My American journey
When I was seven years old, my first impression of America was that it was a “Country of Chocolate.” The reason for that was that I was given an American Chocolate by one of my aunt’s friends who had just returned to China from the U.S. While the adults were talking about the country with such a strong interest, for me, the chocolate represented everything in the world. When I started the fourth grade, I began to learn English in school. Learning English was fun and exciting. So my impression of the U.S. became that it was the Country of Chocolate plus the Country of Fun.
When I turned ten, I was told by one of my mom’s coworkers to begin studying TOEFL, which stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language, in case that I travel to America one day. Since then, my life became a lot busier by joining some extra classes after school. In the beginning, I thought this TOEFL study was just temporary; however, with my parents’ enthusiasm, I finally found out how naive I had been all those years by holding the thought of the U.S. that was made up of only fun and chocolate.
Those days have since melted away and have since been turned into an endless study of English. Time flies. My dream of studying in the U.S. was inspired by what I saw and heard from movies, friends, TV and the internet about easy school, exciting parties, smiling people and funny professors. My curiosity about the U.S. grew within my imagination. In fall of 2009, my dream was finally realized when I took my first steps upon the U.S. soil. All my wonders and all my dreams would finally get an answer.
One of my first experiences in America was the American campus. My school is located in Alabama which is a southern state in America. When I arrived there, Summer was nearing its end but it was still very hot. The first thing I found that school gate was how confident American people are on security by seeing no grand gate in my new campus. In China, most of universities not only have a grand gate as a proud sign of school, but also a modern monitoring system, and security guard who stands guard by the gate of the school. On the contrary, the only sign of the school I saw here was a big stone in grass with the carving the school name in it. Because these differences, I could see how confident of their public safety American schools were. At the same time, I felt that Chinese students are segregated from the surrounding communities. Oppositely, American are open to society as a public institution. The second thing that caught my attention were the squirrels that run all over the campus fields. I was so surprised to see them since squirrels were a very rare sight in everyday life in China (at least in my city). This was something I had no knowledge of before I came here. I salute the U.S. for having a strong acceptance of nature! Also, the grass on the roads and hills brought me really closer to the nice outdoors..
In our university, most of the students are from nearby cities or other southern states so that makes the international students the absolute the minority on campus. What I feel is that most of the American students are not familiar with Chinese students unless they join a Chinese class. Being Chinese, I was asked by many American students all kinds of questions about China. Most of them are very interesting, but they are also limited by their knowledge of China. Since Apple products have flooded the world nowadays, one of questions I was asked by American student was "Do you guys have iPhone in China?" There are some facts about China that I cannot deny, one of them being that you can find many popular elements of the world in China now since the beginning of the 21st Century. I do not want to judge if it is good or not, but as a totally new-opened country, Chinese people have not updated their lives to the culture of others and the wonder of the world for Chinese people is greatly increasing. However, while Chinese are open to see the world includes America, the world seems to know few about China. Does the world close its eyes to China? This was the first time I learned my country from American’s eyes.
In China, we can get to know more about American from Newspaper, magazines, TV, movies, internet, and people who have travelled there. I still remember a lot of American movies such as American Pie, She’s the man, and Sorority Row and so on that depict the American young people’s distinguished lives. Therefore, many Chinese friends asked me if American students have more after school as same as we see from movies. But is it the truth in reality in America campus? From what I see here, the students have to be very seriously to their study since it is not only the future employer would hire one person depends on one’s GPA, but American students also clearly understand the importance of the knowledge would be the factor of a successful career.
Normally, on the freshman year in college, students need to study for about 20 courses from both arts and science as the basic undergraduate education. Before the junior year, students can change their majors according to what they learned about their own interests from the basic classes. So most of American students study for themselves with the interests which is the purpose of American education. However, Chinese students could have more free time during the semester. They do not have to worry about the majors change, quiz or monthly exams which do not exist, but final does really matter. At this point, what Chinese education’s potential target is that students aim to simply pass the test to get their degree and diploma.
