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Chinese student loving life in U.S. college

By Joe Vaccarello, CNN
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U.S. colleges attract Chinese students
  • At 16, Linda Shuo Zhang Chinese girl flew to New York to go to high school
  • Five years later she feels she has fallen behind peers in China
  • But she says she prefers to U.S. method of discussing ideas to China's rote learning
  • China has overtaken India in sending students to the U.S.

New York (CNN) -- Linda Shuo Zhang stands at the welcoming table for transfer and visiting international students enrolling at college this spring semester.

"Hi, I'm Linda", she says extending out her arm introducing herself to the young women who have are joining the small liberal arts college for women in Manhattan.

Dozens of undergraduate women from around the U.S. and the world have decided to study at Barnard College, which has a student body of more than 2400, and is in partnership with the more famous Columbia University across the street.

Linda, a 21-year-old sophomore wearing her pink Barnard t-shirt, chats up whoever comes to the table asking her questions about the school.

Just five years ago Linda was a new arrival to the United States from her native China, and about to start high school and life with an American family.

She first started learning English when she was in the 5th grade in China at the age of 12. After a two-week trip with a group of Chinese students led by her American professor to the U.S., Shuo dreamed of returning to the U.S. to study.

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"I saw the American kids had lockers where they put their books and stuff throughout the day and they didn't have to bring everything back home with them like we did in China." That clinched it. From there on in she knew studying in the U.S. was for her.

She pleaded with her parents to send her to high school in the U.S. Her mother quickly agreed but her father at first refused. He didn't want his only child to leave the country.

"My dad was a little bit more on the traditional side and he did not agree to the idea at all... but luckily we had friends who sent their kids abroad and one of them came back and he said that was one of the best decisions he's ever made."

Find out how an American student is coping in China

At 15, Shuo left her family and China to fly to New York where she was enrolled at the Calhoun School in Manhattan. She's stayed with the same host family for all of that time. Her parents have visited her in New York and the host family has gone to China for trips.

And when it came time for high school graduation, she knew she wanted to stay in the U.S. and study at a U.S. college. "I didn't want to leave my American friends and I felt that I had already fell behind my Chinese peers in math and science classes." she said.

"Also, I enjoyed the teaching method I had experienced her, it was progressive, so testing wasn't as important as the free flow of ideas back and forth between teacher and student."

Despite feeling she was falling behind her peers in Chinese schools, she said she liked the U.S. method of debating and talking about ideas in class, rather than the Chinese method of rote learning.

More than 127,000 Chinese students came to the United States for college and university study during the 2009-2010 school year, according to the Institute of International Education.

China is funding Mandarin classes in some U.S. schools

That's a 30 percent jump from the year before. Last year was the first time China displaced India, the long time leader, as the country which sends the most international students to the U.S.

Hilary Link, Associate Provost and Dean for International Programs at Barnard College, said: "The largest number of international students that we have on campus are Chinese students. Ten years ago we had 10 applicants from China, this past year we had a 110."

While American graduate programs in math, science and engineering have attracted students for years, more and more international students are flocking to study English and humanities.

Jing Hong Zhu, is one of those Chinese students at Barnard this semester. "I'm not that interested in math unlike other stereotype Chinese students. They are eager to study math, economics. I'm just looking for film," she said.

Another student, Xiao Yu Li, said: "Back in China I learned English as one of my majors and another major is journalism so I have to learn language and maybe here is the place that I can learn the language better."

Linda Shuo Zhang hopes that Chinese President's Hu Jintao's state visit to Washington, D.C. this week will shed light on the more cooperative aspect of the complex U.S.-China relationship.

"It's about collaboration, I'm happy that president Hu is coming to work on this kind relationship of collaborating with each other. I don't think a country can stand on its own." Zhang said.

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