Amer­i­can col­leges seek to in­te­grate the ‘surge’ of Chi­nese stu­dents bet­ter

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY MICHAEL MELIA

The mul­ti­tudes of Chi­nese stu­dents at­tend­ing Amer­i­can univer­si­ties are ap­proach­ing col­lege as less of a life ex­pe­ri­ence and more as a trans­ac­tion, ed­u­ca­tors worry, lead­ing to mea­sures to help them in­te­grate — in­clud­ing broad­cast­ing Amer­i­can football games in Man­darin and giv­ing them ori­en­ta­tion be­fore they even leave Asia.

While stu­dents of sim­i­lar back­grounds nat­u­rally flock to­gether any­where, the in­te­gra­tion ques­tion is be­ing dis­cussed with ur­gency in re­la­tion to Chi­nese stu­dents be­cause of their sheer num­bers. On Amer­i­can cam­puses, where they num­ber in the hun­dreds or thou­sands, it is eas­ier for them to find friends who speak the same na­tive lan­guage and form in­su­lar com­mu­ni­ties.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of Anyi Yang, a 19-year-old Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut sopho­more from Bei­jing, re­flects some of the chal­lenges.

When she ar­rived in the United States, it was a mem­ber of a Chi­nese stu­dent group who picked her up at the air­port. An ap­plied math ma­jor, she has got­ten to know some of her Amer­i­can peers through course­work, and she cheered along­side them as she watched a broad­cast of the women’s bas­ket­ball team win­ning a na­tional cham­pi­onship. But she spends nearly all her free time with Chi­nese friends. She had ex­pected Amer­i­cans to be more wel­com­ing.

“They are friendly, but some I thought would be more in­ter­ested in talk­ing to me,” Yang said. “Ac­tu­ally, they sel­dom speak to me if I don’t speak to them.”

Where ad­min­is­tra­tors and an­a­lysts of U.S.-China re­la­tions see missed op­por­tu­ni­ties for ex­change, some pro­fes­sors also see a dis­con­nect af­fect­ing their class­rooms as Chi­nese stu­dents, in gen­eral, par­tic­i­pate less in dis­cus­sions.

“They like to stay with each other, and it’s get­ting the at­ten­tion of a lot of our pro­fes­sors,” said Yuhang Rong, an as­sis­tant vice provost for global af­fairs at UConn, which counts more than 300 stu­dents from main­land China in its fresh­man class.

With the rise of China’s mid­dle class, the num­ber of stu­dents it sends to the United States jumped to 274,439 in the 2013-2014 school year from 61,765 a decade ear­lier, ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion. Grad­u­ate stu- dents ac­count barely for the big­gest group, but un­der­grad­u­ates from China have been gain­ing quickly.

Robert Daly, di­rec­tor of the Kissinger In­sti­tute on China and the United States at the Wil­son Cen­ter, said some of to­day’s stu­dents have a dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude from the Chi­nese who came as pioneers in the 1980s and 1990s.

“There’s not a sense of com­ing to Amer­ica, like an older gen­er­a­tion, so much as buy­ing a cre­den­tial to get a bet­ter job,” he said.

At Big Ten public univer­si­ties, which be­gan a big re­cruit­ing push in China sev­eral years ago for stu­dents and their tu­ition dol­lars, the in­te­gra­tion of Chi­nese stu­dents has be­come such a press­ing is­sue in the past cou­ple of years that they now hold reg­u­lar sum­mits to dis­cuss strate­gies.

The Univer­sity of Illi­nois, which en­rolls nearly 5,000 Chi­nese stu­dents on a cam­pus of some 44,000 stu­dents, be­gan hold­ing “Football 101” clin­ics a cou­ple years ago and in­tro­duced Man­darin- lan­guage broad­casts this fall. Mike Waddell, a se­nior as­so­ci­ated di­rec­tor of ath­let­ics, said he has seen the stu­dents at games lis­ten­ing to the broad­casts through their smart­phones.

“It’s such a big part of the Big Ten cul­ture that we wanted to make sure we reached out to stu­dents and made them feel very welcome,” Waddell said.

At Pur­due, one of sev­eral schools that now hold pre-de­par­ture ori­en­ta­tion ses­sions in Chi­nese cities, Michael Brzezin­ski, the dean of in­ter­na­tional pro­grams, said of- fi­cials be­gin stress­ing to in­com­ing fresh­men even be­fore they ar­rive in In­di­ana the im­por­tance of en­gag­ing with other stu­dents.

Many schools are also work­ing with do­mes­tic stu­dents and fac­ulty to help make Chi­nese stu­dents more com­fort­able.

Ohio State has de­vel­oped pro­grams to en­cour­age do­mes­tic stu­dents to in­ter­act with in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, in­clud­ing joint tours of nearby cities. Pur­due prods stu­dent groups to do more with in­ter­na­tional stu­dent groups by of­fer­ing ad­di­tional money for joint events, and it’s try­ing to cre­ate train­ing pro­grams for stu­dents on in­ter­cul­tural com­pe­tence. UConn, like­wise, is hav­ing dis­cus­sions on ex­pec­ta­tions of “global com­pe­ten­cies” for fac­ulty and staff.

Lo­cal Chi­nese con­sulates are also in­volved. In meet­ings with fresh­men from China on cam­puses around the North­east, Zhang Yang, of the New York con­sulate’s ed­u­ca­tion of­fice, said of­fi­cials en­cour­age them to study hard, be good stu­dent am­bas­sadors, make new friends, and learn and adapt to cam­pus cul­ture.

Kevin Zhuang, a UConn stu­dent from Shang­hai, said the big­gest chal­lenge for most stu­dents is the lan­guage bar­rier. The cam­pus ex­pe­ri­ence, he said, re­ally de­pends on the stu­dent.

“We have some Chi­nese stu­dents who are re­ally out­go­ing who have a lot of Amer­i­can friends,” he said. “We also see peo­ple who stay at home all day and just hang out with Chi­nese and don’t want to speak English at all.”

AP

Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut sopho­more Anyi Yang, of Bei­jing, poses for a pho­to­graph next to her Amer­i­can name Vi­vian on the door of her dorm, in Storrs, Con­necti­cut, Sept. 18. A surge of stu­dents from main­land China is lead­ing U.S. univer­si­ties to con­front the chal­lenges of in­te­grat­ing them more into Amer­i­can cam­pus life.

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