Chinese foreign exchange students adapt to America

Kelly Petryszyn

Yu “Eura” Chen, Xiaoti “Victoria” Chen and Yiwei “Claire” Ruan, all public relations majors and graduate students from China, adapt to using computers in the classroom. In China, classrooms are too crowded to use computers. Kelly Petryszyn | Daily Kent St

Credit: DKS Editors

Yiwei “Claire” Ruan knew she would have to listen to her first class lecture not once, but twice and maybe three times.

In order for Ruan and her Chinese friends – Xiaoti “Victoria” Chen, Yu “Eura” Chen and Cheng “Sophia” Zhang, all public relations graduate students – to fully understand a professor’s lecture, they need to tape record the lecture and listen to it again.

“We have to listen very carefully to grab every word he says,” Ruan said.

Xiaoti agrees.

“The more I listen, the more I understand what he is talking about,” she said. “He is talking too fast.”

If she can hear him speak again, then she can understand the lecture.

All four students are enrolled in the 3-plus-2 program in which students study three years of undergraduate courses at Shanghai International Studies University and then come to Kent State to spend the last two years earning their master’s degrees.

The program attracted Ruan because she heard the United States has the best higher education programs, and she wanted to finish school faster – but there was something else that drew her to America.

“I really want to learn more about the culture,” she said.

Football and wet socks

Ruan has been learning about the culture since she arrived about three weeks ago. Her first major outing was Kent State’s football game Thursday.

“I think in America sports are very exciting,” Ruan said.

She wasn’t a fan of sports in China and didn’t know the rules of American football but enjoyed being a part of the crowd anyway. She thought it was interesting that some people painted their faces and bodies.

Ruan and her friends went to a Chinese restaurant with a group of American friends they met, which she said was beneficial to both parties.

“They will know more about me, and I can know more about them,” Ruan said.

Language, however, sometimes limits her interaction with Americans. Ruan said she just smiles sometimes when interacting with Americans, not because she is shy, but because she simply does not know how to respond.

Xiaoti agreed that this is a struggle.

“It’s not that we don’t want to join those girls, it’s that we can’t understand what they are saying,” she said.

Xiaoti said she is realizing that everyday tasks, such as laundry, are done differently in the U.S. In China, she washed her clothes in a pail every day. Here, people use laundry machines. She would hang her clothes to dry in her dorm room but worries her roommate would find it strange.

There was only one pair of damp socks hanging off her dresser in her dorm room.

Experiencing America for themselves

The discovery of American customs continued in the classroom. The girls sat down to find a small class of about 12 students and the teacher engaging in a discussion rather than a lecture.

Xiaoti said lessons in an American classroom are “just like a conversation,” whereas Chinese classes are taught as formal lectures.

“In China, teachers put the knowledge in our brain,” Xiaoti said. “We don’t have to study ourselves. But here, we have to study ourselves. It is more challenging.”

Ruan not only has to keep up in class but has to catch up on common cultural references. It’s even hard to read a newspaper.

To help her with this tricky task, she carries an electronic translator everywhere she goes. To translate a word, she simply types in the chinese word and then the translator comes up with a definition.

She put it to use during her first test in class when she whipped out the cherry-red translator and hit the gold buttons marked with Chinese characters to make sense of the test before her eyes.

But having to translate so many words can impact daily tasks.

“When I go to a restaurant and look at the food, I do not know what real American food is. I don’t know what to order. Sometimes I cannot pronounce it. Every time I go to the restaurant it’s just ‘I want that,'” Zhang said, pointing her finger to emphasize how she communicates her order.

Despite all struggles to adjust, Ruan said studying in America “is a valuable experience for my life.”

She has heard a lot about this country but wanted to see it for herself.

“To see it in person and to experience life in U.S. is much better than just to hear about it,” Ruan said.

Listen to exchange students talk about their experiences

Listen to Yiwei “Claire” Ruan explain how she is adapting to a more relaxed classroom setting.

Listen to Xiaoti ‘Victoria” Chen talk about the differences in doing laundry in America versus in China. In China, she hand-washed her clothes every day.

Listen to Xiaoti “Victoria” Chen talk about how the language barrier makes it difficult for her to socialize with Americans.

Contact diversity reporter Kelly Petryszyn at [email protected].