When it comes to international students from China in the U.S., a switch from being forced to study to being positive to study with interests could be a small challenge to them. This year is my senior year, and my most feeling of my life is busy. All my classmates and I have not only to study for the quiz or monthly exam, but also to write more than two essays for every course. I always tell my friends in China: if a movie showed people a carnival kind of life in American university, I can tell you that the movie as a way of art is always higher above the real life. In another word, movie could cheat.
I have many professors that have inspired me and left a good impression on me during my time in school. They were young and old, funny and serious, easy and difficult. But all of them were great leaders that motivate their students as they chase their dreams in the road of life. But not all of my studies have gone smoothly during my three years of studying in the U.S. The history professor in my first semester overthrew my original perception that all American professors were very easy. He was a gentleman with gray hair and a gray beard and was as amiable as Santa Claus.
The first time I met him, I was secretly glad inside of my heart:" He must be very kind to grade." But after I received an "F" on my first exam, I found things were far beyond what I thought. The night before the first exam, me, along with three other Chinese students, got together and studied for the exam. We tried the "Divide & Conquer" method in hopes that studying little bits as opposed to the entire material would work. It didn’t. I tried my best to memorize the long answers, however, I still could not get all of them correctly written in English on the test. I then found my hardest part was that I did not understand the text and his speech since I was limited by my English skills. My poor writing also led to a low grade.
“What should I do to pass the class?” I went to talk to the professor.
"To read the text before class and to reread it before test," he suggested.
To overcome my English limitation, I had no choice but to follow what he told me. At that time, his words were like the key to a golden treasure chest for me. In the following days, my life turned horribly busy whenever I would have history test. At the end of the semester, I got a C in this class. I had passed! Though it felt like the end of world while I was preparing for the test, I would later have appreciation for those hard days.
For the second part of History, I once again chose Santa Clause professor’s class in the coming semester. This time I decided not to be too quiet in the class. Gradually, I found my professor was not as cold as I thought. Once I stated my opinion of Lenin which was opposite to the text and his opinion, he did not ignore me but patiently listened to me. Later, he told me that he was actually very glad that I could speak out about my idea. Since then, I had more communication with him after class. Unsurprisingly, I received an A for that semester. From this History class, I concluded that I would have more success if I could make studying as interesting as possible.
If you ask me what how feel about school life in the U.S. , then I would give you one word– bittersweet. However, the other part of studying may be much more than the sweet part. American student always give us the impression of their sweet smile, but there was one in my English class who could be an exception Mr. S. I was recently bothered by his snickering aimed at me in our class. I did not notice until one day I found him giving a weird "smile" to the student who sat beside him as they murmured to each other after I answered a question in class. In the beginning, I would really prefer to take it as a misunderstanding. However, this scene has become more common every time I speak up in class. As a foreign student, I know my speaking English is poor, especially in class when I feel nervous. But I will not let him to let me down. What is my goal to come to the U.S.? Not to practice and improve my English? I of course say YES! Then with this positive thought, is it not possible to overcome that Mr. S who mocks me so casually? I do not think I am the only foreign student who has this experience. Without thinking how I deal with his behavior, there is a problem between some of American people and Chinese people that people from both countries are really limited by each other’s view of these two countries. At this point, improving different culture to American and Chinese students can be a part of education in school.
My American study life is going to be finished in a few months. The U.S. will be one of my stops in my journey of life. With what I learned from here, I will use them for my future career that may fill the gap between two countries. Besides, I also want to tell those who came and will come to study in America: if you meet any problem that is blocked by your English, there is only one person who you need to challenge — yourself. At last, living in another country is not as easy as we learn from the media, but it could be a good try to experience to another culture.
Lynda Lin is an international student studying in the U.S. from China.
In her writing, she shares some of her experience of life in an American