Georgetown and the many Chinese universities with which it has partnered over the past few years have more separating them than just 7,000 miles and a 14-hour flight. For Georgetown students studying abroad in China and for Chinese students and scholars studying here, the cultural and academic differences are palpable.

These differences come despite several changes in the past few decades, in which Chinese higher education institutions have begun resembling those in the West more and more. Julie Meng, a Chinese University of Hong Kong student who studied at Georgetown in the fall of 2006, said that from an early age, Chinese students are taught that Western assimilation holds the key to economic progress, most noticeable through the compulsory English language instruction from an early age.

As a populous country and blossoming economic power, Meng said China “cannot be ignored.” Georgetown has not disagreed, especially through its recent partnership with Fudan University in Shanghai and other outreach programs; but still, oceans apart, Georgetown students studying abroad in China and Chinese students studying on the Hilltop have noticed marked cultural and academic differences.

Inside the Classroom

The difference between the classroom environment at Chinese educational institutions and the environment at Georgetown runs much deeper than just the spoken language.

Meng said that professors usually have a dominating presence in classes at her university in China, but that at Georgetown, she witnessed greater interaction between students and professors.

Kristina Lorr (SFS ’09), who is studying abroad at East China Normal University, agreed. “I have noticed that in general, Chinese professors have a different teaching style in which there is less classroom debate and more just straight lecturing,” she said.

Summer Zhang, a CUHK student spending the semester at Georgetown, also noted that the grading is stricter in Hong Kong, where “no more than 5 percent of people in one class can finally get A’s.”

The students also said that they noticed a marked difference in study habits between American and Chinese students. “Chinese students are famous [for being] hard-working,” Meng said.

And Zhang affirmed that Chinese students continue displayed a strong work ethic during college, saying that she thinks Chinese students “pay more attention to their studies and work much harder” than American students. Chinese students typically enroll in six courses, compared to the normal four or five at Georgetown.

Regardless of the classroom differences and miles between China and Washington, D.C., Chinese students still share the same career-oriented attitudes towards the future that Georgetown students value, said Cathy Li (SFS ’09). “[Chinese students] view school as a stepping stone to work and don’t really seem to enjoy the work itself,” she said. “I think they view post-graduation life very similarly to how [Georgetown] students approach it. Everyone wants to work for a prestigious firm in the city and earn lots of money.”

Life Around Campus

For Meng, social life is one of the greatest differences between life at her university in China and at Georgetown. “We don’t have a lot of `parties,'” she said. “We may have birthday parties or informal gatherings between friends – but usually, no alcohol.”

Lorr agreed, saying that while students at ECNU participate in sports teams and other extracurricular activities, she has “noticed that there is less of a party scene on the campus.”

She said that CUHK offers many extracurricular activities but that these do not compare to those at Georgetown. “Personally, I think the opportunities at Georgetown are more attractive. Hoyas have so many creative ideas,” she said.

Zhang added that she appreciates the abundant school spirit Georgetown students exhibit. “I love the atmosphere.. All students here adore the `Hoya’ spirit.”

Besides this Hoya spirit, Chinese students also gush over the facilities at Georgetown. Zhang raved about Georgetown’s 24-hour library, its large gymnasium, public computers and wireless Internet availability. Li said that the Chinese dorms “are the size of a Georgetown dorm but are also very dim, dirty and house 6-8 students in bunk beds. The electronics rarely work.”

Americans know how to enjoy their lives, stressed Zhang, whereas familial, cultural and work pressures prevent the Chinese from doing the same. “[The Chinese] consider a lot about their next generation and can not enjoy their own lives.”

The differences continue to abound as Georgetown students explore off-campus life in China. Li traveled to the Shaanxi Province, spending an evening at a rural village home. “There was no heating and no running water, and from 7:30 p.m. on, there was absolutely nothing to do except try to stay warm. Living in that kind of environment was certainly very eye-opening, especially since I am used to the fast-paced lifestyle in Shanghai and D.C.”

For Georgetown students studying abroad in China, life under communist leadership has meant restricted activities. “I think the most noticeable difference in daily life is the Iinternet censorship. I miss Wikipedia!” Lorr said.

A `Result-Oriented’ Culture

For the past few decades, the Chinese government has taken several actions to make education a greater priority, doubling the percentage of its population pursuing higher education and starting partnerships with Western universities such as Georgetown, University President John J. DeGioia said in a meeting with faculty members at the beginning of the year.

At the same time, Li said she would like to see more. “I understand that the Chinese government has many issues that are much more pressing, such as environmental protection and high under- [or] unemployment,” she said. “However, increasing support for education would solve many of these problems, so I believe the Chinese government should place it as a higher priority.”

Zhang said that insufficient funding, in addition to a lack of world-class faculty, is holding China back from establishing world-class universities.

While she feels the Chinese educational system is improving, eng said the Chinese culture is detrimental to the Chinese college experience. “People may concentrate on relationship and network building . instead of academic performance,” she complained. “They are result-oriented.”

Kari Chong (MSB ’09), who is studying abroad at CUHK, echoed that sentiment.

“There are only seven main universities in Hong Kong and only students who tested well in high school are able to attend these universities. However, once students are admitted to universities, they are often more concerned [with] their work experience they gain during this time period to find jobs. This differs from students in the United States who focus on both good grades and on gaining work experience,” Chong said.

Meng attributed this attitude to parental influence. She contrasted Chinese parents’ focus on their children’s exam scores with American parents’ comparatively greater interest in personality development. American parents, she said, allow their children to choose their own career paths, while Chinese parents exert more influence over their children’s job choices.

“Chinese parents are extremely anxious about their kids’ education,” Li said. “They understand that the job market is extremely competitive, and they want their kids to do well.”

Doctoral Perspectives

Georgetown can now reap additional benefits from the university’s partnership with Chinese universities. The China Scholarship Council-Georgetown University Fellowship Program established in May 2006, has allowed eight PhD-holding employees at Chinese universities to come to Georgetown from August to May of next year for one year to collaborate with Georgetown researchers in multi-varied disciplines.

Additional scholars will come to Georgetown for the spring semester, according to Tuoya Wulan, program manager of the office of international initiatives.

Fatang Tan of the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, who is currently working to advance the use of cheap electrocatalysts for fuel cells in the chemistry department, and Zhang Yi of Fudan University, who is researching voting behavior in the American studies program, offered their reflections on the research program and their experiences at Georgetown.

After residing at Georgetown for almost two months, the two doctors had very different impressions of the United States. Tan got the impression that Americans waste their resources immensely, while Yi has taken note of American society’s enthusiasm and openness for diversity.

“Georgetown University has a very long history and has . good locations, which make the research very helpful,” Yi said.

Many said they hope this relationship will prove lucrative, especially as China’s power grows worldwide. “China will play an important role in the world,” Yi said.

And Tan agreed. “You … can feel it.”

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