Classrooms in U.S. universities are operated much differently from those of Chinese high schools – and even Chinese universities. In the United States, discussion-based classes are the norm, and paper assignments often require a student to motivate him or herself to start a research question from scratch. In many Chinese classrooms, the teacher lectures and then gives students a very specific subject on which to write. When Chinese students arrive in the United States, they are still accustomed to Chinese-style education. Critically, adapting to the American style forces them to spend a lot more time studying, often in the library or away from places where students socialize. After a year, these students have adapted to American education, but they’ve lost their best chance to make close American friends in the dorm. Additionally, they are habituated to studying and sticking with Chinese students.
The last issue is cultural assimilation. I’m not talking about the “clash of civilizations” that Jiang discusses. The details are smaller than that. Chinese high schoolers spend almost all of their time studying for tests, particularly the gaokao, a college entrance exam. They don’t get a lot of time outside of school to socialize – few sports, no parties. But Americans’ high school experience is half academic and half social. When Chinese students find that some U.S. college students spend their free time partying and dancing, it becomes difficult to settle in.
A separate cultural issue is that American students expect people in social situations to actively work to enter the group. The United States has a culture of individualism, and if people don’t want to participate in a social gathering, others will simply let them exclude themselves from the group. Where Chinese might perceive it as “impolite” to throw themselves into a conversation, Americans see it as par for the course.
This brings us to how to fix these problems. Identifying a social problem, after all, is only a precursor to attempting to tackle it. Here are some ideas:
Encourage Chinese to attend high school in the United States. Language, academic, and cultural assimilation could all be hastened early on by sending more Chinese students to America before they attend college. There are noticeable differences in the social assimilation between Chinese college students who attended a