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In this talk I review a Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) plan of action to increase the number of Africans studying in China with Chinese government support. This generous commitment from the Chinese government has led to a conspicuous presence of Africans in Chinese universities. I outline the issues and challenges that newly-arrived African students face, from problems in using Chinese as a language of instruction to cross-cultural challenges in cuisine and Chinese society.
African Students in China:
A case study of newly arrived
students on FOCAC funds at
Chongqing University
Adams Bodomo
School of Humanities (Linguistics)
University of Hong Kong
HKU CERC Seminar
September 6, 2011
In this talk I review a Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC)
plan of action to increase the number of Africans studying in China
with Chinese government support. This generous commitment from
the Chinese government has led to a conspicuous presence of
Africans in Chinese universities. I outline the issues and challenges
that newly-arrived African students face, from problems in using
Chinese as a language of instruction to cross-cultural challenges in
cuisine and Chinese society.
The data derive from questionnaire surveys and interviews in
Chongqing University in 2009, where in that year alone over 50
Africans arrived to study science, engineering and other courses.
The experiences of these students both strengthen and challenge a
cross-cultural bridge theory that I have proposed to account for
another study of African traders in Guangzhou.
I suggest that both the African and Chinese governments should
better facilitate the transition from Africa to China if we want these
students to "serve as bricks for building future bridges" for Africa-
China relations.
1. Introduction
2. Literature review and the FOCAC
sociopolitical contextualization
3. Methodology
4. Empirical groundings
5. Theoretical discussions and
Africa – Asian relations: the Bandung
conference of 1955
Africa – China relations before 2000
Africa – China relations after 2000:
What are the main features of FOCAC with respect
to education?
How can we understand the presence of African
students in China from this context?
What methods are available to us?
How can we theorize about African students in
China vis-à-vis the general African
presence/Diaspora in China?
How different is this “South – South” study
programme from other (South – North) study
programmes involving African students?
Background of research site:
Literature review and FOCAC
socio-political contextualization
Much research work has been done on
people studying in countries other than
their own under various designations such
as foreign students, international students,
exchange students, migrant students or
even the very HK(U)-term “non-local
Literature review and FOCAC
socio-political contextualization
Many studies have focused on foreign students in many
places around the world, including:
the US (Storm and Gable 1961, Barber, Morgan and Torstrick
1987, Ying and Liese 1994, Sciolla, Ziajko, and Salguero 2010),
EU/ Western Europe (Camiciottoli 2010),
Russia (Dorozhkin and Mazitova 2008), Poland (Bednarek 1991),
Japan (Wu 1990), North Korea (David-West and Choi 2010),
Brazil (Dams, Pagola and Ieee 2007)
and more generally on issues such as student health and safety
(Hountras 1956, Strain, W. H., Koenig, C. H., Hays, L. R., Spindt,
H. A., & Willard 1957, and Nyland, Forbes-Mewett, Marginson
In the particular case of Africa and China, while there are
hardly any studies on Chinese students in Africa, there is
now an increasing number of studies on African students
in China.
Some of the earliest studies are autobiographical, such as
Hevi (1964), a book-length work that details the author’s
life as a Ghanaian student in China in the early 1960s.
Since African countries and China established diplomatic
relations right after the Bandung Africa - Asia conference
in 1955, Africans have always come to China to study,
especially during the cold war era in the 1960s, 1970s,
and 1980s.
Literature review and FOCAC
socio-political contextualization
Sandra Guillespin (2001)’s work is one of the few book-
length research studies that chronicles African student
experiences in China in the context of South – South
There are also quite a number of articles that have
reported on sociopolitical issues (e.g. Sullivan 1994), and
even on stress and health issues (e.g. Hashim and Yang
2003) involving African students in China.
Literature review and FOCAC
socio-political contextualization
However, since the turn of the Millennium when China
renewed its commitments to engage Africa, especially in
search of raw materials to fuel its growing economy, more
and more students from Africa began to arrive in China on
Chinese government scholarships.
