Many Kazakh students seek a foreign education and the government supports the wishes of talented students by offering free education under the Bolashak Presidential International Scholarship. While the U.S. and European countries have traditionally been popular study destinations, China has become quite fashionable in the last five years, attracting young people with a low cost of living and a high level of education and safety.
What is the draw for the approximately 12,000 Kazakh students currently studying in China? Based on the comments of two students, the answer appears to be centered on four advantages: an opportunity to get a Chinese state scholarship, high level of education, safety and saving Kazakh identity.
Tlektes Adambekov, 26, was born in the Karaganda region and has studied in China for eight years, specializing in telecommunications under the Bolashak programme.
“I decided to study abroad when I was studying at school. My brother wanted to study abroad, too, and he chose to go to China. As he is my younger brother, I couldn’t allow him to go abroad alone and we went to China together,” he told EdgeKz.
Adambekov has always been interested in Chinese culture and the idea of continuing his studies in the country.
“I have liked China very much since I was a little boy. You know, all of my peers watched movies about Chinese Kung-Fu masters and dreamed of being brave and strong as they were. Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee were heroes for kids of my generation. Everybody knew that everything was made in China! Chinese goods were everywhere. Chinese studying was very promising, but the quantity of Kazakhstan students studying in China was very low. Also, I always understood that Chinese education wasn’t expensive; in the future it will be very expensive and will be valuable,” he added.
Adambekov recognised he had a wish to study in Western states, too. After living and studying in China for one year, he decided to participate in the work and travel programme. He wanted to see the U.S. and the American way of life to decide if he wished to study in the country. The trip and working experience helped him understand that China was the perfect choice for him. Adambekov made the decision to know the nation better, to understand the Chinese people and how to work with them more effectively.
“All the above-mentioned doesn’t mean that I didn’t like the U.S. To the contrary! This country gives incredible opportunities. The level of life is very high. The universities are some of the best in the world. The best students from all over the world go to the U.S. to study and after they graduate, they stay there to work and to live. If you work hard you can self-actualise and, of course, earn a lot. This was very embraceable!” he said.
Adambekov feels one of the U.S. advantages is that you can become a real American after five-seven years of living there.
“I am not talking about citizenship. I am talking about state of mind and sense of self. But I understood one thing: if I, 18 years old, a very young man, go to the U.S., I will lose my Kazakhstan identity, I won’t be a Kazakhstan citizen anymore and I won’t come back to my homeland. I didn’t want to lose my Kazakh culture. Living in the U.S., I met people from Kazakhstan who lived there for three-seven years and I can surely say that these people became real Americans with a corresponding state of mind. This isn’t something bad or something good. This is just their choice and nobody has the right to pass judgement on this,” he told EdgeKz.
By contrast, he did not get the same sense in China.
“I consider that Chinese people aren’t interested and don’t even try to make foreign people Chinese. This isn’t something good or bad. It is just a fact. But I appreciate this very much. It is much more important for me than any of the other advantages. Also, I liked the Chinese way of life. I liked their attitude towards family and family values: obligatory presence of father and mother, obligation to marry before you have children,” he said.
also elaborated on the importance of feeling safe in one’s environment.
“The best thing I appreciate in China is safety. As for me, safety is the most expensive and the most valuable thing a foreign person can have abroad. I think that it is a real luxury. At 2 a.m., I can go anywhere or my wife can go anywhere and I am sure that she will be absolutely safe. No robbers, no maniacs. The high safety level in China is a credit of the Chinese government. Chinese jails are one of the worst jails and worst places in the world. Everybody in China is afraid to go to jail. And everybody knows that if you go to jail, it will seriously affect all members of your family. The Chinese police work really well and being a policeman in this country is very respectful,” he said.
While English is an extremely popular language and one which many people speak, Adambekov suggested the same can be said about Chinese.
“I should note that studying Chinese was very hard for me, because it is a very specific and difficult language to study. You have to be very diligent, disciplined, work hard and work a lot. Not all Kazakhstan students know Chinese well and a very small part of them understand the Chinese state of mind well. Language is only a tool. Knowing a foreign soul is a skill. So even if you have a tool, but you don’t have a skill, this tool will be useless. The first years in China were very hard. My brother and I made a lot of mistakes,” he added.
Adambekov thinks he became an expert in the Chinese state of mind, way of life and business manners because he lived and worked with the people for eight years and was the only foreign student in a group. He feels graduates of Chinese universities have problems with employment and a large number of them neither work as experts in their specialties nor even use Chinese. Unfortunately, in spite of the tight cooperation of Kazakhstan and Chinese companies, they do not appear interested in specialists with a higher Chinese education, he said.
Thirty-year-old Arman Sydikov decided to enter a foreign university when he was 24. He found himself choosing between U.S. and Chinese schools.
“American universities attracted me. I could learn English – the most popular language in the world. In Chinese universities I had all the opportunities to study Chinese – a very promising language. At that time, the Bolashak programme didn’t have bachelor degree grants. That is why I had to choose state and university scholarships. Unfortunately, there were no scholarships for bachelor degrees in the U.S., but I had a chance to get a Chinese state scholarship. That is why I chose China to study in,” he said.
Sydikov noted he is quite satisfied with his choice.
“Of course I had reservations aboutitinthebeginning, becauseIwasn’tsurethatIreallyrequiredtheeducationbeing a 24-year-oldman.But in the course of time, all my concerns were countered and now I consider that I made the right choice,” he added.
Sydikov began his studies with life experience and “a bundle of knowledge.”
“I exactly knew the reason I came to the state. So, I took the bull by the horns and didn’t spend my time on rest and entertainment. And this hard work gave me corresponding results,” he said.
He thinks that the main problem of foreign students in China is not the linguistic barrier, but as he described it, the “cultural chasm.”
“[It] doesn’t let you to build friendly relationships with Chinese people. I am not speaking about ‘Hi! Bye-Bye!’ I am speaking about real relationships with common interests. I saw it many times when Russian-speaking students communicated with each other in Russian-speaking groups and English-speaking students did the same, instead of real interpersonal communication with Chinese people. Such students see China only through the windows of their own campuses. They always compare it with their own country and it seems to be foreign for them for a long time. I always understood that I came to this far-away country to improve my Chinese and I did it. It is necessary to open your heart for China and absorb knowledge of all cultural and language aspects, accepting them,” he said.
Sydikov feels he made the correct decision regarding his higher education.
“I am completely satisfied by my choice and consider that the best way to become qualified in China is not only to graduate from a Chinese university, but also to work in China. As for me, every Kazakhstan student who graduated from a Chinese university should work in Chinese companies with local experts and prove that he is really competitive in the local labor market. Such experts will be very competitive in Kazakhstan, too, and benefit the homeland,” he added.