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Chinese International Students at Emory University

Saher Fatteh
ENG 212W
Emory University

Before I decided to attend Emory University, I was aware that Emory admitted a
large percentage of international students. After arriving, I realized that there are very
prominent Chinese and Korean communities on campus. As a freshman, I was assigned
to study a group of people for my Anthropology class. I chose to study the mental health
of international students during their freshman year because I felt that there was not much
interaction between American students and international students, especially those who
did not speak English. My findings taught me that international students did face a large
number of unique challenges and made me very familiar with the literature involving this
research. As a sophomore, I decided to extend this research and to view it from a
different, less researched perspective. I wanted to know why so many Chinese students
were choosing to study abroad and also wanted to find out what they thought were the
positive aspects of their experience as I knew from previous research that the negative
aspects were researched many times.

In the past decade, the number of Chinese international students attending school
in America has increased exponentially. The adjustment of these Chinese international
students has always been of great interest to researchers. This review strives to delve into
the melodramatic rhetoric present throughout research involving Chinese international
students experience in America and the role of the universities that they attend. A large
percentage of the literature involving the adjustment of Chinese international students
focuses on the unique challenges they face compared to American students. In
International Students in the U.S.: Trends, Cultural Adjustments, and Solutions for a

Better Experience, author Kwasi Sarkodie-Mensah lists some of the challenges


international students face, Culture shock, social isolation, conditions/situations in home
countries, cross-cultural relationships, financial difficulties, immigration laws and
accompanying anxiety, employment for self and spouse, stress, and depression are
examples of problems international students have to deal with. The focus on the
challenges the Chinese international students face goes along with a focus on the
universities role in the students adjustment to the school. Throughout the literature,
there seems to be a clear vilification of universities for not recognizing international
students as a vulnerable student population. In International Students: A Vulnerable
Student Population, researchers criticize universities stating, However institutions that
do not address the unique needs of international students may leave these students feeling
disappointed, unfulfilled, and even exploited. Still, the data for that particular study
contradicted the statement that student would feel disappointed and unfulfilled as he data
for the study revealed that 64.9% of respondents had no problems at all adjusting. A
very interesting point from this study was that Chinese students were far more likely to
indicate that their culture was understood. Even in studies that focus on why Chinese
international students choose to stay at schools in America, there seems to be a bias in the
research. In Higher Education by Ketevan Mamiseishvili, researchers studying
international students persistence stated that they found a negative relationship between
social integration and persistence. They explained these surprising results by stating, It
could be that international students might be involved in other types of social activities,
such as multicultural and international events on campus, but the participation in these
activities was not captured in this study. To not take into account participation of

international students in multicultural or international events and clubs on campus leaves


a large gap in data. The existing research fails to focus on why Chinese students are
choosing to leave China and attend school in the United States and the positive aspects of
their experience.
As more Chinese international students choose to attend school in the United States,
researchers increasingly analyze their adjustment to school, socially and academically.
Almost all of this research states that international students, especially those from Asia
and non-English speaking countries, experience a tremendous culture shock and
subsequent social isolation that can negatively affect their mental health. The dialogue
involving the experience of international students at colleges in America is consistently
negative in terms of the experience for the international students, at least in their initial
year at school. Although there is an understanding of why Chinese international students
choose to attend school in the US, most researchers do not focus on why students choose
to continue school in America. The prominent focus on the emotions of Chinese
international students has caused a skew in the data. As stated in Passionate Politics,
The emotions they had were inevitably negative or troubled rather than positive or
joyful; they reflected a psychological problem (4). Passionate Politics points out the
lack of acknowledgement of the influence of emotion in research.
This research will attempt to find out what causes Chinese international students to
choose school in the Unites States and what aspects of the experience were most positive
and beneficial in long term view. I wish to fill the gap in the research that neglects to
indicate why, despite all of the unique challenges faced, Chinese international students
strive at university and continue to attend school in America in large numbers. Their

perceived success is important information for universities that heavily recruit Chinese
students and for counseling services that generally fail to be culturally sensitive. The
research will be conducted using interviews and surveys. As the interviews are
conducted, I will focus on the students perception of their experience at Emory
University versus the experience of their friends who stayed in China. This will give a
glimpse into the difference in academic environment as well as the struggle of being so
far away from home and the way this is dealt with.
Survey questions to be asked include:
What were your major concerns about attending school in the US before arriving?
What were the most difficult challenges you faced while adjusting to school at Emory
University?
Professors have been helpful and understanding (agree to disagree)
Programs provided by Emory University for Chinese international students have been
helpful to my adjustment (agree to disagree)
Most of my friends are from my native country (agree to disagree)
Have you every sought counseling to deal with stress caused by school?
I feel that I have overcome many of the challenges I initially faced (agree to disagree)
I feel that I have become more independent during my time at Emory University (agree
to disagree)
I feel that my experience as a Chinese international student will help me in the future
(agree to disagree)
Interview questions focused on perceived personal development, positive
outcomes from the experience, and the decision to leave China for school in America.

