How hard it is to build a cross-cultural relationship

Ask an admissions director why he has many international students on American campuses, and he will tell you of the value of a cross-cultural friendship: new perspectives and global connections. But for many foreign students in the United States, that’s just not happening.

A study found that nearly 40 percent of international students, especially those in the New York City area, report having no close American friends and wishing they had more meaningful relationships with their American counterparts. Students from China and elsewhere in East Asia are more strongly dissatisfied, and say they are struggling to integrate into the American community.

Michigan State University has 3,715 Chinese students this year, an increase of about 400 from last year.

“The biggest issue right now is just their sheer numbers,” said Peter Briggs, director of Michigan State University’s Office of International Students and Scholars. “They don’t really need to know American students because there’re so many other Chinese students as part of their community here.”

A record 764,321 international students were enrolled at U.S. colleges in the 2011-2012 academic year. The largest proportion of that group — 194,029, or 25.4 percent — was from China, according to the Institute of International Education’s new-released annual report in November.

Walk on most of American campuses, even those which have relatively few international students, and you will find at least a couple of Asian faces sticking together and talking in their own language.

Yu Hu, a public communication major at American University, which has 176 Chinese students enrolled this year, said she still manages to find her Chinese community on campus.

Yu Hu (right) is showing something interesting on Facebook to her Chinese friends after class. Photo by Yiyi Yang.

Yu Hu (right) is showing something interesting on Facebook to her Chinese friends after class. Photo by Yiyi Yang.

“I just feel that it is easy to communicate as we are from the same culture,” Hu said. “Sometimes, I don’t know the appropriate social manner when hanging out with American friends. For example, when going to the party, I am not sure whether it is okay to exchange contacts or not. When I have a plan for field trip, I am not sure whether it is appropriate to ask classmates to join or not since we are not quite familiar with each other.”

The alienation with the American community leads many Chinese students feeling alienated.

Zhuoqing Wu, 22, who studies human resources management at New York University, has been in the States for about three months. He said he feels lonely quite often, but he plays basketball, watches movies at home and chats online with his friends in China.

“I like to hang out with local American people, but I barely know anyone who would hang out with me,” Wu said. “New York is a busy city. Everyone has his own business. If someone is not a close friend of you, he may not be interested in spending time on hanging out with a Chinese guy…because we behave like we are not funny during class.”

Language problems as well as culture differences might be the biggest obstacles. Forty-six percent students in the study blamed an internal factor, such as shyness or poor English-language ability. The bewildering slang and overwhelming talking speed further petrify Chinese students.

“Some Chinese students don’t get their [Americans] points,” Wu said. “For example, we cannot always get their sense of humor…If they talk too fast…or…using some idioms, Chinese students cannot reach what they mean at [in] the first place.”

In China, there is a greater emphasis on social relationships and community ties. These students may be unprepared for American independence and more relaxed attitudes toward friendships.

“I think that we deal differently with relationship,” Hu said.“In America, people are nice. It is easy to make friends. But I find it hard to maintain a relationship,” she said. “It is easy to have a small chat on assignments or something new in life. However, I found that it seems not that easy to go deeper. Everyone is doing their own things and prefers a quite place for themselves to do those assignments alone.”

Chinese student, on the other hand,  prefer to do assignments together, as Hu pointed out. Because it acts like a “friendship incubator” to know each other, promote relationship and discuss possibilities for future dinners, movies or traveling together.

Even for Chinese students who have lots of American friends, American culture is still a mystery to them.

Zhenzhen Li, who is earning her master’s in business at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., says she has more than 100 American friends.

“Actually, I think it is easier to become friends with Americans because they are more independent and less demanding,” Li said. “My definition [of friends] is just [we] can hang out and do some casual talking. I cannot get too close to anybody. I will not feel free.”

Even with so many American friends, Li still doesn’t feel part of the American culture.

“I do not know what exactly is American culture. TV? Sports? Or anything else,” she said. “Well, I cannot understand jokes, which is a problem.”

Both American and Chinese students said they not yet given up trying, despite the challenges they they face.

“America has a really big role to play in the world,” said Elizabeth Fleming, an international politics graduate student at American University. “But that can only be fulfilled by understanding people from other cultures, so by building those relationships early… future leaders will be able to better lead.”

