November 12, 2011

Chinese Students & American Universities

Every semester, I’m asked to read a personal statement for a student preparing to study abroad. Or sometimes I’m asked to practice English with a student to prepare for the TOEFL. Each time I read the statements, I try not to correct them too much. I want the statement to be the student’s words and not my own. It’s a difficult task to make the personal statement grammatically correct without rewriting the whole paper. I want to help, but how much am I helping and how much am I hurting.

The New York Times published a feature story about Chinese students attending university in America. It has become a problem. How do American universities select the correct students? What about plagiarism during the application?

Zinch China, a consulting company that advises American colleges and universities about China, last year published a report based on interviews with 250 Beijing high school students bound for the United States, their parents, and a dozen agents and admissions consultants. The company concluded that 90 percent of Chinese applicants submit false recommendations, 70 percent have other people write their personal essays, 50 percent have forged high school transcripts and 10 percent list academic awards and other achievements they did not receive. The “tide of application fraud,” the report predicted, will likely only worsen as more students go to America. 1

It not as simple as falsifying recommendation letters. How can students get a recommendation letter when most of their professors speak only Chinese?

Then once the students arrive on the university campus, the problems can continue. What happens inside the classroom? Should American professors change their teaching method and requirements to meet the needs of the students? Are the students failing exams because they don’t know the material or they just don’t understand the language and vocabulary?

But some professors say they have significantly changed their teaching practices to accommodate the students. During quizzes, Dr. St. Pierre now requires everyone to leave their books at the front of the classroom to prevent cheating, a precaution not taken during any of his two decades at Delaware. And participation counts less, so as not to sink the grades of foreign students. In the past, he required members of the class to give two or three presentations during the semester. Now he might ask them to give one. “I’ve had American students saying they don’t understand what’s being said in the [Chinese students’] presentations,” he says. “It’s painful.” 2

The article continues to describe the bad taste many Chinese students get in America. They are left out of group projects and sometimes ignored by their professors. Then when these Chinese students return to China they become more nationalistic than their counterparts who’ve never traveled to America.3

It is a big deal. I’m faced with this daily as a foreign teacher in China. I’d love to help students by proofing personal statements, practicing English skills, but am I really helping? I sure hope so.

Read the complete article The China Conundrum published by The New York Times.
1 The China Conundrum by Tom Bartlett and Karin Fischer published in The New York Times on November 3, 2011
2 Ibid.
3 The Clash of Civilizations by Jiang Xueqin for The Diplomat on November 8, 2011

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