This 21st Century situation with a clear socio-political
context within the aegis of a clearer framework of Africa-
China relations is quite different from what obtained
earlier and this deserves a fresh study.
Literature review and FOCAC
socio-political contextualization
This process of African students coming to
China became more formalized and
institutionalized with the formation of FOCAC
whose first meeting took place in 2000 in
Beijing. It is within the situational
contextualization of FOCAC that the analysis of
African students in this paper is framed.
Literature review and FOCAC
socio-political contextualization
The Chinese Government decided to: - Help African
countries set up 100 rural schools in the next three years;
- Increase the number of Chinese government
scholarships to African students from the current 2,000
per year to 4,000 per year by 2009; - Provide annual
training for a number of educational officials as well as
heads and leading teachers of universities, primary,
secondary and vocational schools in Africa; - Establish
Confucius Institutes in African countries to meet their
needs in the teaching of the Chinese language and
encourage the teaching of African languages in relevant
Chinese universities and colleges
(FOCAC 2006 Beijing Action Plan, page 14 - 15)
As can be seen clearly, this commitment (and subsequent
ones which are more or less variations of this first major
commitment) includes the provision of scholarships of up
to 4000 annually between 2007 and 2009.
During FOCAC 2009, which was held in Sharm el Sheikh,
Egypt, the same principles and commitments were
evoked and China again pledged to increase the number
of yearly scholarships from 4000 to 5500 annually, as
contained in the following excerpt in the Plan of Action:
The two sides expressed satisfaction with the continued
progress in China-Africa education cooperation in recent
The two sides stressed that better education is the basis
of and holds the key to social stability and economic
development, and the two sides will build on the existing
achievements to further enhance their cooperation.
The Chinese Government offered to:
Help African countries to build 50 China-Africa friendship
schools in the next three years.
Propose implementation of the 20+20 Cooperation Plan for
Chinese and African Institutions of Higher Education to
establish a new type of one-to-one inter-institutional
cooperation model between 20 Chinese universities (or
vocational colleges) and 20 African universities (or vocational
Admit 200 middle and high level African administrative
personnel to MPA programs in China in the next three years.
The Chinese Government offered to:
Continue to raise the number of Chinese governmental
scholarships and increase the number of scholarships offered
to Africa to 5,500 by 2012.
Intensify efforts to train teachers for primary, secondary, and
vocational schools in Africa, and help African countries train
1,500 school headmasters and teachers over the next three
Continue to promote the development of Confucius institutes,
increase the number of scholarships offered to Chinese
language teachers to help them study in China, and double
efforts to raise capacity of local African teachers to teach the
Chinese language.”
More than 30 Confucius Institutes have been
started up or are slated for start-up in Africa.
To what extent has this aspect of the
educational commitment to bring African
students to China been met by the Chinese
Where are we in terms of implementation?
ÆCurrently we do not have full answers.
We do not even have up to date figures. The Chinese Ministry of
Education website and the Chinese Central People’s Government
website list the number of African students in China as 3737 in
2006 and 12436 in 2009.
If these figures are up-to-date, it means the Chinese government
is delivering on its FOCAC commitments, at least quantity-wise.
Estimating further based on the FOCAC targets, between 2009
and 2011 we should have had 16500 students.
The number of African students in China between 2007 and 2011
would then be about 28500, and could rise to more than 40,000
since many students also come to study in China with their own
family or private funds and/or funds from governmental and
international organizations.
But in terms of implementation we need to go beyond numbers!
