Ever since 2004, when the U.S. government relaxed visa requirements for Chinese students and American universities began recruiting Chinese undergraduates, Chinese not adapting well to American academic life has been a growing problem. And now, because the New York Times has pronounced it so, it’s officially a problem.
The obvious answer is the language barrier, which results in Chinese students keeping silent in the classroom, and ostracizing themselves from campus life. Then, of course, there’s the cheating and plagiarizing, as well as the psychological and behavioral issues that arise from the culture shock.
But here’s the bad news: Cross-cultural tensions on the American campus may still increase because the problem isn’t Chinese students who can’t speak English – it’s fundamentally a clash of civilizations. Chinese and Americans have fundamentally different values, norms, and worldviews, and Chinese students on U.S. campuses is merely the first front of the inevitable struggle between the hegemon and its challenger.
“[A Chinese marketing major] recalls one class in which, she says, the professor ignored her questions and only listened to American students. Also, while working on a group project in a sociology class, she says she was given the cold shoulder: ‘They pretend to welcome you but they do not.’ The encounters left a deep impression. ‘I will remember that all of my life,’ she says.”
“As a Chinese who studied in the U.S. with full scholarship, I appreciated the opportunity and the professors who helped me very much. However, I remember vividly how I was not so warmly welcomed by my fellow American students in group assignment…[M]ost Chinese like the U.S. That is why millions are learning English, watching American movies, and sending their children to the U.S. for their education are pro U.S…As a matter of fact, I got most of the negative image of the U.S. after I lived here for years.”
We can argue endlessly who’s at fault here, but the fact that China’s future elite will return to China one day and assume the mantles of power with such negative memories of their time in the United States isn’t a good thing. In fact, I know many overseas returned Chinese who have become wealthy thanks in part to their American graduate degree, but who nevertheless are far more nationalistic and xenophobic than the Chinese I know who’ve never been abroad.
My fear is that trend of Chinese students studying in America is a ticking time bomb that will create an international crisis when it goes off: there are just too many there at a time when Sino-American relations are becoming more tense, and U.S. leaders are desperately looking for a scapegoat to explain away the problems they’ve created in the first place.
A real problem! Funny that one can easily assume that having exchange students helps cement cultural gap but in reality it can make things worse and those returning home gain more negative than ever.