Education

Struggling in Shanghai

After two years of homesickness in Delft, Xia Ping (29) and Helen Guo (31), returned to Shanghai last August. And they were in for a shock, because despite having degrees from TU Delft, there were no jobs waiting for the two engineers in Shanghai.

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Yet, both women insist that they don’t regret their decision to go abroad to study, even if many things have turned out much differently than they expected two years ago when they enrolled at TU Delft.

At TU Delft, Ping studied at the School of Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management (SEPA). Thus she neatly combines technological knowledge with a flair for business, which is exactly what she’ll have to do in March when she begins installing SAP systems for retail stores. Guo studied electrical engineering at TU Delft, but today she’s back where she started, working in the wireless communications sector. Prior to beginning her studies in Delft, Guo worked for China Unicom, one of China’s telecom companies. Today, she works for a smaller company that hired her in part for her excellent English-language skills, which are valuable for dealing with American clients. “Improving my English is also thanks to studying at TU Delft,” she says.

On a Friday night, after work, around 7 o’clock, Ping and Guo are waiting in one of Shanghai’s many crowded, trendy cafes. A moment of indecision, as we discuss where to have dinner: This is always a difficult choice in a city with some 30,000 restaurants. We finally decide on Kentucky Fried Chicken, a popular fast-food restaurant. Through a thick mass of humanity and stream of cars and bicyclists, we fight our way across the street to this fried chicken paradise. “Delft’s certainly different,” says Ping, looking around. “Nothing happens on Delft’s streets after 6 o’clock. That took some getting used to. I’d never been to a place where it could be so quiet, and in the beginning I struggled with that.” In Shanghai, with its 17 million inhabitants%of which 3 million are migrants%the streets are busy until the stores shut at 10 p.m.

Cows

When Ping and Guo first arrived in the Netherlands and left Schipol airport, their first impression was of a very green and rural country. ,,Cows everywhere, which was totally new to me”, Ping says. ,,And hardly any big buildings. It didn’t seem like we were passing a major city when we drove past Amsterdam. Everything was so incredibly small in the Netherlands.” Compared to Shanghai, there wasn’t much to do in Delft, and that made for some very long and lonely nights.

There were eight students in the first group of Chinese who came to study at TU Delft. The Chinese students stuck together, hardly interacting with other international students and having virtually no contact with the TU’s Dutch undergraduates.

Ping: ,,You’d often find us Chinese sitting together, complaining about the Netherlands.” They didn’t venture outdoors very often, either. ,,It’s always raining in the Netherlands, or it’s really windy”, Guo recalls, ,,so we stayed indoors a lot. It was the opposite of the beautiful weather we enjoy here in Shanghai.”

,,And now we can complain about Shanghai again”, Guo says, grinning. Guo spends muchof her free time behind her computer, chatting via free voice-chat programs to her parents and sister in Jiangsu, a neighboring Chinese province. ,,She chats for hours”, says Ping, who shared an apartment with Guo when they first returned to Shanghai.

,,Actually”, Guo insists, ,,when I was living in Delft I spoke to my family more than I do since I’ve been back in Shanghai.” Ping interjects: ,,But in Delft you also talked with your family less often once you got a boyfriend. A Chinese boyfriend, who you were a sort of student advisor to, right?” Now that Guo is back in Shanghai, she chats regularly with her boyfriend who is still in Delft%he graduates this year. ,,Not so often!” Guo says, defensively. ,,Only two or three times a week, because I’ve now got an extremely busy job and in Shanghai there are so many other things to do.”

When Ping was studying in Delft, she called home to Shanghai once a week, using a regular telephone. ,,My parents don’t know how to use a computer”, she says. And does she too have boyfriend? ,,Unfortunately, no.”

Originally, the choice to attend TU Delft was simple: a known university and an offer too good to refuse. One of their two academic years in Delft would be free, paid for by a special student grant. This meant that, per academic year, studying at TU Delft was half the price of a comparable degree course in England, the women say, although British programs last only one year. ,,The cost of living in Great Britain is higher than in the Netherlands”, Guo says. They still had to pay TU Delft 6,000 euros each, but they had both saved more than enough money in their previous jobs to pay the tuition fees. Well-educated young people working in major Chinese cities usually earn much more than their parents, and they often support their parents if they’re out of work

Promised land

Did Guo and Ping ever consider studying in the United States, which most Chinese students view as some kind of Promised Land? ,,We’d heard that it was really difficult to get a visa for the US”, Ping says. ,,And, also, admittance standards at the better US universities are extremely high. Besides, because of my busy job, I had absolutely no time to make inquiries. Dutch admittance standards were much more reasonable.” But if they had been given the chance? Then they certainly would’ve gone to study in the USA, they both concur.

