International Students Feature: China

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

If you aren’t an international student, you most definitely know one. Take any route through campus and you’ll overhear a conversation in another language, turn your head at a phone call you don’t understand, or fail to read a poster full of characters you don’t recognize. In an effort to more deeply understand this large population at Illinois Tech, this International Students Feature will act as a chance for readers to understand how life in other countries differs from life here at Illinois Tech.

This week, three international students from the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) were asked what they thought were the biggest differences between life in the US and in China. Siyu Wang, a graduate student studying marketing, immediately answered, “Lots of things. The food, of course. … China is really about food.” While American food consists of, in her words, “burgers and hot dogs,” Chinese food is much more diverse and has a longer, richer history. However, Wang wasn't too bitter about the drastic diet change. “For me, it’s okay.” Wang continued. “I try lots of different kinds of food. I’m not so typically focused on Chinese food. I like Indian food, actually.” In contrast, Lei Yan, a graduate student studying electrical engineering, doesn’t like the food here as much. “I think Chinese food is better,” Yan confessed. “I can’t adapt to [American food]. It’s very different. Chinese food has so many spices and we can [eat] different food every day …  Chinese food has so many kinds.” Yisu Yuan, a graduate student also studying electrical engineering, agreed with Yan, mentioning that he also did not like the food in America as much. Yuan commented, “America has a lot of food from different cultures. But as for American food, I think it’s only burgers and sandwiches. And also they’re only serving very large sizes.” Yuan continued, saying, “In my family, every time we had a meal, we must have rice. But here, it’s like a lot of meat.” However, Yuan did go on to say that he feels lucky to live so close to Chinatown. Every time he feels homesick, he can easily travel there and enjoy a meal that tastes more like home.

All three students also pointed out differences between school here versus school in China. Before saying anything else, Wang lamented, “Books are really expensive here.” Wang completed her Bachelor’s degree in China and said she was used to buying books for 20 RMB, or three US dollars. Additionally, according to Wang, classes are more lecture-based in China. In America, they are more hands-on and collaborative. “Here, you have more projects,” Wang says. “You have to invite some partners to do it as a team.” Lei Yan commented on the same topic, saying, “Research here [is] different ... [it] is interdisciplinary.” Yan’s major is electrical engineering, yet he says he frequently works with students of different disciplines like computer science. Another difference between schooling in the US and China, according to all three international students, is that there is more pressure on university students in America. While many Americans believe in the stereotype that Chinese students are placed upon more pressure, this is not necessarily true. According to Yuan, the belief that Chinese schools are harder than American ones holds true only for high school. It is very important for Chinese high school students to perform well due to a college entrance exam after graduation that can only be taken once a year. In Yuan’s words, “[High School in China] is hard. It’s really hard … But once you enter university, it’s a lot better. I think the university here has more pressure than in China.”

The most obvious difference between Chinese and American culture is the language. Lei Yan thought that this change, above all else, was the hardest to adjust to. In fact, in Yan’s opinion, the transition between cultures wouldn’t have been difficult if not for the that barrier. According to him, there are many aspects of life that are the same, but the one thing that is most different is language. In Yan’s own words, “Adapting to the life here is a problem of language. If I could speak English well, I could live here very well.”

China and the US are on opposite sites of the globe, and for international students, the differences in culture can be overwhelming. In fact, according to Yuan, “The first year I got here, I thought China and America might be the most different places in the world.” However, understanding the difficulties that international students are facing can make the transition easier, and let others learn about what life is like in a completely different culture.

Next week, look for a International Students Feature on students from the Caribbean!