- Several field visits to
Chongqing alone and with
RAs in 2009
- Informal and semi-
structured interviews with
- Questionnaire surveys
Empirical Grounding
As stated in the section on methodology the
empirical basis for this paper comprises
questionnaire surveys, in-depth interviews, and
some personal field observations by the author
and his research assistants. We here present a
selection of these various sources of
Questionnaire surveys
No. of questionnaires
distributed: 41
No. of questionnaires
completed: 32 Age group No. of Respondents
<20 1
21-24 6
25-30 15
31-34 2
35-40 3
41-44 1
Questionnaire surveys
Gender No. of Respondents
Female 8
Male 24
Questionnaire surveys
{Level of Schooling:
Level of schooling No. of Respondents
University/College 9
Postgraduate 23
Questionnaire surveys
Occupation No. of Respondents
Student 20
Engineer 2
Government official 1
Journalist 1
Lecturer 1
Teacher 1
Tutorial Assistant 1
Questionnaire surveys
{National and linguistic profiles
{Nationality: The respondents are of various nationalities.
There are totally 22 different nationalities with 4 Kenyans and 4
Tanzanians forming the two biggest groups.
{Native Language: There are totally 21 different native
languages spoken by the respondents. The most common one is
Swahili which is spoken by 5 respondents.
{Other Languages Spoken: In addition to their native
language, most respondents (25 out of 32) can also speak
English. And 12 out of 32 respondents can also speak French.
Questionnaire surveys
Reasons for choosing China and
Chongqing University as a study
Many of them responded that they did not
choose Chongqing University as their
study destination by themselves; they
came to China simply because they got a
Questionnaire surveys
Duration of study at Chongqing University:
Most of the respondents are newcomers studying at the
university for just about 3 months or more with only 5 of
them who have either been studying at the university for
one year or more than one year.
Duration of the stay No. of Respondents
>1-3 months 25
>3-6 months 2
>1-3 years 5
Questionnaire surveys
Type of courses the respondents are studying at
Chongqing University:
The result shows that almost all of them (29 out of 32) are
studying Engineering at Chongqing University. One
student studies Arts and Humanities and two of them fall
into the ‘others’ group. This case study seems to reflect a
general trend in the choice of courses by Africans coming
to study in China (as is emerging from another study
currently under way in Wuhan by me).
Questionnaire surveys
Proficiency in
Proficiency level No. of
Excellent 1
Good 6
Average 5
Below average 5
Poor 14
None 1
Proficiency in English
Proficiency level No. of
Excellent 12
Good 16
Average 2
Below average 1
Poor 1
Questionnaire surveys
Popularity of English and other languages in Chongqing
Most of the respondents (23 out of 32) claim that English is not a
common language at Chongqing University and even among
themselves (this point is important for language of instruction
And most of them (28 out of 32) naturally identify Chinese as the
most common language besides English, though some had issues
with that – saying that the local rather than standard Chinese was
the most common language – this leads to the way they answer the
question on communication problems:
Questionnaire surveys
How frequently the respondents have come
across any communication problem:
Frequency No. of Respondents
Always 6
Often 9
Sometimes 11
Seldom 5
Never 1
Questionnaire surveys
Whether the respondents think that they are
connected to the local Chongqing community
outside Chongqing University and to what extent:
Opinions No. of Respondents
To a very large extent 2
To a large extent 4
Neutral 4
To a small extent 10
To a very small extent 6
No 6
Questionnaire surveys
To what extent is their life at Chongqing University
different from their life in their country of origin:
Opinions No. of Respondents
To a very large extent 11
To a large extent 12
Neutral 2
To a small extent 6
To a very small extent 0
No 1
Questionnaire surveys
Consumption of
Chinese food
Frequency No. of
Always 13
Often 10
Sometimes 7
Seldom 1
Never 1
Consumption of the
food from the
respondent’s country
of origin
Frequency No. of
Always 1
Often 3
Sometimes 5
Seldom 7
Never 16
Questionnaire surveys
After graduation from Chongqing University:
Plan No. of
Go back home and work in your
country 22
Work in China 5
Do further studies or work in a third
country 6
Others 1
Questionnaire surveys
Comment about life at Chongqing University or
about the topic of this research:
The respondents have different comments about their
life. Some think that life at Chongqing University is good
and some think that it is cheap. Some mentioned the
language problem they face. Some are concerned with
Let us turn next to more extensive individual interviews
(six of them):
In-depth Interviews
In-depth Interview I
Mr. C is a postgraduate student from Togo who mainly speaks
Mr. C is in China to study Business and this is his first year. Because
his programme is taught in Chinese, he needs to learn one year
Chinese language first.
