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Chinese International Students

As for Chinese students, especially those who plan on coming to the United States to pursue studies on temporary student visas, the decision to study abroad should be made with serious consideration. Just as Grinberg and Grinberg (1989) described:

Migration offers opportunities, but like life itself, it is fraught with danger and difficulty, therefore often persecutory in nature. It is full of mourning, remorse, and depression. It is an event of potential trauma and crisis, accompanied by conflicting emotions of leaving for freedom and longing for home and identity (p. 20).

Just as the findings presented in Chap. 4 suggested, life in the United States is not easy, and foreign students have to bear multifaceted stressors. In addition, as the discussion in Chap. 5 illustrated, individual variables such as age, gender, major, marital status, expectations, and predeparture knowledge and skills also influence the types of stressors. Hence, before making the decision to go abroad, Chinese students should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of studying abroad. The migratory impulse and the desire for adventure and spatial freedom is part of human nature, but migration might become torture and crisis, if the individual is not ready for the potential stressors and difficulties which befall foreigners with limited resources.

After making the decision to pursue education in the United States, Chinese students should collect more detailed information regarding life and study in the United States. Also, based on the collected information, before leaving home, Chinese students should try to anticipate the potential barriers and problems of studying and living in the United States and then prepare for those potential difficulties psychologically and physically.

For those Chinese students who already came to the United States, in order to successfully function in the American university environment—a setting that contrasts considerably with the academic culture of Chinese universities in terms of instructor-student relationships, professors’ expectations, and instructional modes—Chinese students should try to consciously conduct a “deep-structure sociocultural transfer” (Liu 1995; Yan 2006). Making this “deep-structure sociocultural transfer” happen, however, is not easy. According to my pilot study conducted at Arizona State University (2006), Chinese students can be put into two categories based on their various problems. Some of them were not even aware of what the norms of appropriate behaviors in American academic settings are. Due to such ignorance, while they displayed a willingness to conform to American sociocultural norms, their actual behavior did not support such inclination. They still unconsciously follow Chinese mentor-student relationship patterns and have overly high expectations of their American mentors; they remain silent when facing problems either in either their personal study or their work environment. Failure to deal with such problems in a way Americans expect arises from their ignorance about what appropriate behaviors are in American academic settings. One possible reason is that, for Chinese students, the new educational environment is so confusing, ambiguous, and overwhelming that they tend to wrap themselves up in their academic struggles and appear indifferent to other aspects of academic life on campus. Hinkel (1996) explained that Chinese students may not give high priority to learning appropriate behaviors (strategies), because they narrowly focus on obtaining academic degrees.

In contrast to those who are not aware of appropriate American socioeducational norms, another group of Chinese students present different problems. Although they knew the correct American responses, they still faced great difficulty in automatically responding in the expected way. Their behaviors have been already observed by a culture study, which found that though some nonnative speakers were aware of the behavioral norms in the United States, they were also critical of them when compared to those of their own cultures and often chose not to follow the American norms (Hinkel 1996). For instance, though Chinese students know American instructors would like students to actively participate in class discussions, they doubt the value of discussion and therefore chose to be silent.

For the first type of Chinese students, if they can unwrap themselves from the narrow academic focus and try to deliberately learn appropriate responses and apply them in real-life situations when dealing with American faculty or in classroom settings, their academic challenges might decrease if the deep-structure sociocultural transfer process could be completed sooner.

For the second type of Chinese students, if they do not make judgments or jump to the conclusions too quickly and keep an open mind and try to understand American educational norms first, they would make behavioral adjustment as they began to understand the cultural bases for accepted behaviors (Greer 2005). For instance, after understanding that the social structure in US universities tends to be more egalitarian and informal, which is contrary to the hierarchical and formal ordering of social relationships in China, Chinese students could gradually come to understand how the norms associated with this ordering of relationship are manifested in instructor-student relationship and teaching philosophies. With their increased cross-cultural consciousness, they could better handle when it comes to such challenges as speaking up in class and asking questions. Similarly, after accepting the American cultural core value of individualism as opposed to collectivism in China, they would know that independent stance, in which the individual basically relies upon him- or herself, rather than dependent actions, in which the individual primarily relies upon others, are more appreciated in American academic settings (Greer 2005). Consequently, they would discard the norm that is usually associated with the Chinese culture: relying heavily on an advisor’s guidance and discipline. They would take more initiative, be more decisive, professional, and independent when dealing with their American advisors and their research work.

For personal stressors, Chinese students should learn how to flexibly employ different coping strategies to deal with different stressors and try to take advantage of available sources of social support such as parents, friends, advisors, and counseling services. Especially for the counseling services, Chinese students should break away from the cultural stereotype and try to be more open-minded toward counseling concepts and counseling services.

In addition, as for the sociocultural concerns and stressors, Chinese international students should assume the integration acculturation strategy, which has been proved by both previous studies and the current one to be the most effective acculturation strategy.

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