Photos: Chinese students lost in the dream of studying in USA
In the past six years, Ohio University in the United States has seen a 35-fold increase in the number of Chinese undergraduate students. But the language and culture differences pose barriers that eventually lead them to indulge in a Chinese circle cut off from the outside. It seems that these young men, who flock out of their country to seek higher education, have never reached the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
From 2004 to 2010, the number of Chinese undergraduates in Ohio University surged from 17 to 603. Today, 81 percent of international students enrolled at the university hail from China. In Scott Quad, a student residence hall nicknamed “Chinatown”, 180 of the 218 residents are Chinese students. Swarms of Chinese students have even made themselves start to complain about too many people of their own race and too little chance to speak English or hang out with Americans.
Andy Liu, 20, comes from Tianjin. The American student who shares the dorm room with him put up a poster with a portrait of Mao Zeong and the slogan “LET’S PARTY.” Andy hopes that he can make friends with Americans. However, due to his limited English and the cultural barrier, he has found it extremely hard to blend into the party culture even in this university, which is named the country’s top party school.
All newly enrolled students that speak English as the second language are required to complete an English program and pass the English proficiency test before they can begin taking university classes. Many are stuck with English as a result. It is Andy’s fourth year in Ohio University. Because he has failed the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or Toefl, five times in a row, the only option for him is to keep studying English. “I learn the same thing every day over and over again, and I cannot see the end of it or any hope.”
Andy Liu’s girlfriend, Popo Huang, comes from Guangzhou and now is a Fine Arts major at Ohio University. After she failed the gaokao, or National College Entrance Exam, by just two points short of the cutoff score, she chose to study abroad. At the beginning, her family was strongly opposed to her choice of Fine Arts, a relatively obscure and less popular academic major among Chinese students. In the end, Popo convinced her parents that she can later be a designer at the company her family runs after she studies Fine Arts and graduates.
“China’s educational system makes students spend most of their time dealing with tests and does poorly in (encouraging) creative and independent thinking,” Popo said. Popo speaks decent English. She has passed the language proficiency test and begun her academic study. In spite of having many American classmates, she still believes that the cultural barrier is insurmountable. “I cannot get some of the American jokes, and yet I can only laugh along.”
Most Chinese students come from big cities and have a hard time adapting themselves to life in American small towns. “The previous picture of America in my mind is (composed of) big cities like New York and Los Angeles. But after I arrived in Ohio, I find it is totally different.” After the class is over, Popo, in cheetah print leggings and patent leather pumps, leaves the classroom. She says that she loves to dress differently than others.
Andy and Popo kills time by watching videos on China’s video streaming sites. They rent an apartment off campus and spend most of their time together.
Juggling language courses and life on their own in a strange nation, most Chinese students naturally huddle together for help even before they start to explore the exotic culture. Clara Zhang (left) and Chen Yitao (right) arrived in Ohio University two months ago. They love to do grocery shopping with each other at Walmart.
In the dining hall, several Chinese students eat at the same table. By its very nature, Chinese communities on American campuses are in the gray area between China and the United States. In class is a bunch of English speaking and listening training and U.S. Culture 101. After class, it is the close-knit circle of Chinese friends where no English can be heard. Many Chinese students lose touch with the U.S. campus culture immediately after their arrival.
American students love bar crawl, whereas Chinese students rarely go out and prefer smoking, cooking, playing poker games and watching movies while staying together. Scott Quad is a non-smoking student hall. But many Chinese students have been caught smoking in their rooms.
At midnight, a number of Chinese students cook noodles in a dorm room. Because cooking is prohibited inside the residence hall, they wrap plastic bags around the smoke detector to prevent touching off the alarm and getting caught.
At 12:30 a.m., several girls are playing mahjong.
Chinese students check out the video of President Obama’s announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death on one Chinese video hosting site.
In order to vitalize Chinese students’ social life and get them out of their dorm rooms, the university has organized an elaborate Disney-themed costume party. Yvette Zhang, the student assistant at the residence hall, knocks on door after door to invite Chinese students to the party.
At the party, almost all Chinese students stand aside as spectators. The atmosphere is awkward. Most of the time they simply beat time to the music.
Bill Zhang, 20, arrived six months ago. He only hangs out with Chinese students and has no American friends. Because he speaks very limited English, Bill struggles with the heavy burden from his language program. He jokes with friends, while smoking, “I don’t like to stay here. Too many Chinese. No chance to practice English.” The university assumed that international students will gradually move out after they assimilate into the campus. It does not work out well.
