Also, coming from a middle-class family, he doesn’t have the connections – or guanxi – that someone close to the Chinese Communist Party or from a prestigious Chinese university would have.
Wei’s friends both in China and the US envy him for his seemingly bright future, and to a certain extent his predicament sounds like the typical angst of a college senior faced with the imminent challenge of meeting his own, or his family’s, high expectations. But the challenges he faces are real, not least the lack of broad appreciation in China for the value of an education from an elite non-Chinese university that isn’t Harvard, Oxford, or Cambridge.
Wei’s dilemma points to an inherent contradiction in the trend toward undergraduate study in the US by young Chinese.
In just 11 years, the number of Chinese undergrads studying in the US has risen more than 10-fold, from 7,500 to 80,000, according to the Institute of International Education. Some families sell their homes and drain their savings to send their only child abroad to study.
Speedy success from studying abroad may have been true 10 years ago. But today, the reality is more the opposite: With the number of returnees increasing, many with qualifications that Chinese companies don’t appreciate, Chinese society reverts to the old networking game – finding a job becomes all about knowing the right people in the right places.