Visiting scholars now come from many fields

Updated: 2015-07-27 07:43

By Zhao Xinying(China Daily)

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Visiting scholars now come from many fields
Applicants at an overseas education expo in Beijing last fall explore opportunities. Visiting-scholar programs have become popular among many Chinese. Wang Jing / China Daily

Program includes wide range of professionals, some of whom also take their children along

Visiting-scholar programs, once used mainly by university teachers to further their studies or research abroad, are gaining in popularity among professionals of other industries and sectors, overseas study agents said.

Zhang Weiyong, director of the United States division of Golden Orient, an overseas study consultancy in Beijing, said that since the beginning of the year, the agency has successfully helped about 400 people attend self-paid visiting-scholar programs at universities abroad. Among them are lawyers, hospital doctors, employees of domestic media, and managers or leaders of companies and enterprises.

"Attending a visiting-scholar program abroad is a perfect means of self-improvement for working adults, since it's more simple, flexible and affordable than studying for an academic degree," he said.

Zhang said such visiting-scholar programs overseas usually last a couple of months to a year while charging no tuition, which means the scholars have to pay only for living expenses, usually 100,000 yuan ($16,000) to 150,000 yuan a year.

"It's affordable for most professionals, and the rewards are great," Zhang said.

Yang Lijun, a visiting-scholar consultant with Chivast Education International, an overseas study consultancy in Beijing, said hot destinations for visiting-scholar programs coincide with popular overseas study destinations, which include the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia, but the application process is relatively simple.

"Compared with other overseas study programs favored by people at work, such as the Master of Business Administration degree, visiting-scholar programs generally require no Graduate Management Admission Test or Test of English as a Foreign Language, which means a simpler and timesaving application process for busy office staff members," Yang said.

"In addition, the admission rate is higher. Quite a number of our clients were enrolled as visiting scholars at some top universities, such as Columbia University in New York City, where it's far more difficult for people to be admitted as undergraduate or postgraduate students."

Prime purpose

Yang said people who now apply to be self-paid visiting scholars at universities abroad are usually 35 to 50 years old and hold a medium-or high-level post at the enterprise or institute for which they work.

"For them, a prime purpose of applying for such a program overseas is seeking better career development," he said.

He said these people would generally come up with the idea of being a visiting scholar overseas when they encountered a bottleneck at work - for example, the absence of inspiration or a roadblock to promotion. They wanted to get out of the current difficulty and advance to a new level through short-term study.

"Under such circumstances, visiting-scholar programs, which can fill people with new knowledge, experience and connections from abroad within a short period, are the best choice."

One such beneficiary is Beijing resident Mary He, who has just finished her one-year visiting scholar program at University of California, Berkeley, in the United States. The 42-year-old had been working as an editor at a book company for more than 10 years and was the backbone of the company before she applied to study in the US in 2013.

"Many people may feel that my work is good and stable, but for me, it was just too familiar and nothing could make me feel fresh or excited," she said. "That's why I decided to study abroad, with the hope to make a change and bring some new visions to my work and life."

During her one year at UC Berkeley, He accumulated a lot of materials and got some inspiration through concentrated learning and great amounts of reading and thinking, as well as discussions with the research staff at the university.

She also found a new passion and direction for her work - a focus on graded English reading materials for children in China.

"Such graded materials for children of different ages and English abilities, especially quality ones, are in short supply on the Chinese book market," she said.

Kids benefit

People like He are not the only ones who benefit from the visiting-scholar programs. Their children - who are allowed to go along and attend local public schools - are also beneficiaries, said Yang Meili, chief consultant of the Golden Orient visiting-scholar program.

"For these children, a year of living and studying abroad means an amazing opportunity to acquire a foreign language," Yang Meili said. "At the end of the one-year program, we often see that both the parents and the children have made great progress in their foreign language skills."

Visiting scholars now come from many fields

This was also an underlying reason why He suspended her domestic job to join a visiting scholar program in the US. "I don't want my son to start learning English in China, where the learning environment for the language is strict and less interesting," she said.

So when He set off for Berkeley in the summer of 2013, her 9-year-old son, with very little knowledge of the English language, went along with her and was enrolled as a fourth-grader at a public elementary school.

In their first several days in Berkeley, He's son was unable to finish school assignments by himself, since he could neither read nor write in English, and the school arranged for a teacher to translate for him.

"However, after a year's education at school, he can now read Harry Potter books and speak English with a native accent, which he may not have been able to do in our home country," she said. "A year's study in the US will lay a good foundation for him to study English in the future."

Yang Meili, the Golden Orient consultant, said 70 to 80 percent of its clients have children and would take children into consideration when making plans for short-term overseas study.

"Some even applied to be a visiting scholar abroad in order to accompany their children who had been studying in that country," she said.

Tang Xiaobing, a 46-year-old Beijing resident, has sought to be enrolled by a visiting scholar program in the US because she missed her son, who has been studying at a high school in the state of Connecticut since 2013.

"It's more convenient to go as a visiting scholar than as a tourist, considering the visa issues," Tang said. "It will also give me something to do to avoid boredom."