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Chinese students thrive in U.S. colleges

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Chicago Tribune
Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 8:44 p.m.
 

CHICAGO — When Zipeng “Frank” Jiang arrived in the United States for the first time, he was a 16-year-old Chinese honors student with big dreams, limited English skills and no idea how to recover the carry-on bag that the flight crew had taken for last-minute check-in.

“It was my carry-on luggage, so all my important stuff was in it: my ID, a bunch of cash, my laptop,” said Jiang, who came here to attend boarding school.

“I basically had my backpack and my saxophone with me. The dorm director picked me up, and he's like, ‘Where's your stuff?' and I'm like, ‘I lost it.' I'm pretty sure I left a bad first impression.”

Jiang's next few months at The King's Academy in rural Seymour, Tenn., were similarly stressful, as he battled homesickness, scrambled to get up to speed on idiomatic English and struggled with everything from fast-food refills to classroom etiquette.

Five years later he's a Northwestern senior with a JPMorgan Chase & Co. internship and windsurfing lessons under his belt, strolling confidently across campus in red suede loafers and greeting classmates with waves, hugs and Facebook references.

“I've never regretted for a second that I came here,” he said of Northwestern. “I've really enjoyed it.”

Jiang is part of a new generation of high-powered Chinese students increasingly looking to America for a college education. Facing a shortage of spots at top universities at home and drawn by the prestige of U.S. schools and the opportunity for international experience, 57,000 Chinese undergraduates attended U.S. colleges in 2011, up from 10,000 in 2007.

“Five or 10 years ago, going abroad was considered what dumb rich kids did, and now it's considered what smart middle-class kids do,” said Xueqin Jiang, former director of the international division at Peking University High School. “That's a huge shift right now in China.”

The trend appears to be accelerating, Xueqin Jiang said, with Chinese students coming to America to prepare for college while in high school or even middle school.

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