Asking questions is the top choice for both students who are willing to make the effort. Topics regarding family, traditions or sports are among the most popular picks. For men, playing basketball together is another effective way of interacting and “finding common ground.”

Schools also try to provide incubators for cross-culture communication. In the fall of 2010, the Office of International Students and Scholars at Michigan State University established a Chinese leadership team called Project Explore, and hired seven Chinese undergraduate students as an advisory committee to deal with their issues.

One of its most prominent accomplishments is a video it created about intercultural friendship. Two groups of Michigan State undergraduate volunteers have been engaged in a candid conversation about challenges and ways of understanding the complexities of Chinese-American student interactions.

It became a sensation and was used by Voice of America, Purdue University, Ohio State University and Indiana University in some of their training programs.

“The expectations were that it was just a discussion starter,” said Briggs, who had this idea. “It wasn’t a high-level expertise, but we wanted the students to begin the process of consulting and confronting the challenges.”

Briggs says that blaming either side just reinvigorates the challenges. He hopes students will be more persistent.

“The Chinese-American friendship is the most important relationship in the world for a very long time to come. I just think we need to keep working at it,” Briggs said.

Advertisements

Sandy Hits Northeast America, But What is its Impact on Chinese Students?

Flooded Battery Park Tunnel after Hurricane Sandy. Photo searched on Flickr under Creative Commons.

Hurricane Sandy demonstrated its power as it hit the nation’s Northeast Coast Monday and Tuesday, affecting millions in the country’s most densely populated region. The storm changed the coastline of New Jersey and New York, knocked down trees, cut off communication and transportation and left more than 8 million people without electricity Tuesday.

Among them is Jiamin Wang, 23, from Beijing, who is studying Human Resources Management at Pace University in New York City.

“My roommates and I woke up this morning and found there was no electricity and gas in our house,” Wang said.“But we knew it would happen sooner or later, so we were not that surprise.”

The storm made landfall near Atlantic City, N.J., with maximum sustained winds of about 80 miles per hour, and has killed at least 98 people, causing havoc and leaving a moonscape of disarray and debris in New York City and several counties in New Jersey.

A Dodge Durango feels the impact of Hurricane Sandy on Armstrong Avenue in Great Kills, State Island, N.Y. Waters rising 15 feet must of carried this half way up the block. Photo searched on Flickr under Creative Commons.

“There was chaos, and the road around my apartment became rivers when the hurricane arrived,” Wang said. “I’ve never experienced hurricanes in my life, and I called my family and friends immediately.”

The power and gas outage forced Wang to stay at her friend’s house temporarily. With no Internet access, all she could use to reach out the world was her friend’s mobile phone, and the signal was extremely weak.

The tropical storm formed south of Jamaica a week and a half ago and began to cruise north since then, dutifully following the predicted track. Washington, D.C. was also in Sandy’s path. The teeming federal city turned into a ghost town when the federal and state governments and schools closed.

“It was terrible and damaging,” said Peiyue Huang, a public communication graduate at American University (AU).

Huang is from Guangzhong, a city in southeast China where storms and typhoons frequently occur in the summer.

“We don’t have hurricanes in Guangzhou, but to me they’re the same,” Huang said, “It made me feel like I was at home.”

But there was one thing that Huang felt different: the school alert.

“I appreciated [the] AU alert,” she said. “It was very comprehensive and updated, from the hours of library, shuttles, to cafes. I don’t remember schools in Guangzhou … as thoughtful as those in the States.”

In fact, the hurricane here made some Chinese students start to compare the different handling methods between the two countries.

Cars submerged in floodwaters around a residential block after heavy rains in Beijing on July 21, 2012. Photo by Ching Chin/EPA

Last July in Beijing, urban areas were hit with an average of nearly nine inches of rain over 16 hours — the heaviest the Chinese capital has seen in six decades, according to the Xinhua news agency. Seventy-seven people were killed by drowning, electrocution, lightning and collapsed structures. The storm stranded cars and buses and turned the city into lakes of waist-deep water.

“The rain was pouring down, and everybody was running and trying to find a place to hide or get a cab,” said Dongyu Li, a student from Beijing. “But it was extremely hard.”

Li went to a concert with her boyfriend on that day despite the storm.

Li said she didn’t want to waste her ticket. “I didn’t get any alerts saying that the rain would be so devastating,” she said. “All I knew from the weather forecast was there would be a heavy rain today.”

