China is becoming a higher education hub for Indian students. More and more young men and women from India are braving the bone-chilling temperatures as well as language and food hassles to study in Chinese universities.
Diplomats say that easy admission systems, affordable fees and high standards of facilities are the chief attractions for Indian students, who now number more than 6,000 all over China.
The dominant choice of Indians is medicine. Chinese language also draws many. Clearly, Indian students are enjoying it in China.
"My (Chinese) teachers and fellow students have been very welcoming," said Jyoti Bhattacharya, 23, from New Delhi who studies at the Beijing Language and Culture University.
Bhattacharya admitted that she was very apprehensive when she arrived in September 2007.
"But it has been a very smooth journey, very helpful," Bhattacharya told IANS. "We have been treated very well.
"While I could have studied Chinese even in India, the exposure there was not good. Here you are speaking and hearing the language all the time. It makes a big difference. And I want to make a career."
Added Ravi Ranjan, who teaches Indian literature and culture and also Hindi language at Peking University: "This is a good place for students from India interested in Chinese studies. Chinese universities are good when it comes to science and technology too."
The Tianjin Medical University, located in a port city that can be reached in 90 minutes, has 400 Indian students on its rolls studying medicine. According to its International Exchange Department, the number of applications from India exceeds the available places.
According to Indians, the average tuition fee in a Chinese medical university is $2,000-$3,000. Another $1,000 is needed for board and lodging. This is a fourth of what one would spend in India.
Indian students scoring 70 percent marks and above in their own universities are the most sought after. But Indians returning home are expected to pass the Indian Medical Council test.
According to Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao, Indian students find China "cheaper possibly than any other country" when it comes to education.
"Chinese institutions of learning have also been very active in promoting themselves in India," she said in an interview at her office.
Ranjan, 46, from Hyderabad, said that many of the Indians learning medicine in China were sons or daughters of doctors who failed to enter Indian medical institutions. "Also, it is not very expensive here," he added.
But communication can be a daunting problem for students who know no Chinese - Putong Hua, the dominant language, or Mandarin. Although many teachers and students speak English, that language is hardly understood on the streets.
Where possible, Indian students living away from their homes provide comfort to one another. When they go sightseeing, Indians go in groups. The safety in and outside homes in China is widely appreciated.
The one area of concern for most Indians is cuisine.
Bhattacharya, who is on a 10-month language course, admitted: "I am missing my family in Delhi. And frankly, I am very much missing Indian food."
In the circumstances, any Indian student who has culinary skills or has a relative or friend willing to serve Indian food to hungry young women and men is arguably the most popular in the community.
(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )