VIDEO: Why do Chinese students come to American colleges, universities?

The BBC posted this video in June. Chinese students at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign explain why they prefer to study in the USA. The main reason: they can study what they want. In China, your major is pre-selected for you, based on your performance on the college entrance exam (gaokao). High school students list five preferred majors on their exams, and the exam section with the highest score determines which of the five possibilities is assigned. So, this is why I’ve had students who prefer physics and math, but ended up being Business English majors. Their gaokao scores on the physics and math sections were too low. Parents are also fed up with the Chinese gaokao system. If they have enough money, they will send their children abroad for their university education, sparing those kids three years of intense, high pressure preparation for the gaokao. You can read more at the BBC.

Beijing fashion comes to Jishou

Beijing fashion comes to Jishou
Over the summer, trendy Beijingers were spotted about town sporting plastic sprouts and flowers clipped to their hair. No special meaning. Just a fun thing. My first sighting of this latest fashion statement was last week, when one of my sophomores, Astrid Q (pictured), wore one to class. “Stylish!” I said. Astrid Q hails from Hengyang, the second-largest city in Hunan. Her goal is to attend graduate school, preferably in the UK or the USA. Her English is already pretty good. The Q in her name is to distinguish her from another student, Astrid R, who is from Inner Mongolia. Both Astrids came to Jishou U with their English names already chosen, and by chance, they have the same surname, Zhao, and the same first initial. Not wanting to force them into new English names, I used their second given names for their initials. I will admit to thinking of Maggie Q at the time.

RIP Carla Wu 吴双 1

RIP Carla Wu 吴双
It is with great sorrow I report the passing of my dear friend and student, Carla Wu (吴双 Wu Shuang), on June 10, at the tender age of 25. Carla was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in the summer of 2013, after feeling sharp pains in her left thigh. She underwent surgery and had chemotherapy over several months, and was feeling well enough to get married in January this year. But the pain in her leg came back, and soon she was complaining of lower back pain as well, by late February. Doctors said the cancer had spread to her kidneys. Because she was pregnant, they postponed any aggressive treatment, hoping the baby could be born first. Sadly, she lost the baby (a boy) in April, and subsequent chemotherapy proved to be ineffective. She died peacefully surrounded by her family just a few days ago. Her husband told me the news tonight. I am of course very sad. Shuang Shuang (her nickname) was one of the first students I had in China; she entered Jishou University in 2008 as an English education major. A shy girl, she was not very confident of her speaking ability in English, and so we had few ...

The class trip to Chongqing

The class trip to Chongqing
CHONGQING– It’s a little late in coming, but here’s a rundown on the trip in late April with the junior class. Each year, students are expected to go on a “practical experience” trip, which is essentially the equivalent of an American spring break trip, but with a couple of teachers along. In the past, students could choose from several destinations, such as Hainan, Guilin/Yangshuo, Beihai, Chongqing, Beijing, and even Fenghuang for those pressed for cash. This year, however, all 150 or so juniors for the College of International Communications went together on a three-day trip to Chongqing. The journey included visits to two factories, one in Jishou and the other in Chongqing. I suppose the national education bureau wants these “practical experiences” to have some kind of relationship to the students’ major and just not be a frivolous trip. As before, though, the students have to write reports on their experiences, so no matter what, the trips were still part of the curriculum. Good thing none of us Americans are required to report on our spring break junkets. Hoo boy! We left on Monday morning (April 2) on three chartered buses. Our first stop was a manganese processing facility about ...

Guest blogger Will Tang: The benefits of Chinese kungfu 2

Guest blogger Will Tang: The benefits of Chinese kungfu
studentChinese kungfu has a very long history. During the last 5,000 years of China’s history, there have been many people who are good at Chinese kungfu, such as 张三丰 (Zhang Sanfeng),李小龙 (Li XiaoLong – Bruce Lee), 李连杰 (Li LianJie – Jet Li), 成龙 (Cheng Long – Jackie Chan),甄子丹 (Yen ZiDan – Donnie Yen), to name a few. When I was a child, I watched Bruce’s movies and every day wondered, “When will it be my turn to do that?” My Dad told me with a laugh, “Do you know how many Bruce Lees there are in the world? One! Only one!” I know that he wished that I live a peaceful life – grow up smoothly, find a good job, get married and bring up children. However, I have my dream to become the dragon (龙 means dragon in Chinese) like Bruce Lee who was great at kungfu. As the old saying goes, “The one who knows a son the best is his father.” “Hey, son! Why do you insist on learning kungfu?” my dad asked me once. “I want to be a famous kungfu star!” “No, it’s not that! Be sensible, please!” “Um, I want to be a stronger ...

A fat raise, a countryside wedding, English speaking contest time, an upcoming trip

A fat raise, a countryside wedding, English speaking contest time, an upcoming trip
JISHOU, HUNAN — April has turned out to be a very busy month, so I’ve been lax in posting here. Here’s a lame attempt at catching up. Three weeks ago, the slow leak in the bathroom that I’ve put up with for a year started to become a fast leak, so I told my foreign affairs officer, Sue, about it. She arranged for a repairman to come fix it, and by the way asked if I would extend my contract another year. In fact, I’d been considering this question myself since the start of the winter holiday in January. This is my seventh year in Jishou, and while my pay got a generous boost last year, it’s still below what I could make elsewhere in Hunan, much less almost anywhere else in China. You see, I’d been combing the ESL job boards to see what was available and at what pay level during the winter holiday. Competing with the purely mercenary aspect of work were two other factors. One, I really hate moving. Not that I have a lot to move, but the hassles of changing banks, addresses, etc., is not something I really enjoy doing unless it’s absolutely necessary. ...

