Follow Up

Yesterday’s post wondered why so many young Americans are homebound. This generation is less geographically mobile than preceding ones. It has even abandoned the ritual of long-distance, iron-man road trips.

But today I simply want to follow up on the Chinese phenomenon of so many students coming to the United States. Well, they are beginning to enter universities – in very serious numbers – in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

This Chinese exodus started a little over a decade ago. And so a great many companies were founded across China to service these foreign-bound students. These agencies even splurged on office settings that look like a Silicon Valley start-up, complete with bright sculpture, cappuchino machines, and anything else to imitate Yahoo or Google.

These “agencies” selected the best and most fitting universities, prepared the applications (even writing the essays), coached them for interviews, tutored them for the TOEFL or IELTS tests, prepared the visa applications with all the banking information and so forth – everything. They were charging students upwards of 4,000 USD or more for all this.

These agencies are now victims of their own success. There are so many Chinese students studying in the US, for example, that there is now a pool of information about the entire process.

In China, pretty much every Chinese student has a friend or relative studying in the US, and connects instantly with them via social media. Armed with the US News and World Report rankings (rankings are everything here), Chinese students in China are developing a do-it-yourself model.

These students now outsource specific tasks associated with university applications. It’s a lively segment of their version of Ebay, called Taobao. Foreign teachers and professors are routinely paid to edit essays and provide target tutoring for the oral English exams.

The agencies assumed, a decade ago, that this would be a big business forever. But they are now scrambling to find students. Some have closed or shifted focus. This is probably for the best, as individual Chinese students empower themselves and refuse to be taken to the cleaners for these fees.

In any case, upcoming postings in the next few days will address some topics on my mind: Youtube censorship, for example, which is subtle but very real, and affects about a dozen youtubers that I know about. Some more than others. I will examine the true motivation for this and what I think are likely future scenarios.

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