Like most of the African students at Chongqing University, Mr. C has
come here on a FOCAC scholarship. So he actually studies here for
free and he also gets a sum of money every month for living
expenses (very coy on telling us how much).
He says the amount of money he gets is not enough for his living
expenses, such as entertainment and medical expenses (he needs
to pay 2/3 of the medical expenses every time he gets sick).
To make up for this shortfall, he has found a part-time, private
teaching job as a French teacher. Every Saturday and Sunday, he
teaches French.
On the whole, he quite enjoys his life at Chongqing University.
In-depth Interviews
In-depth Interview 2
Mr. T is a Malian postgraduate student studying Engineering. He is the only
Malian at Chongqing University. Besides his mother tongue which is
Bambara, the only other language he speaks is French.
He originally thought that his programme would be taught in Chinese. Since
this would be an opportunity for him to learn Chinese, he chose China as
his study destination.
However, it turns out that his programme is taught in English. When he
realized this, he felt frustrated. On the one hand, he does not know English
so this would be a challenge for him; on the other hand, he is worried about
whether his programme can really be taught in good English.
As some other African students have said, the lecturers usually are only
able to read their lecture notes in English but are not good at
communicating in English. So this would pose a problem even after Mr. T
has finally learned English.
Now Mr. T is actually learning both English and Chinese and has attained a
certain level of proficiency in both languages. So it seems that he is not
worried about the language problem as much as he did on arrival.
In-depth Interviews
In-depth Interview 3
Mr. N is an Engineering postgraduate student from Nigeria. He
chose China as his study destination because of China’s fast
growing economy and he wants to experience a different way of life.
For Mr. N, the most challenging thing is the language barrier. Even
though the workload at Chongqing University is not as much as in
his own country, language problems would make everything difficult;
he finds that the Chinese language is very difficult to learn.
Although his programme is taught in English, he still comes across a
lot of communication problems. His professor / supervisor is not
good at communicating in English. So whenever he wants to consult
his professor, he always needs to come along with someone, usually
an African who has lived in China longer, to translate for them.
In spite of a lot of communication problems he faces, Mr. N is
satisfied with his study here in China. Here, he is exposed to more
up-to-date knowledge/technology in his field which is very important
for a student studying engineering.
In-depth Interviews
In-depth Interview 4
Mr. A is a postgraduate student from Malawi studying Environmental
Engineering. He is a student here but he is also a lecturer in his
Before studying at Chongqing University, Mr. A was in other places
in China such as Beijing and Guangzhou.
“As long as you stay inside Chongqing University everything would
be fine for you. But if you go outside this is not the case,” said Mr. A.
What is so bad about going outside for him is that no one would try
to communicate with him, and his Chinese is not good enough to
initiate a conversation.
It is difficult for Mr. A to learn Chinese well because he only has one
Chinese lesson each week. Since his programme is taught in
English, there are no extra resources allocated for him to learn
However, this would not affect his study as he comes here simply to
study but not for other purposes.
In-depth Interviews
In-depth Interview 5
Mr. M is a postgraduate student from Tanzania studying
Environmental Engineering.
Since he knows little Chinese, he is facing serious language
On one occasion he missed an important seminar because the
notice was written in Chinese. He reported the problem to the
university and after that, there was some improvement: English titles
are added to every notice now.
But he still needs someone to read the content for him if there is a
relevant notice.
Another language problem he faces is that the course selection
website system is in Chinese. So he always needs someone who
knows Chinese to help him with the matter.
For him, the above problems show that the university is not fully
ready to receive international students who clearly face a lot of
language and communication problems.
In-depth Interviews
In-depth Interview 6
Mrs. I is a lady from Tanzania. She studies Engineering.
