The long list of countries with which Georgia universities interact reads like a cheat sheet to a geography bee, but one country has emerged as somewhat of a common denominator: China.

In 2009-10, the number of Chinese students in the U.S. surged by about 30 percent to 127,628, allowing the country to surpass India as the largest sending nation for the first time. China accounts for 18 percent of all foreign students in the U.S.

Though not as rapidly, China is also attracting more Georgia students. At least among state universities with sufficient resources, China has become an essential destination for study-abroad and exchange programs in fields ranging from business to art, chemistry and history.

Even with such strong ties U.S. ties, the Chinese government is seeking more partnerships with established American institutions as it seeks to build a stronger education system, said Oliver Yang, who works in government relations for the American Chamber of Commerce – Shanghai.

Mr. Yang visited Atlanta, Boston and Chicago to meet with school leaders and conduct a report for the Shanghai education bureau on potential connections with U.S. schools. In Atlanta, he met with the headmasters of Woodward Academy and Atlanta International School.

The trip isn’t official chamber business, but it was born out of government relationships forged at Mr. Yang’s day job: helping U.S. companies coordinate corporate social responsibility efforts in China.

China’s education system has traditionally focused on preparing students to do well on tests, most notably the national college entrance exam, Mr. Yang said. The yearly test is viewed with anxiety by Chinese high school students, as it largely determines their future in post-secondary education and beyond.

The Shanghai government recognizes that its school system churns out students well-versed in the art of test-taking but sometimes deficient in the practical skills required by employers in the modern economy, Mr. Yang said.

In the U.S., innovation and independent thought are taught early on, and the Chinese government realizes that it can learn from the systems in the U.S. and elsewhere , he added.

“We definitely would like to look at other best practices from all over the world. We have not come to copy and paste, but rather to listen and learn, and we are also looking for collaboration,” Mr. Yang said.

Students are considering studying in the U.S. earlier than ever, he added. Graduate programs in the U.S. are most saturated with Chinese students, but with increasing disposable income, middle class Chinese parents are readily sending their children to the U.S. for undergraduate degrees. In some cases, they’re even starting in high school through programs like the annual two-week student exchange between Atlanta International School and the prestigious Shanghai High School.

It’s all part of a new strategic plan by the Shanghai education bureau, which aims to make the city’s schools more internationally competitive and attractive. This is partly brought on by the need to attract and retain foreign investment, Mr. Yang said.

When the financial crisis hit in 2008, many multinationals ended private-school allowances for expatriate employees stationed in Shanghai, leaving some parents looking for schools that were affordable without compromising quality. The Shanghai government decided it was time to invest on a broad scale in internationalizing its school system, Mr. Yang said.

“They are experts in the China system, but they would like to have access to the rest of the world,” he added.

Mr. Yang, who spent two years at a university in Belgium, worked in information technology before joining the chamber, where he has spent the past six years as manager for corporate social responsibility and government relations.

To contact Mr. Yang, send an email to


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As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...