When Thai student Patcharamai Sawanaporn finished college last year, she wanted a change of scenery that could help her grow into a more confident person and to experience a culture she had little contact with.
The 25-year-old was enrolled in a master's degree program at Beijing's University of International Business and Economics, majoring in World Trade Organization law and economics.
She received a full scholarship from the China Scholarship Council－the Belt and Road Scholarship－which includes full tuition, accommodation, medical insurance and a 3,000 yuan ($440) monthly stipend.
Countries and regions involved in the Belt and Road Initiative were the largest source of international students in China in 2017. International students from the nations increased 11.5 percent last year to 317,200, about 65 percent of the overall total, according to the Ministry of Education.
To make studying in China more attractive, some 58,600 international students received government scholarships in 2017, and students from Belt and Road countries accounted for 66 percent.
The number of students heading to China from 50 Belt and Road countries, including Laos, Pakistan and Thailand, has increased more than 60 percent from 2012 to 2017.
"I am fascinated with China's history, culture and language as well as its economic development, and I think that studying in China could provide me with some great job opportunities, as I see growing investment and collaboration between (Thailand and China)," Sawanaporn said.
Indian student Adheem, 23, began working on a bachelor's degree in medicine at Wuhan University six years ago and wants to pursue a postgraduate degree at the university.
He said he adjusted to life in China much better than he expected due to the hospitality of the Chinese people.
"I don't feel China is a foreign country," he said.
Tuition fees at medical colleges in India are almost three times that in China, which is the main reason China is the preferred destination for medical school candidates from India, he added.
China has opened 140 Confucius Institutes and 135 Confucius Classrooms in 52 Belt and Road countries, around one-fourth of the total worldwide.
China had opened 85 academic programs in countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative and well as 206 partnership programs between Chinese and foreign institutions by July. Diplomas issued by Chinese universities and the higher education institutions in 24 of the countries were mutually recognized by April.
Located 45 kilometers south of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital, Xiamen University Malaysia is solid proof of China's commitment to cultivating local talent.
Since it opened in February 2016, the campus, the size of 150 soccer fields, has more than 2,800 students, mostly Malaysians. The university plans to increase its student body to 4,000 this year and gradually reach its full capacity of 10,000 students by 2022.
Backed by generous scholarships, students from Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere are now studying side by side with their Chinese counterparts. The university runs 13 undergraduate programs, with subjects varying from Chinese medicine to new energy science to journalism.
Wang Huiyao, director of the Center for China and Globalization, a think tank in Beijing, said foreign students are coming to get a high-quality education at an affordable price, and more and more are earning degrees. "China is becoming a serious study destination," Wang said.
With Chinese businesses flocking to countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, local talent is badly needed and the graduates of Chinese universities there could be a skilled workforce, he said.