Since Mrs. I is a Muslim, she cannot eat pork and any meat not
slaughtered in the name of God by a Muslim. She has to cook by
herself. However, the problem is that there is no place for her to
cook since she is living in a student hostel and cooking was
prohibited in her room.
Since Mrs. I has her own family, another problem she faces is that
she misses her family but she has no money to travel to her country
every year to visit her family. That means she would stay away from
her family for four years, which makes her life really difficult.
She chose China as her study destination because the scholarship
is very easy to apply. But she found that the scholarship is not
enough for her study as she only gets RMB 300 per year as her
book allowance which she thinks is really not enough.
Although Mrs. I faces a lot of problems, she is happy with her life at
Chongqing University because she feels that people are very
Theoretical discussions and
How can we explain these student experiences?
We will do this from the framework of a Cross-
cultural experiences (in terms of their educational
experiences and in terms of their general
experiences with Chinese society).
We first explain the theory and see what
challenges and supporting evidence there is for
this theory.
Discussion and Conclusion
A cross-cultural bridge theory of migrant indigene
relations (Bodomo 2010):
A migrant or transnational population is a function of its
source and host communities. The target community (the
migrants/Diasporeans and transnationals) will always
serve as a link, a contact, indeed a bridge connecting its
place of origin (its source community) with its place of
domicile (its host community).
This is potentially amenable to many study areas in an
era of globalization: e.g. comparative and contact
linguistics, cross-cultural and urban anthropology, maybe
even comparative and international education.
Discussion and Conclusion
In several studies (Bodomo 2010, Bodomo and Ma
2010,etc) we found African traders of Guangzhou and
Yiwu to be acting as bridges between Africans and
Chinese on many respects: socio-economically,
socio-culturally, and socio-politically.
Can we use this theoretical framework to discuss and
understand the African students we have met in
Discussion and Conclusion
Unlike the traders who are in constant touch
with the Chinese society, the students we
have seen are often isolated from the larger
Chinese society, so seen this way it is hard
to think of them as bridging the African and
Chinese societies at this stage of their
Chinese sojourn.
Discussion and Conclusion
Students as ‘bricks for a future bridge’?
However, seen another way, the students even in their
first year are already bridging the educational systems of
Africa and China: they are constantly questioning and
comparing the two systems, even if implicitly and
They are questioning the medium of instruction, they are
comparing the workload, the levels of technological
sophistication within African and Chinese educational
infrastructures, they are questioning their professors’
ability to communicate with them, they are questioning
whether at all Chinese universities are prepared to
receive foreign students, etc.
Discussion and Conclusion
Students as ‘bricks for a future bridge’?
Moreover, an overwhelming majority of the
students, 22 out of 34, have expressed their
intention to go back to Africa and put their
education to use in Africa. These students would
be in the best position to explain the Chinese
educational system and other aspects of Chinese
society to Africans once back home in Africa.
Discussion and Conclusion
Students as ‘bricks for a future bridge’?
Even those who intend to stay back, five out of 34, could
play a role as bricks for future cross-cultural bridges
between Africa and China. Indeed evidence from Bodomo
(2010) shows that many of the leaders among the African
trader populations who are in the vanguard of their
community’s political, economic, and cultural relations
with the Chinese authorities in Guangzhou and beyond
were themselves students who speak fluent Chinese and
are highly educated about many aspects of the Chinese
Discussion and Conclusion
"South - South" relations:
Some scholars have framed international education (South –
North/Periphery - Centre and South –South/Periphery – Periphery) in
terms of world systems theory (e.g. Altbach, 1980, Arnove 1980) or in
terms of Word order models project (MOMP) – insisting on positive
action to global inequalities of knowledge flow (e.g. Galtung 1975,
Mazrui, 1975).
Specifically, previous studies about African students in China (Gillespie
2001, Hevi 1964, etc) have framed the phenomenon of international
educational transactions between Africa and China in terms of South -
South relations (within a general world systems theory “…in which
educational phenomena in different countries can be understood in their
relation to the international political system." (Gillespie 2001:32 - in
reference to Altbach 1980, Arnove 1980, Hayhoe 1986).
