Culture Differences In America And China
——Focusing on education system and communication ways
I have been in America for 4 weeks as a Chinese exchange student, and observed culture differences in some interesting ways that in my opinion reflect different ideology, in aspects of education, transportation, fashion and clothing, people’s communication ways.
This is in my opinion, the most prominent difference. The difference began to make itself seen even as early as in kindergarten. A Chinese teacher whose daughter is now in kindergarten in the U.S. told me that, in kindergarten there, kids are mostly being taught about certain “rules”. She talked about the rules of protecting books when reading them and other that prepare kids for elementary school. The kindergarten is not beating knowledge into kids’ brains, but cultivating their morality and creativity.
In my kindergarten back in China, they taught me “mental abacus calculation” which is never of any use except competing with other kids in kindergarten. But maybe laying a good foundation for our math? I am not sure. I was also taught to dance, which I detested very much because it hurt when bending and stretching. In my opinion, kids shouldn’t be taught very specific subject when they are so young. If they don’t like what they are learning, it will be a waste of time. Instead, they should be exposed to different things to develop their interest and learn some basic skills about life. Social skills are important too. The Chinese teacher told me her 5-year-old daughter was an introvert when back in China, but now she is quite outgoing, which shows how the education in America shaped her personality.
The education at Christopher Newport University is different, too. First, class sizes here are smaller. 3 out of my 5 courses here have less than 20 people. The other 2 have around 30-40 people in total. But for my last term back in China, only 6 out of the 16 courses were around the size of 30. Others are larger, some even enormous, making it hard to hear students’ voices and made the course more like a speech. And our school was a pretty good one, ranking 11th in China. It was a much larger one, having 16,000 graduate and undergraduate students in total. So obviously, the large population plays an important role in the size of the class.
The difference in size leads to the second difference in education which is professors here pay more attention to the process of learning instead of the final result. There are plenty of quizzes, class discussions, after class reading and assignments that just keeps students engaged in the things they learn constantly. But in China, though some classes care about the process of learning, there are also many classes that just want results, especially those large ones. It makes sense because it would be hard and even impossible to ask the professors to pay attention to the process of learning if there are more than 100 students in a class. So the learning and reviewing tasks sometimes just fall on students’ shoulders and completely relying on students’ self-discipline, which many students have little.
Thirdly, the classes here demand student’s participation more heavily than China. In class, students are encouraged to interrupt professors with questions any time and not being considered rude. That is a remarkable difference because in China students tend to listen and ask questions after class. Why is that? Some people may say it is because here students and professors share a more equal relationship, indicating in China professors are superior to students. But I think the fundamental reason is still about the size of class. Because I am sure many teachers will be more than happy for students’ better engagement if the class sizes allow them to. Maybe someone will say, you can always lead discussion in class to engage students, regardless of the class sizes. But if it is too large of a class, discussion will just be a total mess that a teacher can’t control.
And another distinct difference is that here class are shorter and meet more frequent. Classes here meet twice or three times a week. And each of the class is 50 minutes or 75 minutes. In the 16 courses I took last term, only one of them met three times a week. The rest all meet once a week. All of the class lasted 100 minutes. That is why I managed 16 courses which I know is hard to imagine for American students. Many of the classes are mandatory and have nothing to do with my major, like history, politics, art and military. Though I understand the general education is beneficial for a student’s overall development, I found it very hard to concentrate on those lecture courses. There are more of these kinds of classes for freshman. Few students will really pay attention to the teacher and actually learn something. They just do other things in class and review before final to get a good grade. It seemed to me that a lot of time was wasted. And of course my weekdays were filled with classes, leaving me very little time to actually do the assignments. And I usually stay in school to do my assignments on weekends. But now because I have more time to do the assignment during weekdays, I can understand the excitement of American students when weekends come. Because here weekends means time to relax and have fun. Though we all know that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”, but in China, if you want a promising future, you have to be a competitive candidate in the job market, which means you have to have a high GPA. So how do you manage a high GPA with that many courses? Studying is like a cross we have to bear.
Okay so enough for the seriousness. Another thing I want to talk about is about how different people communicate here from China.
I had a really interesting conversation with my suite mate who is an American, about her boyfriend. I asked her, “Is cuddling, hugging and kissing necessarily between boyfriend and girlfriend here?” She said no and said she thinks it may be because Americans are more “expressive”. I then told her that in China usually even holding hands happens after two people declare a relationship. She was surprised and started chatter. I think one of the most important things she said was,” I think it’s interesting that people have a ‘rule’ in China. In America it’s more like you do your (way) I do my (way).”
As I ponder, I found that is really the case. People can be really different and really unique here. Because here they have more respect for the individual difference. However, in China, probably because of the collective consciousness, we are more likely to do what most people do. We are less likely to stand out to be different. Because you fear others may see you as a ‘weird’ person. Though this is a universal fear, I guess it is because Americans are raised up to express themselves, so they are more open-minded to differences and varieties. While in China, I think everyone has been taught at least several times to “hide your feelings”, because sometimes directly pointing them out can be hurtful, impolite or indecent. I think caring about decency is the most important reason, because even if we are very happy, we sometimes try and look calm. That is why we found the facial expressions of Americans to be so exaggerated when we first came here. We feel they are too enthusiastic that we don’t know how to reply. We tend to be not that “crazy” but much milder. It’s our culture that tells us to do so. But gradually I really get to like the “craziness” excitement and enthusiasm here. I guess being expressive just makes me happy too. Hiding inner feelings may be a part of my culture, but it is far from a nature.
And if you let me use one adjective to describe Americans, I would use “Casual but real” Oh sorry that’s two. Why do I think they are casual? Because many things they do seemed weird to me at first, sitting on the ground, walking around bare-foot, walking on the grass, putting their backpack on the floor, wearing slippers and flip-flop around. I guess that all comes from a proverb I saw on the whiteboard on my neighbor’s door—-“Be the person who your dog thinks you are.” That is my favorite sentence this week.