Wang Ya, a businesswoman from Hohhot, the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, is planning to send her 15-year-old daughter to a British private high school.

Wang hopes studying abroad will broaden her daughter's horizons, improve her language skills and make her more independent.

According to the 2012 Overseas Study Development Report by the Center for China and Globalization, an independent, non-profit think tank in Beijing, China had 78,000 pupils aged 18 or younger studying abroad.

In the UK, Chinese are the largest group of overseas students in British schools.

There are almost 25,000 non-British students, with parents living overseas, at British schools, and nearly 4,000 are from the Chinese mainland, according to the Times.

"It's the biggest growth market," said Ian Hunt, the managing director of Gabbitas, an education consultancy.

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