As a graduate student in Washington, Li was “fortunate enough” to experience another superstorm Sandy on this foreign land. In contrast to the lack of information in Beijing, she was, instead, overwhelmed this time by all sorts of news about Hurricane Sandy.

“I searched the Internet to track the news of the hurricane,” Li said, “I found that both the New York Times and the Washington Post had updates on the current situations with their local angels, which were very helpful and informative.”

Wang agreed that the media played an important role during the hurricane here in the States.

“I used Sina Weibo (a Twitter equivalent in China) to find what was going on when the storm hit Beijing,” Wang said. “But here I felt like there were more channels, whether it was official weather report, or news alerts.”

Chinese Students Get Together to Celebrate Halloween

Costumes, beers, DJ and prizes. Chinese students in Washington spent a colorful and wonderful Friday night at Rhino Bar near Georgetown. The Chinese Students and Scholars Associations of American University and Georgetown University co-hosted a Halloween party called Halloween Pumpkin Pie, to get together all the Chinese students and young professionals in the District.

More than 70 Chinese students from American University, Georgetown University, George Washington University and Howard University dressed up and crowded at the small Rhino, chatting, drinking, socializing, and making new friends. Those who wore costumes would expect a surprise at the end of the celebration.

Chuan Ping, the president of the Association at AU said earlier that it was their intention to combine the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations in Washington to provide better service for Chinese students, and this was just one of their series of attempts.

Halloween Party held by Chinese Students and Scholars Associations.

How Chinese Students Get to Studying in U.S. Schools

A student is overwhelmed by posters of various kinds of Education agencies in a Chinese university. Photo from Danwei.com.

Students interviewed here are using fake names.

Cathy, 21, recalls walking into the education office in Beijing, sitting down and feeling worried.

“I want to study in the USA,” said Cathy. “I don’t have a preference on schools. It would be better if it’s a top 100 university, but I do want to study in a safe and convenient area.”

“Of course,” said the agency representative. “Let me know more about you first.”

The woman who offered help to Cathy is a consultant. She listened attentively to Cathy’s background and requirements and narrowed her choices to 10 universities.

“They let me make my own decision. I wrote a personal statement and resume by myself, and they helped me correct mistakes and apply for the universities,” said Cathy. “But I also applied four universities by myself when I got to know the application procedures.”

Four months, five offers, plus days of deliberation and discussions led to her final decision — a university in Massachusetts.

“It’s a wonderful combination, both academically and geographically, ” Cathy said.

Cathy is not the only one who came to study in the States with the help of education agencies. In fact, most Chinese students resort to intermediaries to shepherd them through the admissions process.

“Students in the United States have counselors for the most part in schools that can help them,” said Marco A. Chávez, senior assistant director for international recruitment at the Ohio State University, “But students in China don’t have counselors that can help them navigate the application process of U.S. universities. That’s why they turn to agencies for help.”

With China sending more students to American colleges than any other country, the competition for spots at the top schools has soared. There were 157,558 Chinese students studying in the United States in the 2010–2011 academic year, a 23.5 percent surge since 2009, according to the Institute of International Education.

But in China’s test-centric culture, students, especially those at high-school level, usually find themselves ill-prepared for the admissions process at American colleges. Instead, they spend most of their time preparing for the gaokao, or the national college entrance exam, often at the expense of extracurricular activities, to secure a coveted spot at one of China’s over-subscribed universities.

John, now 22, started to study in a New Jersey college in the spring of 2009. He took the National College Entrance Exam along with his peers after graduation in 2008, but did not achieve a high enough score for admission in China. So he decided to study in the USA.

“I know little about U.S. schools at that time, and my academic background was weak,” John said, “So I hired an agency to do the application and help me polish my background.”

However, the so-called “background polishing” involved faking the background.

“I said I didn’t study well in high school, and I had nobody to write a reference for me. They said don’t worry, they would figure that out,” John said, “And it turned out to be a fake transcript and references.”

For research for this story, I posed as an undergraduate student and talked to Echo Liu, an agency consultant, online.

“Look,” I typed, “my situation is like this: GPA 3.0/4.0, no internships, no references, poor English level, don’t have time to get application documents done, but I want to study in the USA in fall, 2013. I know it’s kind of late right now, but can you help me?”

“No problem,” said Liu, “We have like a ‘package service’ for you.”

