Photos: Chinese students lost in the dream of studying in USA

April 5, 2012Jing Gao24 Comments, , , , ,

From NetEase


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

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.

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24 comments to “Photos: Chinese students lost in the dream of studying in USA”

  1. john lee | April 5, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    Being Asian, I resent all the Chinese foreign students that have arrived in our university. I now get dirty looks and mistaken for being from China sometimes. The Chinese students are rude, loud, smoking all the time, spitting, picking their noses, leaving garbage all over campus, and in the dorms they make up some nasty food that smells like dirty socks. They have foot prints all over the toilets and many times miss the toilets. Mostly if the Chinese students dislike America so much and cannot learn to behave like civilized people they should just stay in their own country.

    There should be an ethics, morals and manners test before they get to take the toefl test. As an asian race we should hold ourselves to high standards of manner so that people will accept us, instead we have these Chinese people coming here and ruining our reputation and making us to be stereotypes not as a geek or nerd, but as a rude and uncivilized people.

    I hope that some of us will band together to rid our campus of these uncivilized people!

    • Guy In China | April 6, 2012 | Permalink Reply

      I agree that there should be some sort of culture awareness course before starting university life in The USA. I also think you’re right, that as more Chinese people come abroad to The US, the stereotype of being smart will fade, and the new one of being rude and dirty will prevail. It’s not all students that do this, but I think that enough of them do that a new stereotype will form.

      • Blacksoth | April 27, 2012 | Permalink Reply

        I’m not asian but most of my friends are. I think we’re all in agreement that this is a cultural difference and maybe a cultural awareness course would be good after all.

        I think the guy above said it best with “Yokels will be yokels [wherever they are].”

        The complaints I hear regarding some chinese students are the same I hear from people in Hong Kong.

        It’s fine to be different but not ok to be rude.

    • GH | April 6, 2012 | Permalink Reply

      It seems that you are exactly one of the those “Asian Americans,” mentioned above, who are unfriendly to Chinese. A “civilized” person as you is behaving much like a racist. You perhaps haven’t realized that the Americans tourists are regarded as one of the worst tourists groups in the world by many surveys, due to their bad manners like speaking loud and ignoring others.

      It is partly the university’s responsibility to help the foreign students who paid much larger sums of money than the Americans. But you spare the university and blame only the students, out of a petty concern of your ego.

      • Ivan | April 6, 2012 | Permalink Reply

        I am very sorry, but he is not being racist. He is being in touch with reality. Many Chinese cannot behave in public like westerns are used to, and the rise of China is only aggravating the problem, as they are now “entitled” as well.

    • Cleo | May 25, 2012 | Permalink Reply

      I’ve never heard of that but then when I was at NYU, Mainland students were mature silent grad students not children away from home for the first time.

  2. Visitor | April 6, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    I blame the Chinese education system and the way English is taught here. People around the world do not speak English the way it is taught in China. Students actually believe they are fluent because they have IELTS scores of 6.5 or higher which qualifies them to study abroad. Wrong….

    When will the Chinese people stand up and tell educators that they are being taught crap, especially from most private training centre’s. Because your vocabulary is large, you can read and write the language means nothing in a conversational situation.

    Schools abroad are milking parents of their money, promising the world and delivering zero. And, it is going to get worse…

  3. Mike | April 6, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    As an American who has studied in China and plans to go back, I also live with a Chinese roommate and I truly believe that there is just an enormous culture gap exacerbated by their limited lack of english skills. Unfortunately, friend making and understanding of culture only comes with time and practice. As for the Chinese education system, they do teach english in the wrong way but for now, that is not going to change. There needs to be constant proactive people interacting between the Chinese students at universities and the local college community. In order to get a full experience, they need to live with Americans and make sure that they are not stuck with people from the same culture, no matter how comfortable it may make them feel to live with their own people. I believe that with the naturally kind nature of Chinese people, if they room with Americans and try to interact, not even necessarily assimilate, great progress will be made for those who undertake that endeavor. Furthermore, what is interpreted as rude and uncivilized in my opinion in alot of cases is just culture differences as well, and they dont know any better in most circumstances in the same way that I didnt know many of the customs when I first studied abroad. Its a learning process and they need to be embraced by American students as well as continuing to fight to interact with Americans everywhere, not just on campus to truly get a feel for a culture that shares little in common with their own

  4. Tinsku | April 6, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    I am an overseas born and raised Chinese (non-US) and I came to America for my undergraduate studies. Even for someone who was raised in the ‘Western’ world (Northern Europe), moving to America was still a very shocking experience. Integrating with the college culture and making friends who were American or not seemed like a natural thing. Especially small liberal arts college put a large emphasis on making students from all backgrounds feel welcome and provide an ample amount of opportunities for students to make friends. However, it’s sadly true that many Chinese (and other Asian students), who are not born and raised overseas, tend to overlook these opportunities and choose to stick to themselves or with other Chinese students. I have tried reaching out to them but I often only received with some disdain and coldness. Of course there are a portion of Chinese students who have integrated into the American college life very well and are enjoying their time here during their studies.