Survey results revealed that students felt that they became more independent and
that their experience would help them in the future. In addition, survey revealed that
students felt that cultural differences and language barrier were the most common
challenges faced while adjusting to school.

I feel that I have become more independent during my time at Emory University

I feel that my experience as a Chinese international student will help me in the future.

Interviews revealed that almost all students felt that language barrier and cultural
differences were the most challenging aspects of initial adjustment. A language barrier
lead many students to feel uncomfortable in large group settings, especially during group
discussions during class and orientation. In addition, a few students spoke about the
cultural differences they faced. Many commented on the autonomous nature of American
culture. One student reflected on her desire to meet more American students during her
freshman year and her feelings that her English sometimes made her feel self-conscious
during conversations and prevented her from speaking in front of large groups of
American students. When asked about cultural differences she spoke of her astonishment
when observing how friendships were formed at Emory versus how they are formed in
China. She explained, they meet each other and then all of a sudden, they are best
friends! This speed with which friendships were formed was puzzling to her as
friendships in China, from her point of view, were made more slowly and seemed more
meaningful. In a conversation with another student, he recounted how he felt very lonely
during her freshman year because he felt limited to being friends with only students from
China. Now, as a sophomore, he feels more adjusted and has a Chinese friend group as
well as an American friend group.
Neither of the challenges discussed were indicated to be debilitating to any of the
students overall mental health and academic performance. Many students stated that they
overcame these challenges by finding groups of friends from China initially and then
forming friendships with American students later. Most students stated that they have a
Chinese friend group and an American friend group and feel that having friends from
both countries has given them a truly diverse college experience.

Many students emphasized the idea that it was their choice to attend school in the United
States and that this choice plays a large role in their happiness. For most, studying abroad
seemed much more preferable due to the availability of options. Almost all students
commented on the one-sided nature of school in China, stating that there is very little
academic freedom. One student stated, Because the focus is only on exams in China,
students do not have the same desire to learn as students at Emory. Every student
interviewed expressed that the academic environment at Emory makes them excited to
learn. They commented on the large academic freedom they have in comparison to their
friends attending university at home and felt that it has allowed them to have a more
open, broad view on social and political issues. In addition, they emphasized that
attending school in the United States has allowed them to discover what they are truly
interested in academically, rather than attend school on a pre-professional, predetermined track. As one student explained, Had I stayed at home, I would have simply
attending school for business, but now that I am here, my favorite classes are Art History.
I never feel like going to class is a chore.
Many of the claims that students interviewed made about the way Chinese universities
teach was supported by research. One article shares the perspective of the chancellor
Fudan University, Yang Yuliang, who states, The university spirit in China is really
lost, says Yang. It's a reflection of the whole society, which has gotten lost in
utilitarianism. It's in a state of spiritual dehydration. He blames the governments
involvement in the university system for not allowing them enough autonomy. The
Chinese university system is an important factor to look at when examining why so many
Chinese students have come to America for higher education.

Towards the end of each interview, students were asked to reflect on their personal
development and perceived success through their years of attending Emory University.
Students most commonly felt that they had become more independent and that this was
something of which they were proud. They stated that their transition was difficult
because they were entering a new culture, new learning environment, and were extremely
far away from home. One student reflected, explaining that she could see the changes she
had made from her first to second year. Her first year, she explained, she was selfconscious of her English and was fearful about doing new things by herself. She said that
school forced her to overcome these challenges and now she is very comfortable with
talking in groups and being on her own. Another common response that students felt that
school has allowed them to think more openly. One student said that she felt Emory
allowed her to be more open to new ideas and to realize that she has more choices than
she ever thought.
Findings indicated that students feel that although they face challenges during
their period of adjustment, their overall experience is better than the one they would have
had in China. All students interviewed commented on their increased feelings of
confidence and independence. Broader implications of this study could be applied to
counseling services and international student programs. It seemed as though a major
barrier to overcome during adjustment was the confidence in ones English speaking
abilities. Perhaps increased focus on learning English and conversation practice would
allow students to feel more comfortable sooner in their freshman year.