Weren’t Europe’s stricter visa regulations problematic? In the US, for instance, graduates can remain in the US after graduation if they find a job, while Europe rigorously sends foreign graduates home. It’s momentarily silent at our plastic table. ,,We weren’t aware of that”, Ping says, quietly. ,,By chance, at the end of our first year, we discovered that we’d have to leave Holland immediately after we graduated.” A bad policy, they both agree. Guo: ,,It would be sensible if we could’ve stayed to get a year or two of work experience, like in the USA, because then you get so much more out of such an education.”

The discovering that they wouldn’t get the chance to gain some work experience in Holland hit them like a train. ,,We talked about it a lot when we were hanging out together in the evenings”, Guo says. ,,Actually, we talked about it every night!”

They didn’t speak to anyone else about this issue, however, even when it was really troubling them. Apparently, nobody at the university could establish a close relationship with the Chinese students. Which is quite surprising, since Chinese people, including Ping and Guo, are chatterboxes and extremely social people.

Ping and Guo often wondered what was happening at TU Delft. ,,There was lots of information in Dutch and we’d study the photos to try to figure out what the accompanying textwas about”, Ping says. ,,We did receive information in English, but still, we felt we were missing important things.” The women did take a university-sponsored Dutch course, although they didn’t retain much of what they learned. And now? ,,Een beetje”, they both reply in perfect Dutch, although no more Dutch is forthcoming.

Quantity

“At the start of each academic year we organize some social events,’ says Jon Langeveld, marketing and communication coordinator for TU Delft, ,,but further, we’re talking about mature adults who must make their own way. Compared to the Taiwanese, though, Chinese students do interact less.”

It was by coincidence that Guo and Ping first heard about the new educational opportunities at TU Delft; but now, a couple years later, the promotion of TU Delft in China is obviously much more advanced, as at least 40 Chinese students have since followed Guo and Ping to Delft, which, interestingly, is a development both women have mixed feelings about. ,,A TU professor said it would make more sense for him to learn Chinese and move to China to teach, instead of us Chinese coming to Delft”, Guo says. ,,And he’s right about that.”

The SEPA program’s inaugural year could boast of a range of international students from all over the world, although, Ping adds, Indonesian students were the largest group in her graduating class. “Today, though, it’s 50-50, Chinese and Indonesians, and if that trend continues, it’ll eventually become a Chinese dominated program,” she says.

,,When Chinese students are together, we speak Chinese”, Guo says. ,,It’s much easier that way, but if that’s the case, then it’ll no longer be an international program. 40 Chinese students is really too many, and I think the university needs to do something about it.”

TU Delft is also aware of this development, Van Langeveld says, adding that the growth in numbers of Chinese students has now stabilized at around 50 students per year. ,,We want the intake of students to be varied and not only focused on the Chinese market. For the past two years, Chinese students have been the largest group of international students. But now more Indians and South Americans are enrolling.”

,,Suddenly, university classrooms in the Netherlands were full of Chinese students, and of course that’s not ideal”, says Robert van Kan, speaking on behalf of the NUFFIC office in Peking. ,,As a result of the new bachelor-master system, more courses will be taught in English. I expect the numbers of Chinese students to continue increasing, but they’ll be better spread over a larger number of classes. We’re focusing more on quality than quantity. Increasing enrollment is easy to do, but that’s not our goal.”

Experience

Since returning to Shanghai, Guo and Ping haven’t worried too much about their futures. That they had to leave the Netherlands immediately after graduating was certainly disappointing, but, Ping says, ,,I’d planned to come home eventually anyway.” She thought it would be easy to find a well-paying job in Shanghai, but her optimism proved to be unfounded.

,,During the two years we were studying in Delft, Shanghai’s job market radically changed”, Guo says. ,,When we left, diplomas from foreign universities were virtual guarantees for getting a good job. Now, the only thing employers ask about is previous work experience, and ours was already quite dated.”

It took Guo until the end of last year to find a job, and Ping has only recently begun aninternship program with SAP. Neither of them will say how much they earn, but it’s much less than they anticipated when stepping off the airplane in Shanghai with their new TU Delft diplomas.

Shanghai, which enjoyed more than 10% growth last year, is the engine powering China’s economy, and this makes for a highly competitive job market. Nearly half a million Taiwanese have relocated to Shanghai, while Hong Kongers, who had previously looked down on Shanghai, have been forced to readjust their salary expectations. And many Chinese who were not really prospering in the USA have now come to Shanghai to try their luck. Moreover, in the late 1990s, China doubled the number of students it was willing to admit to the universities, without making extra investments. This means that twice as many university graduates are now entering the job market each year.

,,These young graduates are also our competitors”, Ping says. ,,We do have more work experience and are more highly educated, but many employers consider costs first and foremost. And then, our experience and education can be a disadvantage.”

