Since I have now had the opportunity to live in China I have identified some very noticeable differences between American and Chinese students. One week while there I had a chance to attend a coffee hour in which we sat round table style talking to Chinese students from all over China about what it is like to live here in Beijing. Some of these students were still in high school and some of them had already been accepted into universities in the United States and planned on attending school there. It was a very interesting environment to experience because it was a chance for them to speak freely and to ask us questions on what it would be like to live in America as well. After having this talk with them I left noticing that we had some things in common but at the same time there were also some very noticeable differences.
One very interesting topic Chinese students at my table talked about was where they go to school and they were all very interested in hearing where we, American students, attended school. At first this confused me because I was unsure they would know what the University of Michigan even was and where it is located. However, after a few minutes of talking about this it began to make sense. Even though China has its own universities I found that most of the students at the table preferred to go to an American university. This led me to ask the Chinese students this question, “Why did you choose to attend school in American rather than go to school in your own country?” Their responses were all very similar and it usually had to do with wanting to get a better education. Most of the people at my table were female Chinese students, who believed that in America they would have more opportunities. I would tend to agree with their answers because from what I have learned so far from being here in China most women here still make less than the average male does in the same exact position. So to me this would be a no brainer, especially if they got a lot of scholarship money to help compensate for the more expensive environment the students would be entering. The students who told me that they weren’t going to America for school usually said it was for reasons they couldn’t control: they don’t have enough money, maybe they didn’t pass the entrance exam, and some just said they wanted to stay close to home. I think that from the ten or so Chinese students I had a chance to talk with though, if they were all presented with the chance to go to America they would because they believe that in America there are more opportunities for them. This is quite different from American students, however, because most of us don’t choose to study abroad for all four years, most American students choose to go to school in the states and if they don’t they choose to go places like the UK or Canada. This led me to ask myself this question, “Is China’s inequality gap really still large enough to push incoming college students to study abroad instead of at home?” On the surface most Americans would say no because they see how bustling the economy is and would never believe that students would choose to move away from it. However, I think that from talking to the students I have begun to realize that even though the economy is doing well here it still doesn’t leave women with good odds of finding a job they want and getting paid fairly for the work that they do.
Overall, I think that the coffee hour was a great way to meet a lot of Chinese students and to hear their opinions on many topics that are debated constantly in the United States. I think that after this talk I have really begun to see that the preconceived notions I had about China were wrong. After going through this experience I really think that I need to be more like Peter Hessler in the sense that I felt like he always took on new experiences and did so without judging others even though they were judging him for being a foreigner. He was always able to dig deep and ask the hard questions and that is something I strive to be able to do. I wanted to learn about China but not just on the surface, I wanted to go back to America and be able to tell everyone what China is really like. To each his own, right?