  5. biopower | April 6, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    No one has commented on the most obvious reason for this malaise and disconnect. It is the state of modern China, the education, indoctrination, and propaganda system of the Communist Party, and the fallout of a society that has had its moral base eroded by that Party for decades. These kids are not taught properly. They are not taught to think independently and adventurously. They clearly don’t have a strong sense of confidence, individual power and integrity, and wherewithal. I don’t know how else to put it. This seems like perhaps a simplistic explanation, but it is the obvious common denominator, and the Party’s predominant influence over Chinese society and education is indisputable. I would not put this down to so much simply a “cultural phenomenon” (i.e., their Chineseness. I do not think quite the same problems to do with hygiene and manners would arise if it was flocks of Taiwanese students) but more a politico-cultural one, with an emphasis on the politico. The Communist Party has ruined this post-Tiananmen generation. In order to preserve its rule it has castrated their full humanistic education, and that is a massive crime.

  6. [...] Read this article: Photos: Chinese students lost in the dream of studying in USA … [...]

  7. soyeahiknow | April 8, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    I am going to a college with a ton of international students, include Chinese. The difference I believe is the location of Ohio State compared to my college which is in NY. The OSU campus is mainly white and the community it is in does not have a lot of other cultures. This def. contributes to the feeling og being an outsider that these Chinese international students feel.

    John Lee, I think you are full of crap. Most of the international Chinese that come to study in the USA are from very well off families in China. How else can they afford the 30k tuition when you factor in the exchange rate and the fact that as a non-US citizen, they don’t get loans of financial aid.

    I very much doubt they spit on the ground in public and pick their noses like some village chap in rural china.

    • jahar | April 8, 2012 | Permalink Reply

      Having money means nothing when it comes to manners. spitting, littering, nosepicking is just as common among the rich as the poor. I live in Wuhan, I see this stuff all the time. The upper class is a little better about these things, in general, but i still see plenty of it from them.

      They also have a complete inability to hit a urinal. They all have huge puddles of urine under them.

      U would expect the smoking and cooking in the rooms, and general disregard for rules such as this, since it is normal to break these rules here. What surprises me is that the universities tolerate them taping bags over the smoke detectors.

    • sweetmom | April 12, 2012 | Permalink Reply

      Amen to soyeahiknow, I totally agree with you. Years ago, while I was at the university, both my foreign male and female friends told me, it was difficult for them to make friends with the American students because they feel like they were not welcomed, When they try to say something, the Americans just ignore them because they didn’t understand them. I think we as humans should be more tolerable and be compassionate about other’s. When I meet a friend that doesn’t speak English well, I slow down and sometimes uses hand gestures. I listen to them with patience. When I go travel to another country, I still have a good time interacting with the people even though I don’t speak their languages. Every one wants to feel validated and have friends. If the Chinese students get that, they wouldn’t want to just hang out with their own kind. After all, they are spending the family’s life time savings here in our country for their education. They have a future goal, they are here to learn and get an education. To them, having fun is not partying at the bar. They, like myself, I play board games with my son all the time. That’s my definition of fun. I never gone to bars when I was in college. Instead of picking on them Chinese, make friends with them, start with one and learn their culture.

  8. Gary | April 8, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    The chick in the snow white dress has a great rack.

  9. caos | April 9, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    Does anybody notice that Yvette Zhang is really hot?

  10. caos | April 9, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    To my knowledge, Chinese are not very welcomed among American students because they are rude, which is one of consequences of their selfishness. They are selfish in the sense that they never take into account other people’s feeling. For instance, it is not at all uncommon to see a bunch of Chinese sitting around in an office, talking loudly in Chinese without giving attention to others in the same room.

    • Eile | April 13, 2012 | Permalink Reply

      American students don’t like Asian students(not just International) because Asians get most of the spots in all the top universities.
      In my college, the bake sale is like this, Asian $2.5, White $2 …

    • Kam | May 7, 2012 | Permalink Reply

      B.S. Whites are far ruder, especially White males who think that their loud hijinks and douchebaggery should be tolerated because they’re “just having fun”. They never think about others. They injure people in their stupid drunken brawls, cause property damage and are generally inconsiderate. Their self-entitlement is off the scale. They complain about the Chinese (and other minorities) sticking together but never reach out to the Chinese or at least consider doing something the Chinese person would rather do. I’m an American but I’d rather hang out with the Chinese. I learned a lot from them and enjoyed having them around.

  11. Steve | April 11, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    Hispanics do the same thing with Spanish.

  12. [...] emailed an excellent (but really quite sad) piece on the Ministry of Tofu blog, entitled, “Photos: Chinese students lost in the dream of studying in USA.” Definitely well worth a look. Tweet Like Email Print Tags: Chinese students, [...]

  13. Anthony Sisco | May 31, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    Grew up in Indonesia as an expat and now work at the University of Washington.
    I have had my experiences with Asians in and out of Asia and I find the real difference between the Chinese that attend Universities in America is and the Americans is their financial backround. Many Asians attending University abroad come from very wealthy backrounds. As with wealthy Americans,Asians, Africans, Euros, whatevers, they can be quite rude. Whereas in America and Europe where there is a strong middle class, in Asia and Africa rich people are really in a class of there own, far seperated from their compatriots. This means that even within their own country they have a tendency to act like brats and have an air of superiority about them. In China they dont care who cleans their toilets or who picks up their trash. And when they see an American student without big plans for his future they fail to understand that the Mexican American kid who treats them with less respect than their used to doesnt have the oppurtunity to just take over his fathers business like some dynasty. It is not the huge cultural difference that they are finding it hard to bridge but rather the financial divide.Because whos doesnt love a smile?

  14. [...] Photos: Chinese students lost in the dream of studying in USA | Ministry of Tofu 豆腐部.     Print       Email [...]

  15. rey | January 23, 2013 | Permalink Reply

    I’m in houston right now, in here indians ,africans and vietnamese are very unfriendlly to chinese.

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