"I think for most Chinese [students], they initially become interested in Christianity just because of the resources of the church," said Caroline Chen, associate professor of sociology and Asian American studies at Northwestern University.
It's the "social resources and the friendship," Chen continued. "And not just friendship, but someone who's going to be able to tell you where to buy Chinese groceries, where's the best Chinese restaurant, who can watch your kids when you're out doing something else. It's kind of like an instant community."
Kitty admits that upon reaching America in August 2009, she felt isolated. While she attended meetings at several Chinese organizations on campus, the Austin Chinese Christian Fellowship offered the proverbial balm to her loneliness.
"There was a sister who was super nice. She kept talking to me," Kitty said about her first encounter with an ACCCF member. "When you get to a place that you're not familiar with, it's really good if there is someone who is so interested in getting to know you. I felt safe with her."
According to a 2007 Chinese Spiritual Life survey, a random national sample of more than 7,000 people ages 16 and older in 56 locales throughout mainland China, 33 million adults self-identified as Christians, 30 million as Protestants and 3 million as Catholics.
Fenggang Yang, a sociology professor at Purdue University and director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society, led the survey. He attributes the growth of Christianity in China to the Protestant population, which tends to proselytize more than the Catholic population, and has surged from less than one million in 1949.
According to Yang, the increase in Christianity across China combined with the increased number of students from China who are studying in the U.S. are both contributing to the elevated numbers of Chinese students who are attending Christian fellowships on U.S. college campuses.
"My impression is that the openness of Chinese students [in the U.S.] towards Christianity is at an all-time high," said Yang.
Yang cites Christianity as the fastest growing religion in China owing to a transition over the last 30 years toward a free-market economy that increased consumerism and created a spiritual vacuum in Chinese society, one perfectly filled by religion.
However, the ruling Communist Party still requires its own members to be atheist. And while three different types of government-approved churches exist -- the Three Self Patriot Movement, the China Christian Council and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association -- they are insufficient in space and number. As a result, illegal underground or "house churches" have cropped up throughout the country.
"If there are no good public churches, I probably will join an underground church," Kitty said about her eventual return to China. "I feel like, if it's a church, it should be led by Jesus Christ. How can it be led by the Communist Party? That's ridiculous!"
Kitty admitted that her parents back in Fujian Province, whom she talks to every two days via cell phone, worry about her future in China.