I asked if it was possible to get a “better” transcript and internship certification, and if they could write a personal statement for me. She became cautious but did not decline.

“Why don’t you leave your name and telephone number so we can talk in details?” she said.

A 2010 report by an education agency Zinch China could better illustrate this issue: 80 percent of Chinese undergraduate students use an agent to file their applications; 70 percent of college application essays are not written by the students, and half of all high school transcripts are falsified.

It is all about money. The more you pay, the more time you save, and the more “comprehensive service” you can get.

John said he paid more than $2,000 to the agency, and was satisfied with the result.

“The agency took care of everything for me, even of visa application, and booking a flight ticket,” said John. “All I need to do was sending money to them regularly, and they would let me know if I was admitted or not.”

But Cathy complained about being over-charged.

“I paid almost $5,000, but got little help with my materials,” said she. “I mean it did save me a lot of time, but I don’t think it’s worth of the money.”

She also added that there are agencies that refuse to provide details for the application status and prevented students from getting access to their applications.

“I heard from some of my friends that some agencies would create an email address for your applications, but they didn’t tell you the password. They only let you know the result, like which university rejects or admits you,” she said. “So you don’t even know what happened in between.”

The industry’s aggressive practices have not escaped the universities’ notice.

“It de-values the degree from the university,” Chávez said. “If everybody comes in with a fake document, then the integrity of the admission process is definitely compromised.”

But Chávez said if Ohio State finds students have fake documents, their acceptances would be revoked. Although he could not disclose how the admissions office discerns counterfeit applications, he did say that Ohio State has various means to determine which  students are really good, or which are too good to be true.

“But there are accidents,” Chávez said. “If we find out there are students who are already here but with fraudulent documents, we will revoke the admission and expel the students,” he said. “But for those students we don’t know, what can we do? We don’t know, and we can’t take actions.”

The students who are “over-cared” by agencies often take longer time to adapt to the American class and society. John recalled the loneliness and perplexity when he first arrived with no one to rely on and speak to.

“My English was extremely poor at that time. I sat in the corner of the classroom and had no friends,” he said. “I could not understand what the professor said. When he asked me a question, I was even unable to utter a word. All I could respond was by shaking my head. My classmates thought I was dumb or a fool.”

He said he longed to go back to China. “I missed my family and friends so much, but I couldn’t tell them,” he said. “I couldn’t tell them I was having trouble. They would be worried and disappointed.”

It took him more than six months to adapt.

“I knew I couldn’t be like that anymore,” John said, “Life goes on, and I should be tough. So I encouraged myself to speak to Americans, make friends, and I even marked ‘making my first phone call’ as a milestone.”

Now, after almost four years of living in the States, John’s English has dramatically improved. He was even the leader of an association in the university.

Chávez said the ever-increasing numbers of Chinese students did pose some challenges to the university, including having proper resources on campus to help them.

To better reach and take care of Chinese students, Ohio State has a Global Gateway Office in Shanghai, China, which provides pre-departure orientation for students in that region.

“Chinese culture is different than American culture,” Chávez said. “We need to make sure that our numbers of Chinese students are increasing. We’re addressing their needs and their concerns in regards to eating on campus, having roommates, classes, everything.”

A Big Trade Surplus in Higher Education: What Chinese Students Give to the U.S.

An increasing number of international students pouring into the United States for higher education contribute not only to campus life and to dialogue within classrooms, but also to the U.S. economy at the local, state and national levels. During the 2010-2011 academic year, international students and their dependents contributed approximately $20.2 billion to the U.S economy, according to an economic analysis by NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

According to the Institute of International Education (IIE) statistics, the majority of international students studying in the USA come from Asia, with China and India ranking first and second, respectively. China’s ascent to the top spot is a recent phenomenon. Its year-over-year increase of 30 percent helped it overtake India in 2009.

That is generally good news for a slumping U.S. economy. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports higher education is among the country’s top service sector exports, as foreign students provide considerable revenue not only to the host campuses but to local economies of the host states for living expenses, including room and board, books and supplies, transportation, health insurance and support for accompanying family members.

“International students contribute financially not only to U.S. academic institutions, but also to the local communities in which they live,” said Rachel Banks, director of public policy at NAFSA. “Their contributions also help support programming and services on campus that benefit all students,” she added, “and support local businesses in the community through such expenses as rent, transportation, groceries, etc.”