Clara Zhang, 19, paid an admissions agent 25,000 yuan to prepare her application materials, and has come to study International Trade, hoping to work at the company her relatives run in the future. “I want my skin to be whiter, just like that of an American,” Clara said. However, the American roommate that the university pairs her with never shows up. Clara, now living alone, spends most of her time in the library and her dorm room preparing for Toefl.
Andy and Popo are very active in various kinds of Chinese-led student organizations. But they dislike the American party culture that centers around drinking and making a scene. “Here, some students only focus on studying every day without an ideal or dream. We are different. We have many plans for our future,” Andy said.
In 2011, nearly 60,000 Chinese undergraduates were studying in the U.S. – an increase of 43 percent from 2010. However, behind the figure are one hollow American dream after another of young and immature students. “Americans are very friendly. But it’s hard to make friends with them if your English is not good,” Clara said, “I look forward to real campus life. Looking at how American students walk and eat, I guess I haven’t tasted that type of life yet.”
Note: At the time of translating this photo essay from NetEase, I was not aware that it is a work of translation, whose original author/photographer is Darcy Holdorf. The original story, written in English and titled “Not Here or There”, can be found here at http://2011.soulofathens.com/
Selected comments from NetEase
杀狗祭祖 [网易湖南省网友]：2012-04-05 08:35:14 发表“Swarms of Chinese students have even made themselves start to complain about too many people of their own race and too little chance to speak English or meet Americans. ”Haha, this is so ridiculous. Yokels are yokels, wherever they go: it turns out that squandering hundreds of thousands of dollars is only for meeting Americans.
网易江苏省常州市网友 ip：222.188.*.*2012-04-05 08:30:58 发表
Despite all these, I still feel that their future is a lot brighter than ours. It’s just short-term darkness before dawn. At least they have clean air, water and food…
anthonywong0 [网易上海市网友]：2012-04-05 08:33:12 发表
It turns out studying abroad is decadent! Trash!
网易美国网友 [北京土着] 的原贴：1
First off, the Cos party picture, huge and white~ Haha. Then, the little circle thing is real…At lunch time, in my university, it’s almost always the case that Asians stick together, white people stick together, black people stick together, and Indians and Pakistanis stick together…There are groups where Asians hang out with a bunch of white people but these kids just look Asian. Other than that, they are outright Americans, because they’ve grown up here since childhood. Their language, ways of thinking, culture and the like are basically the same as the Americans’. That’s how they are able to communicate with them…But we, as outsiders, choose to stay with our own countrymen. For what? For a sense of security…It is true though that I can’t see my future…Sad.
网易美国网友 [赵无延大帝] 的原贴：2
Americans are not that easy to communicate with. I am now working as an intern in a state government. Every time I say hello to a colleague, she just ignores me for no reason. So I don’t want to see her again. I don’t ask her for any favor, but just want to say Hi. Then why she has to be so cold? I don’t have an answer. But I know American society does have its maladies.
网易美国网友 [北京土着] 的原贴：3
Such a phenomenon is so prevalent. But so far I feel only Indians, Latinos and Asian Americans are unfriendly to Chinese. Especially those from the working class, such as a supermarket worker or a telecommunications associate, and particularly Asians, they think they are superior. They are so warm and so busy greeting on seeing white people, and turn so hostile and disdainful at the first sight of Chinese…For example, when I first arrived and went to get a new cellphone service, I didn’t understand many slangs. That Asian, who received me, was very impatient and had a really bad attitude. I did not throw a fit from the beginning to the end. Then there came a white fat mother, whose child was very loud, and ran about screaming. I guess there was something wrong with her cellphone. This SOB did a complete about-face and smiled to her all the time…Now in retrospect, I was really stupid. I should have lodge a complaint regarding his racial discrimination, and he would definitely have lost his job…But it really pisses people off to be discriminated against by people who share your skin color…On the other hand, most white people are quite tolerant of Asians…Is it because I am in Massachusetts?
Those who go to the U.S. for undergraduate study are a bunch of losers eliminated by the gaokao in China.
华丽外衣下的罪恶 [网易北京市朝阳区网友]：2012-04-05 12:54:13 发表
The purpose of their studying abroad is just achieve carnal pleasure.
网易北京市网友 [沵竾芣過洳泚芣慬嘚沴厝] 的原贴：1
The 15th picture. Highlight.
网易山东省潍坊市网友 [愤怒的木材商人] 的原贴：2
(In reply to the previous comment) What an sharp eye!
网易福建省泉州市网友 [自由的孩子001] 的原贴：3
I discovered it too. It’s pink!
杀猪刀 [网易江苏省无锡市网友]：2012-04-05 12:47:49 发表
They lead life of the upper class in China and life worse than pigs’ and dogs’ abroad.