In the past few months, two individuals involved in high education consultancies, mostly specializing in placing Chinese students in American universities or even high schools and helping them with life in the US, asked me for advice. I am certainly no expert in this field, but I did come up with some ideas, perhaps a bit disjointed. With the huge influx of Chinese students in American campuses, I thought sharing some of what I wrote might be useful to people, so here it is, in both English and Chinese.
The United States is a very religious country. A lot of schools (especially private high schools) have a major or minor religious theme. Many after-school groups and activities strive to convert young people to various forms of Christianity. This can be quite disorienting for kids from mainland China, most of them probably have no or very limited understanding of Christianity. Religion is a very personal matter and I feel it is wrong to indoctrinate kids with a bigoted, exclusive belief system at this impressionable age.
It is important to let them know that one cannot be coerced or peer-pressured into a belief system. Most of them probably have already developed a strong reaction against what they’ve been taught in the Chinese system, especially in areas like social studies, history, political science. Some may even feel certain pride in that rebellious streak against whatever they were taught in Chinese schools. It is natural that some will likely go through a “Jesus-curious” period. Like I said, religion or the lack thereof, is a very personal decision and young people should arrive at whatever they feel comfortable with without coercion or indoctrination. In fact, personal belief can change over time even in later years.
Yeah, I bet a lot of kids will think: finally I can learn in a propaganda-free environment. Alas, that is definitely not so. There is a certain irony in that
* Engage with society at large. Don’t just hang out with fellow Chinese (and don’t shun them either)/尽量融入当地社会，入乡随俗，不要只和同胞混，但也不要躲避同胞
With a large Chinese student body, one could just hang out with Chinese students all the time. That would be a big mistake. Students need to engage with the society at large. Developing confidant social skills, be polite，listening, and empathy are important for all people, regardless of race or country of origin. One does this by participating in local life, not being a passive member of the community, developing the ability of thinking from different and other people’s perspective, trying new things, enjoying new cuisine, etc. Let me say a bit more about food. I recently heard that a Chinese freshman entering Michigan State University, who had paid for campus dorm room already and was assigned an American roommate, decided not to stay in the dorm room, therefore giving up the opportunity of socializing and bonding with American students of similar age, the reason being that he and his friends came together and rented a place outside so they could cook and eat Chinese food. Now, if you get to a foreign country but only hang out with people from your country, cook and eat Chinese food all the time, and are unwilling to open yourself up to new things and try new things, not making attempt to appreciate the local norm, culture, and cuisine, then why come to a foreign country in the first place? During my time, a lot of people did that out of financial concerns, but that does not appear to be the case here.
At the same time, one does not need to shun your own community either. University and high school kids are forming their own identities. It is not uncommon for some of them to feel that they are unsure of, or, dare I say it, ashamed of their own identity, and decide to avoid his/her own community. Occasionally some may even develop self discrimination tendencies, that is, looking down people from his/her own ethnic group. Theses things are not uncommon. With time people will grow out of it. However, one cannot run away from one’s own group and past. With time, courage, discipline, and hard work, we all need to face our own demon inside.
I think that being in a foreign environment for an extended period of time is a fantastic opportunity to know oneself and one’s own culture. It forces you to reevaluate things and norms that you take for granted, provides you with a new perspective, provided that you have an open heart and are willing to explore new things.
* The sooner kids/parents pop the illusion bubble, the better/幻想的泡沫，越早击破越好
Quite a number of kids and parents in China have this illusion of America, almost Utopian-like. They probably were even egged on by greedy, ignorant (or both) educational consultants in China. Personally, I think the earlier this bubble is popped, the better. So working in an educational consultancy, it is important to provide a well-grounded, realistic view of what is possible and what is not, and to always encourage the development and application of critical thinking skills.
Don’t get me wrong, though. The US is a great country and there is a lot China can learn from. On average, higher education in the US is first class, way ahead of what Chinese universities could offer. If you work hard and get the language problem under control, you will receive a far better higher education here.
* Taking MOOC courses/上电大来了解外面的授课、学习方法
On a more practical level, I feel it is a good idea to encourage kids taking Coursera, edX, and Udacity courses. Classes such as college-level calculus, English composition, college algebra, computer science, and other math/science courses are great resources for students to have a feel of what American university courses are like. In fact, if the students have the time, it is good idea for them to take those before they come to the US, I think it will go a long way toward preparing them for what they will face after arriving.