Homeless in New York: A Chinese Student's Story of Life After the Agency

While reporting my story on Chinese college placement agencies, I interviewed a young man named Jason who is attending a university in New York. Jason used an agency to help him gain admittance to this school. "I'm too lazy to do all the work necessary to apply for a university," Jason told me, "so my parents just paid the agency to do it."

Jason, who received excellent grades in his Chinese high school, was quickly admitted to a good university in New York City. After the agency secured his visa, his parents paid the agency, and he flew to New York to start school. But that's when the problems started, says Jason. "I thought the employees at the agency would arrange my housing in New York and transportation from the airport," he told me.

They didn't.

After arriving to Newark Airport, Jason exited immigration to find nobody waiting for him. He says after waiting for an hour, he decided to change money and he found a cab. In broken English, he told the cab to head to campus. It was a cold January evening, Jason says, when he got out of the cab and lugged his suitcases to the campus ESL (English as a Second Language) office, it was locked. He knocked on the door, but nobody came. He says he stayed in a seedy hotel that evening with the little money he had left.

The next day, Jason says he woke up and again visited the ESL office. It was closed for the school holiday. "I started to curse the agency," he said, thinking back on the episode. "I didn't dare call my parents, because I didn't want them to worry."

Jason lugged his suitcases across campus to a freshman dormitory. After a sympathetic student let him in, Jason says he slept for three days on a couch in the hallway before a student from Hong Kong allowed him to sleep on an empty mattress in his room. Two days later, Jason says, he found an apartment to rent near campus.

This story illustrates the typical attitude of the students I interviewed while I was researching this story: most of them, due to China's one-child policy, were only children with wealthy parents. Parents, who for many years, arranged everything for them, including their entrance into foreign universities. Jason simply took this reality and extended it to his arrival to the United States.

But from my conversation with Jason, it appeared he had survived a crash course in independence. He had managed to find a reasonably-priced place to live in New York (difficult even for New Yorkers!), he said he had made some good American friends at school, and he reported his GPA to be 3.6. "That's because I took all math and science classes when I arrived," he told me, "other Chinese students suggested I take those to get a good start at school so that I wouldn't have to rely on English too much."

Jason was learning quickly.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

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