(translation: David McMullin)

After two years of homesickness in Delft, Xia Ping (29) and Helen Guo (31), returned to Shanghai last August. And they were in for a shock, because despite having degrees from TU Delft, there were no jobs waiting for the two engineers in Shanghai.

Yet, both women insist that they don’t regret their decision to go abroad to study, even if many things have turned out much differently than they expected two years ago when they enrolled at TU Delft.

At TU Delft, Ping studied at the School of Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management (SEPA). Thus she neatly combines technological knowledge with a flair for business, which is exactly what she’ll have to do in March when she begins installing SAP systems for retail stores. Guo studied electrical engineering at TU Delft, but today she’s back where she started, working in the wireless communications sector. Prior to beginning her studies in Delft, Guo worked for China Unicom, one of China’s telecom companies. Today, she works for a smaller company that hired her in part for her excellent English-language skills, which are valuable for dealing with American clients. “Improving my English is also thanks to studying at TU Delft,” she says.

On a Friday night, after work, around 7 o’clock, Ping and Guo are waiting in one of Shanghai’s many crowded, trendy cafes. A moment of indecision, as we discuss where to have dinner: This is always a difficult choice in a city with some 30,000 restaurants. We finally decide on Kentucky Fried Chicken, a popular fast-food restaurant. Through a thick mass of humanity and stream of cars and bicyclists, we fight our way across the street to this fried chicken paradise. “Delft’s certainly different,” says Ping, looking around. “Nothing happens on Delft’s streets after 6 o’clock. That took some getting used to. I’d never been to a place where it could be so quiet, and in the beginning I struggled with that.” In Shanghai, with its 17 million inhabitants%of which 3 million are migrants%the streets are busy until the stores shut at 10 p.m.

Cows

When Ping and Guo first arrived in the Netherlands and left Schipol airport, their first impression was of a very green and rural country. ,,Cows everywhere, which was totally new to me”, Ping says. ,,And hardly any big buildings. It didn’t seem like we were passing a major city when we drove past Amsterdam. Everything was so incredibly small in the Netherlands.” Compared to Shanghai, there wasn’t much to do in Delft, and that made for some very long and lonely nights.

There were eight students in the first group of Chinese who came to study at TU Delft. The Chinese students stuck together, hardly interacting with other international students and having virtually no contact with the TU’s Dutch undergraduates.

Ping: ,,You’d often find us Chinese sitting together, complaining about the Netherlands.” They didn’t venture outdoors very often, either. ,,It’s always raining in the Netherlands, or it’s really windy”, Guo recalls, ,,so we stayed indoors a lot. It was the opposite of the beautiful weather we enjoy here in Shanghai.”

,,And now we can complain about Shanghai again”, Guo says, grinning. Guo spends muchof her free time behind her computer, chatting via free voice-chat programs to her parents and sister in Jiangsu, a neighboring Chinese province. ,,She chats for hours”, says Ping, who shared an apartment with Guo when they first returned to Shanghai.

,,Actually”, Guo insists, ,,when I was living in Delft I spoke to my family more than I do since I’ve been back in Shanghai.” Ping interjects: ,,But in Delft you also talked with your family less often once you got a boyfriend. A Chinese boyfriend, who you were a sort of student advisor to, right?” Now that Guo is back in Shanghai, she chats regularly with her boyfriend who is still in Delft%he graduates this year. ,,Not so often!” Guo says, defensively. ,,Only two or three times a week, because I’ve now got an extremely busy job and in Shanghai there are so many other things to do.”

When Ping was studying in Delft, she called home to Shanghai once a week, using a regular telephone. ,,My parents don’t know how to use a computer”, she says. And does she too have boyfriend? ,,Unfortunately, no.”

Originally, the choice to attend TU Delft was simple: a known university and an offer too good to refuse. One of their two academic years in Delft would be free, paid for by a special student grant. This meant that, per academic year, studying at TU Delft was half the price of a comparable degree course in England, the women say, although British programs last only one year. ,,The cost of living in Great Britain is higher than in the Netherlands”, Guo says. They still had to pay TU Delft 6,000 euros each, but they had both saved more than enough money in their previous jobs to pay the tuition fees. Well-educated young people working in major Chinese cities usually earn much more than their parents, and they often support their parents if they’re out of work

Promised land

Did Guo and Ping ever consider studying in the United States, which most Chinese students view as some kind of Promised Land? ,,We’d heard that it was really difficult to get a visa for the US”, Ping says. ,,And, also, admittance standards at the better US universities are extremely high. Besides, because of my busy job, I had absolutely no time to make inquiries. Dutch admittance standards were much more reasonable.” But if they had been given the chance? Then they certainly would’ve gone to study in the USA, they both concur.

