Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Learning Experience of Chinese Students in American Universities: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Learning Experience of Chinese Students in American Universities: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

Article excerpt

This article reports a case study on the cross-cultural learning experiences of two Chinese students in American universities. It described their experiences in the following areas: motivations for learning, frustrations and satisfactions, strategies used to cope with language inefficiency, assumptions of the impact of their learning on their lives, and awareness of cultural differences in classroom and daily life. The study identified the differences in culture, language, and social and political system between China and the United States as the major sources for these students' positive and negative experiences. It also pointed out that educators can assist these students by becoming aware of their home culture, different learning styles, frustrations in adjusting to school life and in overcoming cultural shocks; and by helping them adjust to American educational system and learn about the American culture.

Introduction

This article addresses the issue of how to meet the challenges of diversity in our education system and how to help students with different home cultural backgrounds to become successful learners. Researchers seem to agree with each other that when there is less cultural dissonance, there is more learning taking place (Bennett, 1995). However, there is a great need for more studies on how to help students with different home cultural backgrounds to become successful learners. This qualitative research examined the learning experience of two international students with a Chinese home background, who tried to adjust to the life and culture in a major university within the United States.

Significance of the Study

At the very beginning of the new century, we are ever reminded of the dramatic shifts in population of the United States. These rapid changes in the population are affecting the demographics of the schools in this country. "In 1976, for example, 24 percent of the total school enrollment in U.S. schools was nonwhite. In 1984, this percentage increased to 29 percent. By the year 2000, people of color comprise one-third of all students enrolled in public schools, and authorities project that by 2020, they will comprise 46 percent of the school population" (Diamond, 1995, p.3). Undoubtedly, this change will require that our educators be prepared to teach students who are racially, linguistically, and culturally different from themselves.

Since the early 1980's, thousands of students from China came to study in universities in the United States. There are approximately forty thousand students from China studying in the United States now (Feng, 1991). These students came from a country that is so far away from the United States in distance, culture, political system, and language. "Culture shock" becomes inevitable. It requires efforts from both the students from China and American educators to make these students' learning experience successful and fulfilling.

It is claimed that students from different cultures learn in different ways, and that they differ in cognitive styles, self-expression and communication styles (Bennett, 1995). Thus, the understanding of Chinese students' cultural background, learning experiences and styles by American educators, and the understanding of American society, culture and educational systems by these Chinese students will all contribute to their success in learning.

Review of Related Studies

Studies on international students' learning experiences and their adaptations to the U.S. educational system have been conducted from the perspectives of school personnel, intercultural learning patterns, international students as a whole, and individual groups.

Culture is defined as the sum of total ways of living, including values, beliefs, aesthetic standards, linguistic expression, patterns of thinking, behavioral norms, and styles of communication which a group of people has developed to assure its survival in a particular physical and human environment (Pusch, 1979). …

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