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I'm sure like many students of Chinese, my first encounter with the character was in the word 留学, meaning "to study abroad".

Some time later I encountered as an independent word, meaning "to stay". Most of the compounds with are consistent with that meaning (停留, 保留, etc.). However, 留学 doesn't really make a lot of sense as "stay" + "study". The dictionary was not very helpful, as it listed 留学 as a (presumably obvious) example of meaning "to stay in a place".

Could someone proffer an explanation as to how "staying a place studying" came to mean "study abroad" as opposed to, say, "going to boarding school"? Perhaps someone knows something the history of either Chinese education and/or the usage of the word 留学?

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You can take it to mean 留在海外学习 or staying abroad to study. –  杨以轩 Aug 16 '12 at 7:25

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

The answer is in this article: 从"出洋"、"游学"到"留学"——晚清"留学"词源考

It is really a complicated history, but in short: During the Tang Dynasty Japanse students came to China to study. These were called 留学生 in Japan. During the Late Qing Dynasty 留学 was taken over in China and became more and more popular.

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Thanks for the great answer. This was exactly the sort of explanation I was looking for (and with a reference to boot)! –  Stumpy Joe Pete Aug 17 '12 at 3:44

I would translate 留(at least in this context), as to "sojourn," rather than to "stay."

Then 留学 would mean to "sojourn and study," or "study abroad."

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Is there some independent reason for your doing so? –  Stumpy Joe Pete Aug 20 '12 at 5:44

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