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Handbook for Prospective Chinese students

melal's picture

Something I want to say about my project:

According to The China Conundrum published on New York Times, the number of Chinese undergraduates in the United States has tripled in just three years, to 40,000, making Chinese students the largest group of foreign students at American colleges, and the number is still increasing. For most Chinese people, “an overseas student in America” is a “classed” word—the stereotypes for students who are able to study aboard in the US are usually well born, talented and ambitious. As part of this ‘divine’ group, I want to speak for ourselves by using an entertaining way. Therefore I made my project a guidebook for those who have a dream of studying abroad in America, or those who are going to do so, and try to tell them that actually being a Chinese student in America is definitely not easy. Behind the fancy label “overseas student in the US”, is life full of challenges caused by cultural differences and academic pressure.


“You are going to college?”


“Which one?”

“Oh actually I am going to study abroad in the US.”

Usually, at this moment the person who asks you questions will give you an expression of appreciation, and say: “Wow overseas student in America! You must be really smart and intelligent!”

And you will give him back a confident smile, and reply modestly: “Thanks.”

Has situation like this ever happen to you guys? When I was in China, such conversations happened to me a lot. “Overseas student in America” for most Chinese people, is almost a divine word. There are two assumptions lying behind: 1. You are WELL BORN. Even with financial aid from colleges, it still costs a lot in order to get prep courses for standard tests such as SAT and TOEFL.

2. You must be INTELLIGENT and AMBITIOUS to in order to be admitted by colleges of the best country in the world (well, we will talk about the accuracy of this definition later).

I’m sure you must be pretty happy that you are going to own this magical identity soon —at least I was—an overseas student in America! Can’t wait for letting people know you are a student who is going to study abroad in the US? Here are some suggestions you may find helpful:


  1. Walk around in clothes of Abercrombie &Fitch, Hollister, Urban Outfitters or Gap. You may not be able to find these brands in China, maybe you can let your friends who has already in the US buy some and send it to you.
  2. When you talk with your Chinese friends in Chinese, try to include some English words. For example, you can say “会议cancel了”(The meeting is cancelled) instead of saying the whole sentence in Chinese. If you can add “Oh God!” “geeeez” or “awwww” to express your emotion, then it will work better.
  3. Get tanning. People never get satisfied with their outlook. Asian girls always try to make ourselves look whiter, but obviously American girls are already white enough, all they want to do is get themselves darker skin.
  4. No matter how cold the weather is, always drink cold water with ice.
  5. Try to write fat and round English letters, because almost all of them write in this way for some unknown reason. However, most Chinese students write English letters in slim way.
  6. Check Facebook constantly when you are with people and introduce videos from Youtube to your friends.
  7. Party a lot. Well, I don’t think it is necessary to give any explanation about this.
  8. Give tips when someone in restaurant serves you. Almost nobody does this in China, but almost everybody knows that American people do this.
  9. Ask people how much calories contain in certain kind of food. They have nutrition facts on wraps of almost every kind of food, but we don’t.
  10. Use three holes folders for your documents.

 Now I believe you know more about the feeling of being a member of us. But before you get on the plane and start your brand-new life in the country that always appears in your dream, you’d better check out the next part.


  1. Please eat as much Chinese food as you can. Get rid of pizza, pasta, scramble eggs and pancakes, because you will find that they just occupy your life after you come here.
  2. Think you are independent enough therefore won’t get homesick after leaving home? It’s not true!! You will have A LOT of chance to know the taste of homesickness. Trust me.
  3. Spend more time with your parents and friends. You will find out how important they are and how much you rely on them soon. And also, bring some pictures about your parents and friends with you.
  4. Don’t expect your American fellow students know as much about our country as we do to the USA. They just don’t pay much attention to other countries, even though they still owe us a lot of money.
  5. Take bus/subway as many times as you can and experience the privilege of being able to go wherever you want without driving a car. Their public transportation system is much worse than ours. Oh, my bad, actually what they have cannot be defined as a “system”.
  6. Please try to improve your English by watching American movies/drams/TV shows. Maybe you think your English is good enough, but when you are surrounded by native English speakers and almost all of them talk about TV shows in a extremely fast speed with idioms you’ve never heard of, you will just want to run away.
  7. Please download some traditional Chinese music into your IPod. All you can find here are loud dancing music with strange names such as ‘Move Like a Jagger’ or ‘Like a g6’. What do these name actually mean? Sorry, I really don’t know.
  8. It’s true that you will not have as many exams here as you do in China, but it doesn’t mean that life is chill. becasue of language barriers, it takes much longer for you to get your homework done than American students.
  9. Spend some time finding out exact meaning of “INDIVIDUALISM”. 
  10. Appreciate and cherish everything that connects you with CHINA.

