Message to friends in education consultancies/给做留学教育咨询朋友的信件

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.

过去几个月,有两位做高等教育咨询的朋友向我征求意见。他们的服务对象是想来或已经来到美国上大学甚至高中的中国学生。我虽不是这方面的专家,但还是写下了一些杂七杂八的想法。看到那么多的中国学生来美国上学,我就把一部分分享出来,希望能对大家有帮助。

* Religion/宗教
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 🙂

美国的宗教氛围非常浓厚。不少学校,特别是私立高中,或多或少都会有宗教气息。很多课外的活动和团体的目的就是让年轻人接受基督教(虽有不同分支)。这可能会让年轻人很困惑,特别是大陆来的,因为很多人对基督教的了解非常有限。宗教的有无是非常个人的事情,我觉得给涉世未深的年轻人灌输偏执、排他的信仰体系是很不道德的事情。

有一点很重要:我们应当明白别人不可以通过同龄或长辈的压力来强迫我们接受任何信仰体系。或许很多同学自小就对国内教育/灌输的东西有反感,特别是在人文、历史、政治等方面。有些人甚至以反对所有国内学校所教所学的东西为自豪。有的同学会对基督教有好奇心,这都很正常。如上所说,信仰的有无,信什么,只有你能决定,而不是外来的强制和灌输。实际上,一个人的信仰在以后的岁月里还很可能会有变化。

我想,很多同学会说,这下我到了美国,终于没有了灌输和宣传。实际情况当然不是这样,虽然这有点讽刺。

* 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.

现在美国的一些学校有那么多的中国学生,如果你愿意,就可以整天和同胞一起混。但那样很不好,因为学生要尽量接触和融入当地社会。培养和提高社交能力,有自信,讲礼貌,懂得聆听,有同情和同理心,这些是在任何种族和国家取得成功和幸福的必要条件。通过加入当地生活,而不是仅仅作为被动的旁观者,学习换位思考,尝试新鲜事物,享受不一样的烹饪,这些都会帮助你成长和提高上述能力。前两天我听说一个到密歇根州立大学(方舟子在这儿获得博士学位)的中国新生,已经交了学校宿舍住宿费并且被安排了一个美国室友,但现在不在宿舍住因为他和朋友住在外面租的地方可以每天吃中国菜。如果你来到国外,还是整天和同胞混在一起,只想做、吃中国菜,不愿意对新事物敞开心胸,不愿意了解、体会、欣赏当地风俗、文化、和饮食等,那你出国还有什么意义?我在美国上学那会儿,有不少人住在外面自己做着吃,那主要是由于财政原因,但前面说的这个新生不缺钱。

但同时要注意你没必要刻意躲避自己的同胞群体。大学生和高中生是形成健康的自我认知的关键时期。这段时间对自己的认知不确定,不自信,甚至为自己的肤色、族群、国籍而感到羞愧,进而躲避自己的同胞群体,这种情况我感觉并不罕见。有时一些同学甚至会有自我歧视倾向,贬低、看不起自己的族群,这种现象并不少见。随着时间的流逝和自己的成长,这种思潮和言行会慢慢消失。任何人都不该逃离自己的族群和过去,通过时间,勇气,自律,和勤劳,我们都应直视并且克服我们心中的小我。

我想在国外留学是了解自己和自己文化的好机会。这段经历会让你重新审视那些你以前习以为常、司空见惯的东西,给你一个新视角,但前提条件是你有开放的心态并且愿意、乐于尝试新事物。

* 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.

不少中国学生和父母对美国有一种幻觉,甚至有点像乌托邦。有些无知或/和贪婪的留学咨询人员当然希望顾客有这样的愿景,并在此基础上添油加醋。我个人以为这种幻想的泡沫越早破灭越好。所以做为留学咨询,能提供扎实、尽量贴近现实的观点就很重要,让同学/父母们知道什么有可能,什么不可能,做出符合实际的判断,鼓励他们培养和应用自己的思辨能力。

我不是说美国不好。美国很伟大并且有很多东西值得中国学习。总体来讲,美国高等教育世界一流,远远领先于中国。如果你学习努力并且能跨越语言障碍,你会得到高质量的高等教育。

* 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.

更具体一点,我觉得应尽量鼓励学生自修Coursera,edX,Udacity等新兴的电大教育公司的免费课程。像大学级别的微积分,作文课,大学代数,电脑和其他数学和理工课程可以让同学们了解美国大学课程到底如何。如果学生有时间,在他们来美国之前就修习这些课程,能加快他们的适应过程。

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