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Asia

Chinese students search for opportunity in Germany

More Chinese students study abroad than any other nationality. Increasingly, they are choosing universities in Germany, where science and engineering professionals are in high demand.

The Chinese are the most academically mobile population on the planet with more Chinese students studying abroad than any other nationality. Their top preferences are the United States and Great Britain, with Germany coming in third place. In fact, there are so many Chinese students in Germany that they make up the biggest group of foreigners at universities here.

At a café at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), students are chatting, drinking coffee and talking on their phones.

One of them is Weijian Ji, a Chinese student who has nearly finished his degree in IT after more than six years in Germany. Weijian explains that he wanted to study overseas because it was a way for him to get around that fact that his family lacks the networks he would need to get ahead in China.

Graduates of the Huazhong University of Science and Technology attend the bachelor's degree ceremony in Wuhan

'Chinese who have good connections at home don't go overseas'

"Lots of Chinese study overseas," he tells DW. "And that is often a back door for some people like me who don't have good prospects in China, and so they want to find another way and have a better chance later on. Chinese who have good connections at home don't go overseas."

Second choice

The Chinese make up the biggest group of foreign students in German universities, and most of them are enrolled in science or engineering programs. But as is the case with many other Chinese students in the country, Germany wasn't Weijian's first choice.

He admits that he originally wanted to go to an English speaking country like Australia. But the cost of studying in such countries was much higher than in Germany, which didn't have tuition fees.

Now he is here though, Weijian is happy with his choice. He says the professors are very good and the courses are more practically oriented than back in China. Plus, he likes the lifestyle here.

What he likes best, he explains is the German political system. "Plus the standard of living is so high, and there is so much nature here. Then there is the issue of food safety. In my home town there are lots of food safety scandals and problems with fake food. And living here is easy and I enjoy the freedom."

The food in Germany may be safe, but Weijian is still not a big fan of the cuisine. He calls it "simple and nutritious, but nothing special."

"When Germans cook something, I think, 'that's not cooking at all, that's playing with food.'”

'Drawn to Germany'

On the other side of the campus, students listen to a Material Science lecture. One of them is Wang Jing, a 19-year-old civil engineering student from the Chinese city of Nanjing. With her slight figure, funky clothes and serious expression, she stands out from the mass of T-shirt wearing guys in the room.

"We meet up after the lecture and sit on the lawn in the sunshine," Wang Jing explains. She says that in contrast to many other Chinese students, she had always felt drawn to Germany.

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"In China, most people learn English, which is why I wanted to do something different. I always wanted to study in Germany. There are many high-quality German products in China and I had heard good things about the country. Plus, I wanted to experience another culture."

Wang has been in Germany since last October and her German is excellent. Despite her language skills though, she finds it difficult to be accepted by the German students.

She says most of the German students are very friendly and open, "but when you want to actually be good friends with them or have contact with them outside of class, then it's hard."

Tough integration

German students showing little interest in their foreign classmates is a common complaint. Another problem that Chinese students often face is a lack of language skills, making learning and socializing even more of a challenge. Achim Niessen, head of the International Student Office at KIT, says that despite some of the problems, Chinese students do well.

"Chinese students are quite tough, they try everything to continue because if they return after a year or two years with no success in their studies then they are regarded at home as a complete failure," Niessen explains. "The drop out rate for foreign students is around 18 to 20 percent, but for Chinese it's around ten percent because they are really trying very hard."

Like many of the Chinese students who come here to study, both Wang Jing and Weijian Ji hope to stay on in Germany once they get their degrees. With Germany's shortage of skilled labor in the fields of science and engineering, their chances are not bad.

Author: Kate Hairsine
Editor: Sarah Berning

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