An update on my former student, Carla Wu

An update on my former student, Carla Wu
JISHOU, HUNAN — I’ve been holding off on posting about Carla Wu Shuang until I was sure of what was going on. And I’m sorry to say, it’s not good news. When I last posted about Carla, it was all good news. Her cancer seemed to be in remission, and she and her fiancé went ahead with their wedding plans and held the ceremonies in his hometown on January 1. They held similar festivities in Carla’s hometown of Yueyang in February, after the Chinese New Year. By then, Carla was already two months pregnant. But Carla told me in February her leg was bothering her, and she was feeling weaker than before. Last month, she consulted with her doctors. They gave her some grim news. The osteosarcoma in her thigh had returned, and there was little they could do without jeopardizing her baby. On Tuesday, she told me she was now suffering from terrible backaches, as well. Doctors this time told her the cancer had probably spread to her kidneys, and now the choice was even more grim. For her to survive, they would have to terminate the pregnancy. I have not heard from her since Tuesday, so I can’t ...

After more than a decade, we meet again … in China

After more than a decade, we meet again ... in China
CHANGSHA, HUNAN — Maybe some Cold Spring Harbor High School alums — and maybe a few Princeton ones, too — will recognize the man on the left. He’s Bill Shain, who taught American history at CSHHS in the 1970s, then went on to serve in the Princeton admissions office. And he was in Changsha (of all places) last month, as part of a whirlwind professional gig touring China. We met there, and were joined by one of my own students, Helen Xiao, who is a graduate student in Changsha, for dinner and drinks on a Sunday evening. Student, teacher and teacher’s teacher. Rather poetic, no? Bill was in China last year, traveling with representatives of the Kitebridge program, but our mutual schedules did not allow a rendezvous. This time, they passed through Changsha, which is just five hours from Jishou. So, I asked for leave from my Monday classes and took the bus there on a Sunday morning. Kitebridge arranges for Chinese junior high school students to attend one of several American private high schools. Bill consults with schools and such on the American college admissions process, so Kitebridge retained him as an expert. He says his role in China ...

The first stage of The China Chronicles is almost finished

The first stage of The China Chronicles is almost finished
For the last several weeks, aside from my travel time, I’ve been working on pulling all my China posts from the last seven years into WordPress pages, to make finding and reading them more easy. The eventual goal is to turn them into a book of some kind. Here’s the introduction to what I’m calling The China Chronicles for now. You can also find the links to it and the chapters following in the righthand sidebar. This is a work in progress, so please excuse the rough edges.

Guest blogger 2: Trans Li — “To be an elite”

Guest blogger 2: Trans Li --
Our latest student blogger is another graduating senior, Li DongLing 李冬凌. Her English name is Trans, which is short for “translator,” her dream job. Her hometown is near the city of Changde, about three hours from here. She’s been my student since 2011. Trans is now interning in Shenzhen for an automotive tool-and-die factory. To be an elite The truth is, I am not an elite yet, and there is quite a long, hard journey ahead for me to reach that point, but I swear to be an elite in the future. It is a lifelong promise to myself. I am an ordinary girl without special talents, who comes from a small village. But looking back, life has never treated me as an ordinary girl since I was born. I dare not say I have been through many bitter and hard things. I only can say each thing that has happened to me has made me stronger and more mature. It is common to see people defeated by all kinds of troubles, and certainly I have met many troubles, too. The key for me surviving these troubles — even failures — is my own belief. I am an English major ...

Guest blogger: Will Tang – “Something about my family”

Guest blogger: Will Tang -
As the school term ended, I invited my students and other QQ followers to write something for this blog. The topics are theirs. All I have done is clean up their grammar and spelling. First to submit something was Will Tang XiongLue 唐雄略, who graduates in June this year. Will and I were both teachers at a friend’s kindergarten last year, and he’s also been my student for three years. Something about My Family I was born in 1991 in Yongzhou, which is located in the south of Hunan province. Until I was 7 years old, I lived in a beautiful country village named 毛坪里(Mao ping li). It’s a small place in Yongzhou. My grandfather had told me that 毛坪里 was a desolate place full of weeds a hundred years ago. (That was during Qing dynasty in China history.) Then three young brothers came there, worked the land, built houses, and married with women from the nearby villages. They are my ancestors. My father is a middle school teacher in town. Grandfather told me that he had experienced a lot of hardship and suffered lots of pain in order to attend school. When father was 9 years old (It was ...

Chance encounters, once again

JISHOU, HUNAN — Last week, one of my students told me she chose to be an English major because, as a high school student, she had been eavesdropping on a conversation I was having with a college student. It was a chance encounter that I didn’t even know had happened until she told me about it a few days ago over lunch. In 2011 I was in Yongshun, a small city within the Xiangxi Autonomous Prefecture, to help lead an English teaching workshop for area middle school teachers. While I don’t clearly remember which of my students I was with, apparently we were having some deep conversation while walking along the street. Behind us, unbeknownst to us, listening very carefully, was a high school girl — we’ll call her Jade. Jade at the time was entering her last year at Yongshun No. 1 Middle School. It’s a critical year for students, as they approach two seminal events in their lives: taking the college entrance exam (高考 gaokao) and choosing their college major. Like many high school seniors, Jade had had no clue what she wanted to study in college. That changed as she followed us around. Last week, she told ...
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