Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada, December 2008
Zweig, David Stephen

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: International student exchanges and overseas education can play an important role in building bridges between countries. By living and studying abroad, citizens of one country can learn to understand another culture and develop favourable views of their host country and its people. If they return home, they may rely on ties established during their time overseas to make a living; increased trade may result.2 If they are academics or researchers, scholarly exchanges may follow their paths. And even if they stay in their host country, they may engage their home country in some meaningful manner, strengthening ties between their home and host country.

This report looks at how mainland Chinese who went to Canada to study facilitate exchanges between China and Canada. It does not study mainlanders who migrated to Canada and then subsequently, for whatever reason, returned to China, but only those who went abroad to study.3 We wish to assess how these returnees feel about Canada in general and about their educational and work experience in Canada in specific. Do academic flows into Canada and the subsequent “reverse brain drain” back to China enhance Canada’s “soft power?” Positive feelings could translate into more frequent interactions, while negative feelings could lead to fewer interactions. What factors explain the positive or negative view? Do they recommend others to go to Canada and if so, why?

Second, how extensive are interactions between returnees and Canada? What are the characteristics of the returnees who interact more with Canada and why? What are the patterns of exchanges? What resources are transferred? Do those who do not return also serve as bridges across the Pacific?

Third, how important is the Canadian experience to a returnee’s life? How much do students benefit from this experience? If the perception in China is that a Canadian degree is not helpful, students will hesitate to come and Canada will have difficulty commercializing its academic institutions. To attract more Chinese students, Canada must prepare them for careers in China, as much as in Canada, because in 2007, over 40,000 mainland students worldwide returned to China in search of a job. So, we ask: does overseas study enhance a Chinese youths’ job opportunities after they return, or do returnees from Canada confront a more serious unemployment problem than returnees from other countries?

Where possible we present our findings from a comparative perspective. In 2007, we completed a similar study of returnees from Japan that drew on a list of 7,000 returnees from Japan which was collected in a similar manner as the Canadian data, making the two data sets somewhat comparable.

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