By Robert Litz
Imagine being a young, 13-year-old sixth grader or teenage high school student who is whisked away from the comforts of family, friends and food you grew up with to be sent away on a plane destined for a distant foreign country, thousands of miles from home where no one speaks your language. Three such students, Jiayu “Mark” Alu, Abdullah “Tony” Abulaiti and Won “Jesse” Johuyn are a few of the many youth who come from all across Asia to participate in the American Scholar program hosted by The American Scholar Group, where I now work.
The American Scholar Group, based in Greenville, organizes international students’ travel to the U.S. to live and their placement in U.S. schools as an immersive experience.
First, there is general background information about China that is important to know. China is divided into 22 regions called provinces, which may be considered “states” in the sense we understand in the U.S.
Though China has adopted a Communist form of government, the Chinese people enjoy many freedoms but are strictly limited in free speech and far behind in women’s rights.
Lastly, social dynamics play a leading role within Chinese culture. For example, eastern China operates in an incredibly fast-paced environment compared to southern China, where the day-to-day lifestyle goes on much slower — similar to the northeast U.S. compared to the midwest.
Tony, an 18-year-old from the city of Urumqi (pronounced uhrum-uhchi) in China’s Xinjiang (shin-jing) province, traveled to the U.S. last year to begin studying in America. His cultural background is a prime example of the social separation in China. His province is one of China’s five autonomous regions, which have their own government and enjoy more rights (such as the ability to have more than one child). Each autonomous region is home to an ethnic minority group. Tony is part of that group, the Uyghur (wee-gr) people, who practice Islam, different than the Chinese who mainly observe Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.
Tony said his favorite part of the U.S. is the education, and he came here because he “wants study outside of my country, to improve English and make a lot of friends.”
Mark, a 19-year-old from the city of Ningbo, Zhejiang, knew exactly why he wanted to come to the U.S.
“I think the main reason is I want to challenge myself. I could have continued to study in China if I did not come to the U.S., but I wanted to push myself. I wanted to get my life excited, study, live and know how to make a lot of friends.”
Most importantly, he said, “I want to become more independent and prepare for my future life and career.”
Mark mentioned that his favorite thing about the U.S. is its “friendliness. In the U.S., I learned how to be more generous, social and get rid of my selfishness. I have learned to shake hands and enjoy much more freedom.”
Mark discussed the major differences that distinguish the separation of the Chinese and U.S. educational systems’ values, standards and practices.
“First of all, you are only in one classroom the whole day. But in the U.S., you have your own locker and your own books to carry around to all of your classes.”
“Second,” he said, “in China, you do not normally raise your hand freely like in the U.S. and will only speak if pointed to by the teacher. But here, you may raise your hand when you want.” He elaborated, mentioning that, “Also in the U.S., there are more conversations with the teacher and other students, more group projects, presentations and opportunities to work together.”
And, “Last,” he concluded, “there are a lot of interesting elective courses to take in the U.S., such as art and music, but in China there are not many.”
Mark found it was much different in the U.S. after he arrived. “I thought it would be more relaxing,” he said with a chuckle of remembering how quickly his theory was proven wrong. “The language barrier was very difficult, and I found a lot of stress and pressure in school and social activities. There were a lot of things I did not know about, such as taxes.”
Jesse, a 16-year-old from Seoul, South Korea, expressed that after graduation she would like “to go to a well-known University in California and graduate in one shot,” or four years, in other words.
Similarly, after he graduates this year, Mark wants to attend either the University of Wisconsin, or Boston University. He scored a 1,900 on his SATs.
Robert Litz is a soon-to-be graduate of Allegheny College.