Kenneth Hu discusses challenges with social, educational differences between Chinese, American societies
Senior Haiyang (Kenneth) Hu is an international student at Fresno Christian Schools and one of many participants in the AmeriStudent program. AmeriStudent LLC. works with incoming international students to secure a safe homestay and offer support through cultural and educational integration
My journey to study in Fresno was challenging. I remember struggling with everything in Fresno at first. The first day I came, I had no idea what was happening.
The principal helped me select my classes, handed me a schedule with a locker number and password. Then a teacher walked me to my first class. In China, most schools do not have a locker for each student unless the school is a wealthy private school.
A teacher brought me to my classroom and told me to follow the schedule. The teacher was speaking so fast that I couldn’t keep up with the speed. I sat on my seat numb and the clock seemed to stop as though the class would never end.
Finally, it came to my physical education class. I looked at the schedule which indicates GYM without a three-digit number like all my other classroom assignments.
“Are you in P.E. too? Let’s go together,” a few other Chinese students asked me.
“Yes, but do you know where this is?” I replied.
We translated “gym” on our phones and found out what we were looking for. Misunderstanding, we walked to the Peoples Church campus adjacent to the school’s, and thought the gym was one of the buildings near it.
One of the staff asked us where we were going, then pointed out the right direction for us. However, we couldn’t understand him at the time and walked to the football field.
“Hey boys, what are you guys looking for?” a teacher on campus asked.
“The gym, do you know where it is?” We looked at him.
“Oh, it’s right behind you guys.” He told us while laughing.
Lunch was after P.E., so I grabbed a sandwich out of my locker and I realized this was probably the worst day of my life. No more familiar food for each meal and I failed to find the gym; this kind of life in America would be my next four years. Immediately, I was depressed and pressured.
When I got home after the first day of school, I felt like I came back to earth from another planet. I was overwhelmed by the freedom I received, like a beast out of its cage.
Since school in America ends at 3 p.m., I foolishly failed to manage my time and let myself go and play games without a second thought.
The sounds of video games never stopped in my earphones. I enjoyed my new life in the moment. However, the next day, students in classes were turning in their homework in the basket.
“We have homework?” I asked my friend in confusion.
“Yes, didn’t you listen to what the teacher said yesterday?” he said.
Today, I know the joy of playing games is temporary; I can’t help thinking how disappointed my parents would be if they spent tons of money for me to play video games all the time. The differences between free time in America and China’s rigorous education life, created a problem of self control for me.
In addition, I remember asking my host family’s son who does homeschool, “Are you playing Minecraft?”
“No, I am doing my homework,” he shook his head.
“How are you doing your homework? You are playing Minecraft,” I was confused.
My host brother said to me seriously, “It’s building a homework assignment for architecture. I build it then the teacher will come in and check.”
Studying in the U.S., everything is connected online and everyone needs to bring a computer to school. While no one was allowed to bring phones to school in China, phenomenons like these opened up my understanding of the world around me.
In China, we learn all kinds of subjects for the only test that matters: the national college entrance exam. The test is the only thing colleges look at, and once students reach the scoreline, they then receive a letter of acceptance. Simple and brutal, only one additional point can bump a student’s rank in the national test up about 1000 places.
My school in China has 70 students in one small classroom and there’s no air conditioner or anything. I used to wake up everyday at 7 a.m., and went home with huge amount of homework at 7 p.m..
In addition, my class were the top class, we stayed for two additional hours after school, totaling almost 10 hours of daily study. High pressure was always challenging for me; my teacher added up all the students test score for a rank and showed it to us on the white board at the end of every month.
Top 10 ranked students in the class were gifted to pick the seat in the classroom. Test scores are the only thing that matters.
After three years of studying in junior high under pressure, I consider study in United State to have more free time for my own passions besides only study. I believed I will have a better balance between school and life in America.
However, I was surprised and found circumstances that made it difficult for me to study in the United States. The word “different” describes how I felt about attending high school in America.
In China, we don’t look at the elders in their eyes while we were criticized. It’s defined as rude, elders want you to give up your pride and listen in a humble way instead of having your head up looking at them.
My host family was mad at me for not cleaning up my room on time once, so I kept my head down and listened to show respect. But, my host mom became angrier since I did not look her in the eyes.
Facing the cultural differences and challenges was overwhelming.
In the first semester of freshman year, I struggled with keeping up due to lack of vocabulary. Education in China is straight forward. We take a test right after we learn the knowledge the teacher just taught each week, teachers are busy, so we only ask questions that are extremely hard and can not figure out alone.
In my mind, it is embarrassing for me to ask other students and teachers questions since it makes me look bad.
All of it combined, I finished it with a 2.67 G.P.A. at the end.
I was facing problems finishing my homework. For example, I understand how photosynthesis works and how water dissolves into oxygen and hydrogen. But I couldn’t do the test without knowing the word “hydrogen” and “photosynthesis”.
Since other international students are also struggling, I gave myself an excuse to have a bad GPA as an international student. The fear of talking to someone foreign and stepping out of my comfort zone are scary, so I surrendered without even trying to be the best version of myself.
After a missions trip to Mexico that taught me to live with a positive attitude and be the best version of myself, I now realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity to study in America. My parents tried their best to provide the privilege of studying without worrying about anything else for me.
I can’t disappoint them and waste the opportunity at FCS. After talking to my family, I understand I needed a better GPA for the university I want to attend. That’s when I decided to step up and dedicate myself to my school work.
In order to catch up, everyday after classes, I went over my notes to translate them so I could remember the vocabulary words and remember them. I started watching English T.V. shows with subtitles to help my vocabulary, learn how Americans talk in daily life and how they sound. I went to the teachers I was scared and shy to talk with and they helped me with pleasure. These experiences taught me that I created all the fear.
After I was getting used to talking to teachers and asking questions, things became easier and easier. All the days and nights I studied paid off the first time I understood the novel my English teacher was reading.
I remember when I first arrived at Fresno, I went to a movie with my host family and I fell asleep in the first 10 minutes of the movie. There are subtitles for the theater in China: English at the bottom and Chinese at the top of it. I was not expecting no subtitles at all, I couldn’t understand any words the character had said and got bored and sleepy really quick.
Then more and more “first time” experience started to show up in my life. The first time I got an A on the test and the first time I finished a full conversation with other students, I finally gained confidence in connecting with the school community.
I finished the second semester of my freshman year with a 3.0 G.P.A., sophomore year with a 3.86 G.P.A. and junior year with a 4.0 G.P.A. The results of my hard work continues to give me motivation and desire to be better.
I want to major in economics during my college, but, my experience has taught me that good things do not come by easily. Everyday only gets better than yesterday if you take on the challenges and try hard to figure it out.
Even though it seems to be really hard, I am looking forward and I am positive about it. I used to be scared of challenges and it stressed me out, but, it’s not pressure anymore, it is all opportunity for me now.
The trip to Mexican gave me a lesson. Challenges are intimidating, however, there’s beauty in the struggle. I missed my family but it also made me more grateful than before for having them.
The family we helped in Mexico showed me that everyone is struggling; the only difference is that we all struggle in a different aspect. Being positive and taking on challenges is not easy, and it may not produce the expected results, but it always helps to reach a closer point to the goal line.
For another article on international students, read COLUMN: Chinese, American education compared, challenges recognized and COLUMN: International student Luke Wu shares advice for students from foreign countries.Follow The Feather via Twitter @thefeather, Instagram @thefeatheronline and Facebook @thefeatheronline.
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