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September 29, 2010

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Are Chinese students ready to study abroad?

WITH over 2,300 institutions granting four-year degrees and more than 1,800 two-year colleges, the United States has more colleges and universities than the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa combined.

The UK has history and tradition; Canada boasts the opportunity to experience all four seasons and lower tuition costs; Australia, New Zealand and South Africa offer quality universities flavored with new world luxury. But when it comes to sheer quantity and diversity, America has it all.

With the Ivy League, a range of low-cost community colleges, schools in warm weather vacation spots (like California and Florida) and quality institutions in exotic locales (such as Alaska and Hawaii), it is easy to see why the US is still the destination of choice for young Chinese hoping to study abroad. The question is: Are they ready?

In Shanghai, it is easy to spot uniformed children coming home from cram-schools late in the evening. While academically savvy and hardened by the age of 18, are the approximately 100,000 Chinese students that will descend on American college campuses this fall socially prepared? Coming from a country where most children do not have siblings, where the culture values academic development over social flowering, one could argue that they are not.

A major part of the college experience in America involves social networking. The connections you make with other young people, professors, or while doing a part-time job are likely to have career implications.

Building a web of connections in our rapidly globalizing society has never been more important.

What can be done? This is not an easy question; nor is it really the place of a sole American to propose a solution, however important the question is in 21st century China. Nevertheless, I am compelled to offer a few ideas that might be helpful.

Encourage children from a young age to develop a balanced social life. As Mark Twain famously uttered: "I've never let school get in the way of my education."

Encourage your children to learn from everything, to question things and to learn from the answers they find. A large part of the US college experience is learning through doing. From discovering campus social groups and museums, to enjoying a sporting event, or even the random party, opportunities for cultural learning are abundant on campuses in America. These experiences should be seized.

Help young people develop self-discipline. When authority is present, Chinese students behave, and behave well. When authority is absent, their behavior changes. American college campuses are ripe with temptations, and college professors will not waste time tracking down a student who hasn't submitted an assignment.

Teach students to handle criticism, or the ability to absorb and grow from criticism. American students and teachers have a habit of being direct and opinionated. This can be misread by a Chinese student as an affront on one's reputation. In fact, the opposite is true. Aptly toned criticism is a gift in the US, and is believed to help one grow.

In the end, it's about happiness, cooperation and understanding. For Chinese learners hoping to succeed in America, emotional well-being matters. What is more, an outgoing Chinese student who can absorb and grow from critical feedback is going to get the most of their experience abroad.


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