There’s no denying that colleges like international students because they’re a good source of revenue. Unlike domestic students, international students, especially those at undergraduate level, have little, if any, financial aid. That means they pay almost 100 percent of tuition and fees.

As the NAFSA report shows, among graduate international students, 49 percent relied primarily on personal and family funds, but for undergraduate international students, the percentage climbed to 81 percent, which makes their larger numbers a potential boon for U.S. colleges.

The University of Southern California (USC) this year welcomed the most diverse student body in its 132-year history, and has 3,338 Chinese students, making it the top U.S. institution that hosts international students.

Timothy Brunold, dean of admissions at USC, said that USC saw a rapid rise of Chinese students especially during the past three to five years, and despite the gunshot that killed two Chinese students of USC this April, the number of Chinese students still increased 825.

Xu Zhong, a Chinese student who has just embarked on the master’s journey in computer science, said he was excited about studying at USC.

“I am sorry for the gunshot, but you can’t reject the opportunity of studying in such a prominent school just for something negative,” Zhong said.

After living in Los Angeles for a few months, however, Zhong began to complain about this “expensive city.” He has already paid about $19,000 for tuition and fees for this semester, but has to spend around $1,000 per month on living expenses.

“I live around the campus, where rent is much higher than that in downtown area,” he said. “And expense of entertainment is higher in that LA is a large city.”

But not a problem for some wealthy Chinese students.

“I know a few Chinese students here who spend a lot of money every day,” Zhong said, “ They purchase luxuries, have meals at top grade restaurants, and go to bars…”

Seeing China a huge potential market, however, Brunold said USC does not have any recruiting adjustments that target Chinese students.

“We don’t have any special programs that are exclusive for Chinese students,” he said, “We have sent representatives to China to reach out Chinese students, but we’ve also sent them to other countries as well. So for us, every international student is the same.”

Harvey Charles, vice provost for international education at Northern Arizona University told the Slate that many institutions have seen the international students as a source of revenue. “An increasing number of colleges view them as cash cows but don’t have the requisite infrastructure in place to support them,” Charles said, “That would be a recipe for disaster.”

While acknowledging the economic contribution Chinese students have made, Brunold denied the idea of describing them as a “cash cow.”

“The flood of Chinese students do have a large impact on the State’ economy. In 2011, international students contributed almost $3 billion to California. But our motivation is not money, but building a global community,” Brunold said, “At USC, everyone pays the same tuition, so there’s no difference for that. Chinese students bring money to USC, but more importantly, they bring varied views and perspectives to the classrooms. I think that’s what we really value.”

Brunold said USC has always had a positive impression on Chinese students. “They usually work hard,” he said. “We have Chinese alumni who are very successful in their career.”

Banks agreed on the indispensible role that foreign students play in the U.S. economy.

“International students from China become leading innovators in our economy, and therefore, contribute to job creation,” she said, “Also, more international students tend to study in so-called STEM fields than U.S. students do; until the U.S. is able to generate a stronger domestic supply of STEM talent, we rely on international talent to fill this need.”

OMG! New Craze of Learning AmE?

Jessica Beinecke wrote for her fans. Photo by Yiyi Yang.

Joe Keppel, an American teacher at Beijing Jiaotong University, has been puzzled by a question recently — how have some of his students, once the victims of “Chinglish,” become masters of American slang?

During an oral English class, one of his most troublesome students incredibly uttered words like “jiggy,” “muffin top” and “badonkadonk” when talking about the risks of obesity. “Avoid binge, and try not to inhale during your meal,” the student said confidently, “Those are the simple ways to control your weight.”

Though startled at first, Keppel didn’t pay much attention to this change. However, as pearls of the American lingo fell from his student’s lips, it was hard for him to ignore the remarkable progress.

“Finally, I asked whether or not they took some special classes on summer holiday, and it turned out to be a web show,” he said, adding, “Can it be that helpful?”

Keppel is by no means the only one who queries the power of this show. As a matter of fact, nobody will expect a coarse, homemade, and only two-to-three-minute-long web show to assist millions of Chinese students in unlocking the mysteries of American buzz words and expressions while navigating the kaleidoscope of American culture.

Nor will Jessica Beinecke, a 25-year-old Ohio native, a staff member at Voice of America (VOA) and the host of this web show, or “daily webisodes,”to be more accurate.