Weren’t Europe’s stricter visa regulations problematic? In the US, for instance, graduates can remain in the US after graduation if they find a job, while Europe rigorously sends foreign graduates home. It’s momentarily silent at our plastic table. ,,We weren’t aware of that”, Ping says, quietly. ,,By chance, at the end of our first year, we discovered that we’d have to leave Holland immediately after we graduated.” A bad policy, they both agree. Guo: ,,It would be sensible if we could’ve stayed to get a year or two of work experience, like in the USA, because then you get so much more out of such an education.”

The discovering that they wouldn’t get the chance to gain some work experience in Holland hit them like a train. ,,We talked about it a lot when we were hanging out together in the evenings”, Guo says. ,,Actually, we talked about it every night!”

They didn’t speak to anyone else about this issue, however, even when it was really troubling them. Apparently, nobody at the university could establish a close relationship with the Chinese students. Which is quite surprising, since Chinese people, including Ping and Guo, are chatterboxes and extremely social people.

Ping and Guo often wondered what was happening at TU Delft. ,,There was lots of information in Dutch and we’d study the photos to try to figure out what the accompanying textwas about”, Ping says. ,,We did receive information in English, but still, we felt we were missing important things.” The women did take a university-sponsored Dutch course, although they didn’t retain much of what they learned. And now? ,,Een beetje”, they both reply in perfect Dutch, although no more Dutch is forthcoming.

Quantity

“At the start of each academic year we organize some social events,’ says Jon Langeveld, marketing and communication coordinator for TU Delft, ,,but further, we’re talking about mature adults who must make their own way. Compared to the Taiwanese, though, Chinese students do interact less.”

It was by coincidence that Guo and Ping first heard about the new educational opportunities at TU Delft; but now, a couple years later, the promotion of TU Delft in China is obviously much more advanced, as at least 40 Chinese students have since followed Guo and Ping to Delft, which, interestingly, is a development both women have mixed feelings about. ,,A TU professor said it would make more sense for him to learn Chinese and move to China to teach, instead of us Chinese coming to Delft”, Guo says. ,,And he’s right about that.”

The SEPA program’s inaugural year could boast of a range of international students from all over the world, although, Ping adds, Indonesian students were the largest group in her graduating class. “Today, though, it’s 50-50, Chinese and Indonesians, and if that trend continues, it’ll eventually become a Chinese dominated program,” she says.

,,When Chinese students are together, we speak Chinese”, Guo says. ,,It’s much easier that way, but if that’s the case, then it’ll no longer be an international program. 40 Chinese students is really too many, and I think the university needs to do something about it.”

TU Delft is also aware of this development, Van Langeveld says, adding that the growth in numbers of Chinese students has now stabilized at around 50 students per year. ,,We want the intake of students to be varied and not only focused on the Chinese market. For the past two years, Chinese students have been the largest group of international students. But now more Indians and South Americans are enrolling.”

,,Suddenly, university classrooms in the Netherlands were full of Chinese students, and of course that’s not ideal”, says Robert van Kan, speaking on behalf of the NUFFIC office in Peking. ,,As a result of the new bachelor-master system, more courses will be taught in English. I expect the numbers of Chinese students to continue increasing, but they’ll be better spread over a larger number of classes. We’re focusing more on quality than quantity. Increasing enrollment is easy to do, but that’s not our goal.”

Experience

Since returning to Shanghai, Guo and Ping haven’t worried too much about their futures. That they had to leave the Netherlands immediately after graduating was certainly disappointing, but, Ping says, ,,I’d planned to come home eventually anyway.” She thought it would be easy to find a well-paying job in Shanghai, but her optimism proved to be unfounded.

,,During the two years we were studying in Delft, Shanghai’s job market radically changed”, Guo says. ,,When we left, diplomas from foreign universities were virtual guarantees for getting a good job. Now, the only thing employers ask about is previous work experience, and ours was already quite dated.”

It took Guo until the end of last year to find a job, and Ping has only recently begun aninternship program with SAP. Neither of them will say how much they earn, but it’s much less than they anticipated when stepping off the airplane in Shanghai with their new TU Delft diplomas.

Shanghai, which enjoyed more than 10% growth last year, is the engine powering China’s economy, and this makes for a highly competitive job market. Nearly half a million Taiwanese have relocated to Shanghai, while Hong Kongers, who had previously looked down on Shanghai, have been forced to readjust their salary expectations. And many Chinese who were not really prospering in the USA have now come to Shanghai to try their luck. Moreover, in the late 1990s, China doubled the number of students it was willing to admit to the universities, without making extra investments. This means that twice as many university graduates are now entering the job market each year.

,,These young graduates are also our competitors”, Ping says. ,,We do have more work experience and are more highly educated, but many employers consider costs first and foremost. And then, our experience and education can be a disadvantage.”

(translation: David McMullin)

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