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My experience in America

One Chinese international student's experience

By LINGWEN QI / VN Special Columnist
On September 9, 2014

Like many Chinese students, I finally decided to come to the U.S. to continue my higher education when I was an 18-year-old high school graduate.

Before I decided to come this “sounds familiar and looks unfamiliar” country, I had a ton of choices for studying abroad.

There were English-speaking countries, such as Britain, Australia and New Zealand, as well as others with different languages, like Sweden, Germany and fellow European countries.

What made my final decision to come here?

America was my parents’ advice.

They told me the U.S. provides the best education in the world, and I would learn a lot of innovative things in this great land.

I came to UDM through a Chinese overseas study agent.

At the very beginning, I was very excited about the school in Detroit because I knew of the Motor City, and that GM, Ford and Chryslers’ headquarters were located here.

Additionally, my father drives a Buick, so UDM’s location generated a deep, favorable impression in my heart.

This simplest good feeling guided my choice.

I remember my first day in this land.

Two Chinese were responsible for picking me up at the airport.

One was the first chairman of Chinese Students Association at UDM and another one was a Chinese staff member working with the International Service Office, who has left UDM.

Based on their introduction, I learned that UDM’s location was not where I expected: downtown.

When I arrived, I was a little disappointed by what I saw.

The picture of America that had been set up in my mind was that tall buildings were everywhere and there shouldn’t be rural areas.

I thought UDM would be in a downtown-like area. Nevertheless, this small disappointment didn’t deter my curiosity about studying and living in the U.S.  

UDM doesn’t require any language proficiency test before enrollment in its programs, so most of us started regular academic courses and took an English-as-a-second-language (ESL) test for non-native speakers.

I passed it, and started studying with American Language 2010, focusing on reading, writing and listening training.

During that time, I found that I didn’t really know English, even though I had been studying English in China since I was 14.

I didn’t know grammar, I didn’t know rhetoric and I didn’t know what people were saying about around me.

I felt so depressed until one day, my former advisor in the Communication Studies department, Vivian Dicks, suggested to me that I take ESL courses in the American Language and Cultural Program.

Since my first class in the department, I have fallen more in love with studying English here than studying it in China. I continued studying in this program until 2012. 

The faculty and staff helped me raise my interest in studying English, offered academic suggestions and, most importantly, made me feel at home.

There have been plenty of difficulties in studying in the U.S.

I just graduated in August with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and now I am in the educational administration master’s program.

Still, there is much that remains unknown.

I am still stuck in the culture and language learning process.

As a Chinese student, I believe many of us are working twice as hard as other students to get a B or a C grade in a subject.

From what I have observed with American students, they are definitely hard-working, but I still feel a gap between native students and Chinese students.

The first gap is in language use. This is not just for chatting anymore; it is a tool for learning: How to write a paragraph to make people understand what I am talking about; how to read a text and follow American logic; how to speak properly to demonstrate my ideas. 

I have to admit that I am still lacking the translation ability to speak my ideas explicitly compared to native students or other international students whose countries official language is English.

The second gap to me is critical thinking.

My education is based on a “stuffing”-type education, and this is relevant to my cultural background. So critical thinking in my study is another challenge to me.

In China, I learned dialectical theory, but in America I am learning critical thinking. This strategy of thinking has opened my eyes, and directed me to many different angles for looking at a question or a statement. I enjoy it.

The last gap is that I have less time for socializing.

Because of language fluency, it is very stressful to understand oral expressions from natives because I have no dictionary to look up every single word they say.

Based on that, I have to learn a native-spoken language from many other ways using tangible letters that I can track down, like textbooks, videos and websites. These limited social interactions create lonely feelings for living in another country.

Moreover, I cannot celebrate our cultural festivals as common as I would in China. From my perspective, I think it can be called homesickness.

Still, in the end, I have never regretted studying in the U.S.

I am actually very grateful that I have the chance to study at UDM, because this is the place that has made me the person that I am today: one who knows appreciation, devotion and living positively. 

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