Two African students of an agricultural university communicate on their way to school in Handan, Hebei Province in north China, on 23 July 2020
Nathan Bagarukayo, an aeronautical engineering graduate from Beijing’s Beihang University, is grateful for the chance he had to study in China and credits his professional success to the quality of education he received in China.
“I learned so much during my time in China, and the skills and knowledge I acquired have been invaluable in my professional life. I’m proud to be a graduate of a Chinese university,” he told ChinAfrica from his home in Rwanda.
But Bagarukayo is not alone. In recent years, an increasing number of young Rwandans have been studying in China, and their experiences have been overwhelmingly positive.
Many have returned home with a wealth of knowledge and skills that have helped them to secure employment in both public and private institutions.
A destination of choice
In the summer of 2014, Bagarukayo, who had just finished high school in Rwanda, was contemplating his options for pursuing undergraduate study. He was in a state of dilemma, unsure whether to choose Rwanda, the US, UK, or Canada, until he came across a notification from the Rwanda Basic Education Board.
The notification was about Chinese government scholarships offered to Rwandan students to study engineering, medicine and technology-related courses in Chinese universities. Little did he know that the notification message in his email would change the future trajectory of his life.
He finally chose China for his study because the country was developing at a rapid pace, and he would have numerous opportunities while there or when back home after graduation. He gained the Chinese government scholarship and was admitted to Beihang University in China to study aeronautical engineering.
He then made the most of the opportunity to study in China. His outstanding academic record helped him to get a job in Rwanda at one of the leading government-affiliated companies, RwandAir. At RwandAir, Bagarukayo works as an aircraft engineer.
His experience in China was not only rewarding, but also transformative. He gained valuable skills, knowledge, and cultural exposure, which have positively influenced his personal and professional growth.
Speaking to ChinAfrica, Bagarukayo said China has become a hub for international students seeking high-quality education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.
He said that the country’s STEM education is well structured, offering rigorous training and innovative teaching methods. He found the Chinese education system to be challenging but fulfilling. He was impressed by the emphasis on practical skills, research, and innovation.
Bagarukayo’s experience in Beijing exposed him to cutting-edge technology, state-of-the-art facilities, and excellent experts in his field. He was able to apply theoretical concepts learned in the classroom to real-world problems.
“I had the opportunity to work on several research projects, which broadened my knowledge and analytical skills,” said Bagarukayo. “I was also able to participate in various extracurricular activities, such as Unmanned Aerial Systems competitions and other science and cultural fairs, which helped me to develop teamwork spirit and leadership skills.”
One of the most significant advantages of studying in China is the affordability of education. He explains that the tuition fees and living expenses in China were significantly lower than in Western countries offering similar programmes. He was also able to secure scholarships that covered his tuition fees, accommodation, and other expenses, making his study experience stress-free.
Apart from the quality of education, Bagarukayo said that he enjoyed the cultural exposure that China offered. He had the opportunity to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds, learn a new language, Chinese, and experience the rich Chinese culture.
The Rwandan graduate found the Chinese people to be welcoming, friendly, and hospitable, making his stay in China memorable.
China’s emphasis on practical skills, research and innovation is a critical factor in producing highly skilled professionals in STEM fields. The affordability of education and scholarships available to international students make China an attractive destination for seeking quality education at a lower cost.
Overall, his experience in China shows the country’s commitment to providing excellent education in STEM fields and its readiness to welcome and support international students. It is no wonder that China has become a top destination for students from all over the world seeking quality education.
Foreign students take a selfie during a visit to Guiyang, Guizhou Province in southwest China, on 3 June
During a conversation at his residence in Kanombe, Kigali, Bagarukayo said that learning Chinese language has helped him so much in getting translation jobs in Chinese-owned companies in Rwanda.
“When I returned from school in China in July 2019, I immediately got a translation job at one of the Chinese companies located in Rwanda,” he said, adding that the pay was good, even higher than that of some company technicians.
“Had I not found a job related to my profession, I would have continued to do translation for Chinese companies, which are extensively present in Rwanda and globally,” said Bagarukayo.
Learning and speaking Chinese is one of the surest ways to navigate the hindrances to integration with the Chinese society. Even though several Chinese academic courses are taught in English, Bagarukayo advised students and scholars going to or already in China to go out of their comfort zone to study Chinese.
While there are still jobs in Rwanda’s public sector, the private sector offers more chances, especially for those who can use their language skills to connect to the rapidly recovering Chinese economy.
Bagarukayo is so far the only Rwandan national who opted to take his aeronautical engineering courses in Chinese during his entire stay in China.
When asked about how he managed to cope with loneliness while in China, Bagarukayo said that loneliness remains a key challenge for African students both during their studies in China and afterwards.
However, during his time in China, he said to himself that the Chinese were his brothers and sisters whom he needed to know and get along with, which helped him during his stay in China.
He further said that integrating into the African community in China made it easy to adjust to his new environment.
Statistics from the Rwandan Embassy in China show that the number of Rwandan students who received study visas increased to 1,800 in 2020 from 620 in 2015.
In the last decade, more than 15,000 Rwandan students have benefitted from China’s world-leading education resources, according to the embassy.