Article ID: CBB136612437

Emigration or return? International mobility and Theodore von Kármán's Chinese students and associates (2021)


This paper traces the experiences of about a dozen Chinese students/scientists who studied with the aerodynamicist Theodore von Kármán at the California Institute of Technology in the 1930s and 1940s. This special group provides an early instance of a situation that has attracted significant scholarly attention since the 1960s—educational migration of highly talented individuals and the difficult choices those individuals faced when they decided to stay abroad or to return home. This study deepens the scholarship on ‘study abroad motivation’ for international students and the push–pull factors related to returning to their homeland or staying abroad. Kármán tried to support his students' decisions whatever they were, without putting pressure on their decision to stay or to return. The thinking of the students was inevitably affected by changes in Sino–US relations and changes in US policy. All struggled to meet their obligation to homeland, family expectations and senses of personal honour against the advanced academic environment they had enjoyed. The stability of America's peaceful society and improved material standards of living compared with China made this a difficult decision. Different people balanced these competing demands differently. The key was how they decided to take advantage—or not—of the new circumstances.

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Authors & Contributors
Bagdonas, Alexandre
Simpson, Emily
Tai, Roibert H.
Wai Man Szeto
Sheeley, Neil R.
Rommetveit, Kjetil
Science and Education
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Public Understanding of Science
Pharmacy in History
Oxford University Press
Science education and teaching
Emigration; immigration
Education (graduate)
International relations
Career development
Scientific communities; interprofessional relations
Brady, St. Elmo
Brown, James E.
Haller, Albín
Jung, Giuseppe
Graham, David Crockett
Weiss-Sonnenburg, Hedwig Margarete
Time Periods
20th century, early
20th century
19th century
21st century
18th century
United States
Pasadena (California)
Great Britain
Republic of Liberia
Hong Kong
Istituto Lombardo (Milan)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
British Medical Association
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (Zürich)
Smithsonian Institution
Université de Paris

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