During the Gold Rush of 1849, 500 Chinese adventurers came to Northern California to make their fortunes.
Today, 41 young Chinese fortune-hunters have staked claims in Sacramento to cash in on the new gold rush -- the multibillion-dollar trade between California and China.
They've landed at the Drexel Center for Graduate Studies in Old Sacramento, which offers a master's of science in finance.
Each one is paying $54,500 for the 18-month program, which also hooks them up to internships with local agencies and companies including CalPERS, SMUD, Pride Industries of Roseville, the River Cats and The Bee.
The Chinese -- the only daytime students at Drexel -- are part of the boom in international students flocking to U.S. schools in recent years. More than 157,000 Chinese students attend U.S. high schools, colleges and universities, according to the Institute of International Education.
Several of the students said they selected Drexel because its master's in finance program accepts applicants straight out of college with no business experience, unlike most MBA programs.
Drexel was founded in Philadelphia in 1891 by Anthony Joseph Drexel, who joined his father's banking business at 13, and helped develop Wall Street.
Drexel now collaborates with research programs in Israel and Shanghai, China, and opened its Sacramento Center for Graduate Studies in 2009, said Drexel Associate Vice Provost Sandy Kirschenmann.
"In Sacramento, we have almost exclusively students from China who've heard about us through word of mouth," Kirschenmann said. "We're fascinated by the number of students who have eagerly stepped up to internship opportunities."
At SMUD, "they will learn how a utility works in a world increasingly concerned with green energy," Kirschenmann said. "We believe your education should lead to employment."
This hands-on approach impressed Eric Zichao Wang, 24, from Shandong province, who picked Drexel over four other American universities.
"I get much more chance to interact with professors and students and express myself in class than I did in China," said Wang.
The students are products of China's fast-growing middle class. Wang's father is a high school headmaster and his mother is a manager for an insurance company.
While some Chinese students come to California to relax and enjoy the weather and their lives away from home, "most of us are hardworking," said Wang, who blows off steam by playing pickup basketball at Roosevelt Park at Ninth and Q streets. "We work hard, play hard and are the lucky generation who have the opportunity to come here and see the world."
Wang plans to become a financial analyst advising companies on risk management. He said Americans think China is "nothing but factories -- we have everything America has."
He and other Chinese students say they are invested in the economic future of the United States. Chinese investors hold about $1.2 trillion in U.S. government debt.
"Some of us are uncomfortable that China's loaned so much money to the U.S. and other nations, instead of helping our own people living in poverty," he said.
Wang believes the U.S. government prints money without restrictions "whenever they need money," which negatively affects the national and global economy.
Thursday afternoon, the students learned about the relationship between supply, demand and price by studying gas prices and the demand for hybrid cars.
Then their microeconomics professor, Ramya Romo Ghosh, had them play an online game to see who could make the most money selling used textbooks. They fired up their laptops, plugged in their Chinese adapters and went through five animated rounds of simulated buying and selling.
"Keep quiet, this is not a fish market, this is a used book store," Ghosh told the students, who were obviously enjoying themselves.
Ghosh played along. "My strategy is to make transactions as fast as possible, even if I'm not maximizing my profits, because at closing time buyers and sellers become a little more desperate," he said.
Wang's roommate made $154 in five rounds, best in the class, partly because he paid less for his books.
The classes are in English, which doesn't seem to slow the Chinese students down.
"These students are very, very smart," Ghosh said. "They pick up things easily and ask a lot of questions. And this group's even more engaged than last year's."
In their first two weeks, they've learned about financial institutions, property rights, the rule of law in business and factors behind economic growth, Ghosh said.
After a day of finance classes, followed by hours at the public library and maybe an ice cream in Old Sac or sushi downtown, they return to their Sacramento apartments for potlucks and conversation about differences in culture and philosophy.
"I was surprised by 'happy hour,' " said Qian Zi Wang, 22, one of the first 12 Chinese to arrive last year. "It's everywhere -- people drink a lot during the day here, while in China, it's only after dinner or at karaoke."
Wang, who came from Hangzhou, a city of more than 8 million, plans to manage international hedge funds.
"In Asian cultures, people work faster and harder," she observed. Though many Americans think China cracks down on all dissent, "we have freedom, we are really free," she said. "We can say anything in our country, we're always posting on the Internet."
She and the other students said China has grown its economy by harnessing its 1.3 billion people and its natural resources, investing in children's education -- and by being thrifty and business-minded.
"Here in the United States you see people who are homeless -- you give them $2 and they spend it," Wang said. "But if the poor in China get $2, they save it or invest it in a little street business.
Wang noted, "people here are more laid-back, but the secret of success is work harder."
Do she and the other students plan to stay here?
"At school, the world's perfect but I don't know if I really like this society yet," she said. "I want to try to get real work experience first."
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