Different than you thought? Want to learn more about my life here? Okay, I will tell you my experience by using two symbols.

!   “Here I am in America!” I said to myself after getting off the plane. Though I've imagined so many times about how I would feel about being in America, when it really came to reality, I still could not stay calm. Life was like an exclamation mark: I was excited about everything in the country. Strangers I come across on streets smile to me! Our campus is so beautiful! Food in the dining hall is delicious! Wifi is everywhere! People save doors for me! A lot of greens! Everyone lives in big beautiful house! Professors are so accessible and helpful! Almost everything can be bought online conveniently! People always wait in line! ….

Sounds great, huh? However, I gotta tell you things became harder as I realized that I must work to adjust the new culture. Life was stressful a strong sense of dislocation took over me. Though now I’ve become more comfortable living in a new environment, I began to question myself about my choice of studying abroad in the US.

? Would it be better if I had stay in china for my college education? I used to spend so much time with my friends, why all I want to do is have my breakfast as fast as I can and go to the library? How hard I need work in order to stand out from my American peers and get a job? What if I end up being in a grey zone where I belong to neither China nor America? Why making friends suddenly become so hard? I got what I want—becoming an overseas student in America—what’s wrong with me?


Feeling pretty upset after reading all of this? I don’t mean to discourage you. Just want to let you guys know—being an overseas student in America is harder than you think. However, when you finally go through all the ups and downs, you will find a brand-new self: brave, confident, mature, and responsible. Though I don’t know how to answer some of the questions above, I’m glad that many things happened here make me rethink about my life. Living thousands of miles away from home, I stepped out of my previous secure bubble, becoming more mature and independent. I know my experience here will be a great treasure fro my entire life, because it offers me an opportunity to grow up, to be strong, to know more about myself.


Ready to get on your plane? Great, welcome to the United States of America!  


Anne Dalke's picture

the taste of homesickness

You've already gotten a number of kudos for this creative and clever--but also powerful and poignant--essay. A good deal of its power comes from your knowing your audience, and knowing yourself, and from your being willing to testify to the complex truth of your experience--exhilerating and exhausting, exasperating and full of exclamation points! As Freckles93 observes, being able, as an American, to "listen in" on your conversation to Chinese students was a real eye-opener, enabling us to see ourselves as others see us....

and hopefully to change some of our behaviors (not to mention those so-called "systems," like our sorry public transportation)!

Chandrea's picture

"Don’t expect your American

"Don’t expect your American fellow students know as much about our country as we do to the USA. They just don’t pay much attention to other countries, even though they still owe us a lot of money."

This post was hilarious. It felt like you were the little voice in my head as I tried to navigate through the airport as an international student. I even found myself feeling nervous and anxious. And I've always wondered how international students can manage to pull themselves together while I'm whining about missing my mom's food. My family is a few states away from here and I'm constantly counting down the days until I go home again. But you're all so far away from home, and sometimes you don't even go home for break! I don't know how you do it.

S. Yaeger's picture

I really love this too!  It

I really love this too!  It helped me understand a little better how it must feel to be so far away from home, and to have to learn a whole new set of social norms and cultural customs while studying for your courses. Even though it is directed at Chinese students, it's a really powerful statement to me as an Amercian student.   I laughed out loud at your description of the song titles because I actually have no idea what they mean as well.  One thing that stood out to me was your discussion of tipping customs here.  I have always been interested in international tipping customs because I have worked for tips for a long time.  Did you know that American waiters and waitresses make far less than minimum wage because it is expected that they will be tipped?  I thought that was how it was everywhere, but I am learning that this is actually pretty unique to the U.S.  I also really love the way you express your frustration at the rudeness of people checking their facebook pages while hanging out.  This is really awesome.

HSBurke's picture

Ellen, I REALLY love this! It

Ellen, I REALLY love this! It made me think so much about myself and my own actions, and I love how it allowed me to do this even though you were writing to Chinese students. Also, the format is really creative and effective.