Discussion and Conclusion
"South - South" relations:
While agreeing, in large part, with the general
framework of global systems/dependency
theory and MOMP, I signal that the use of the
term "South - South" in describing relations
between Africa and China is already
problematic; it is quite obsolete already, with
China being the second largest economy in the
world. Whether in terms of technology or
educational infrastructure, the differences
between African students in China and African
students in the North are narrowing.
Discussion and Conclusion
In conclusion, we have tried to address the questions
we started out with as follows:
What are the main features of FOCAC with respect to
How can we understand the presence of African students
in China from this context?
What methods are available to us?
How can we theorize about African students in China vis-
à-vis the general African presence/Diaspora in China?
How different is this “South – South” study programme
from other (South – North) study programmes involving
African students?
Discussion and Conclusion
This is just a case study and even a pilot one at that:
More studies of Africans in Chongqing and
elsewhere in China in the 21st Century are needed to
get deeper answers to these and other related
questions, but for now, one conclusion is:
Quantity-wise, FOCAC is on track; quality-wise, more
needs to be done…
These and many more are answers that can be put at
the disposal of both the African and Chinese
governments towards reviewing FOCAC
commitments to make it a successful flagship
programme in Africa – China educational relations.
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Studying African students in the context of China-Africa relations, this chapter is divided into five parts. The first provides a survey on the current research related to the topic, followed by an overview of the history of African students in China. The third part is an analysis of China’s policy towards African students. Why do the African students want to come to China? What attracts them? What are their purposes? The fourth part will discuss the favorable conditions for their coming to China and their motivations. The last part will describe their contributions to both African and Chinese societies. The author argues that African students’ existence in China and their interactions with the Chinese people has contributed to both China and Africa alike.
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In 2009 international student safety became an issue of immediate concern to Australian international education exporters following a series of demonstrations by Indian students and interventions by concerned foreign governments. With these developments the ‘industry’ became fixated on how best to secure Australia’s share of the international education market in a context in which it was impossible to deny international student safety is a systemic problem. This paper contextualizes this development by utilizing a stigma management framework to review the unfolding debate on international students and safety in the USA, the UK, New Zealand and Australia. We argue that in all four cases it took an exogenous shock to convince education exporters to acknowledge student safety as an issue that needs to be openly debated. We also suggest that Australian officials were slow to make this acknowledgement because they mistakenly believed the industry was shielded by its link to the immigration program.
Few studies of international student adjustment to the United States are longitudinal in nature. As part of a broader investigation of 172 Taiwanese students over time, the current report examines the adjustment of these students during their first months in the United States. A multidimensional model postulated adjustment to be mediated by demographics, personality, number and severity of problems experienced, extent of decline in level of control from pre- to postarrival, adequacy of prearrival preparation, size of the Chinese community surrounding the student social support, language competence, and financial resources. This model accounted for 39% of the variance in adjustment. Implications of the findings are discussed.
Coinciding with the growing craze among young people in China to study in Japan, the influx of foreign students in Japan has given rise to problems that are arousing the concern of all quarters in Japanese society.
This interview with Karen Choi, an instructor of teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea, addresses problems of teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) to North Korean refugees in South Korea. Ms. Choi taught thirty North Korean students in their late teens to thirties in fall 2007 in voluntary collaboration with the Seoul-based Korean Refugees Youth Christian Association (KRYCA). She discusses the students' backgrounds and learning preferences; ideology, politics, and gender issues in the EFL classroom; attitudes and motivation; and concludes with instructional advice. The interview was conducted on December 2, 2009, by Alzo David-West, newsbriefs editor for North Korean Review.
Reports on a study into the perceived problems that foreign graduate students in engineering pose to engineering faculty, as well as the solutions to those problems. Summarizes survey responses relating to communication and language difficulties, program and academic performance, and social and cultural factors. (TW)