KUALA LUMPUR - Miss Li Peng, a 20-year-old Beijing native, is studying hard for an Australian business degree. Like millions of young Chinese, she hopes her hard work will eventually pay off with a good job and a high salary.
She is also among more than 10,000 mainland Chinese students who are choosing to pursue their dreams in private colleges and universities in Malaysia, making China the largest source of foreign students here.
ROAD TO SUCCESS: Miss Li Peng (left) and her friend, Mr Sha Tao, are among the 10,000 mainland Chinese students who have flocked to Malaysia's private colleges and universities for an inexpensive English education. -- LESLIE LAU
The number continues to grow - giving a boost to Malaysia's aim of becoming a regional centre of education.
The deluge has also transformed Nilai, a small town in Negeri Sembilan about 45 minutes by road from Kuala Lumpur, into a little China.
An estimated 2,000 mainland students live and study in colleges in this small town.
Miss Li told The Straits Times in her American-accented English, common among mainland speakers: 'I suppose you can call this place a China city because there are so many of us here.'
At Inti, the private college where she is studying, courses are conducted in English only, and all students are encouraged to use the language all the time.
But walk down any street in Nilai and you are more likely to hear Beijing-accented Mandarin, or a smattering of different dialects spoken by the Chinese students here.
'In class we speak English all the time, even among ourselves. It is not a problem,' said Miss Deng Fei, who is from Hunan.
The hot weather is a problem for some. Food used to be but not anymore.
In the many new housing estates nearby, restaurant owners are beginning to cater to the tastes of mainland students, offering dishes from northern and central China.
There are few other signs of the large presence of these foreign students in town. They seem to have adapted well to local conditions and they do with their free time what any Malaysian youth would do.
'I like going to the cinema, and I like shopping in Megamall,' says Miss Li, referring to one of Kuala Lumpur's biggest shopping centres.
The main reasons these mainland Chinese have chosen Malaysia, and in particular Nilai, for their studies - it is cheap here and courses are in English, the language most in demand in China today.
Dr Lee Fah Onn, senior vice-president of Inti College, says: 'It costs a student from China just over RM20,000 (S$9,000) a year to study and live here.
'If he or she chose to go to the United Kingdom, it would cost up to RM75,000 a year.'
Inti College offers students 'two-plus-one' or 'three-plus-zero' programmes, where students can pursue two years of a British or Australian degree programme before transferring abroad for the final year.
Many of the mainland Chinese use Malaysian colleges as a cheap springboard to pursue their dreams of studying in Britain or Australia.
With concerns raised in some Western countries over Chinese abusing student visas to work illegally, a stint in Malaysia will also provide proof they are genuine students.
'It is very easy for us to get a visa into Malaysia, compared to Australia and the United Kingdom. The two-plus-one course also saves us a lot of money,' said Mr Sha Tao from Jiangsu province.
He plans to transfer to a British university after spending more than a year here.
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"