One of the episodes, “Yucky Gunk,” went viral, garnered more than 2 million hits and became an overnight sensation online. And consequently, she unwittingly shouldered the responsibility of delivering American slang for pop-culture-hungry Chinese fans.

“At the beginning, I thought it might take two years for 2 million hits, but after somebody put it on Renren (a popular social media website, the Chinese version of Facebook), things went crazy,” she said. “Now I really want to have an account there.”

Called “OMG! Meiyu” (in Mandarin “meiyu” means American English), this is a trendy, cross-cultural English teaching feature that mainly targets Chinese students. It was produced by VOA’s Mandarin Service, but was taped and edited by Beinecke herself on an aging MacBook.

For each episode, Beinecke sifts through American lingo, venturing beyond the limit of dictionary definitions and exploring the words, phrases and expressions. Then, in a quirky, comical, and exaggerated style, this energetic blond bounces around her Capitol Hill apartment while introducing them through her fluent Mandarin Chinese.

“I started learning Mandarin Chinese only six years ago. My major used to be music, and I found this language very musical because of its various tones,” she said, “That’s why I love it, it’s beautiful!”

For students who prefer to go online rather than follow a stiff class, OMG is perfect.

Qizhou Gao, 22, a sophomore at Essex County College, is a die-hard fan.

“I have been watching OMG for more than a year, and I think it is absolutely brilliant,” he said, “We are taught the native American English in an interesting way. And by the way, her Chinese is really perfect!”

“The topics she chooses are small but practical,” said Jiaxin Wang, a first-year graduate at Seton Hall University. “Like buying a cup of coffee, you thought you’d know how to order that because it’s too simple. But the truth is that you are always stuck there at Starbucks, not knowing how to express yourself. And that’s what OMG gives us. It focuses on the details of your life.”

As the show has rapidly continued building its online popularity, Beinecke created an account on Weibo (a Twitter equivalent in China), where hundreds of thousands of fans flocked to her page and followed her, checking, commenting and reposting all of her micro-blogs almost every minute.

This becomes an incubator for ideas. Most of the themes, ranging from food and makeup to family and relationship, are user-generated.

“I post ‘what do you want to learn next week’ in Chinese, and they suggest topics all the time. I think we will never run short of ideas,” she said, crediting her followers for their participation and inspiration. “I gather the ideas and pick the most popular, sometimes the easiest one.”

And also an effective platform for interaction, where floods of unbridled affection can be found. As part of the assignment, they are required to embed their comments with slang and fashionable words learned from the show.

After watching the show focused on “Body”, user @gaby_澎 posted: “I know I’d better to not wear my heart on my sleeve, but I’m head over heels for you. I can barely understand English by the skin of my teeth, but I have a good head for learning English. I decide to become one of your fans to make learning easier.” “LOL Very good!!” Beinecke replied.

“I check and repost their comments from day to night every day,” she said. “This is my favorite part of the program. I like to read their comments. They are so funny, so smart, and so passionate!”

Jessica Beinecke reported in front of the Capitol Hill about Chinese police beat foreign journalists covering Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution. Photo: Youtube.

Renowned as OMG is, suspicion and sensitivity still exist. On Baidu Post (a BBS-like social website), a user named “腐烂的猫(in Mandarin Chinese it means a decayed cat)” warned of the omnipresent infiltration of Western culture by presenting a video of Beinecke covering foreign journalists who reported Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution got beat by Chinese police.

Not everyone is buying it, though. Wave upon wave of criticism and opposition is written by some, calling it like “nonsense” and “omnipresent Wumao,” which refers to the 50 Cent Party, the legion of young Chinese Internet users who paid 50 mao, roughly 7 cents, to post comments on blogs, news articles, bulletin boards, etc., that are pro- the Communist Party, essentially to drown out critical voices).

“Then what about testing English in our National College Entrance Examination, isn’t it infiltration?” Wang said. “I don’t understand why there are always narrow-minded people who make things distorted.”

The producer of the show disagrees.

“We are not giving a bad influence. We don’t create a word,” said Yuyang Ren, Beinecke’s co-worker and a VOA video journalist. “The topics are not chosen by us. They’re by the audience. We just let them learn the words they want,” she said.

From Beinecke’s perspective, OMG is just “a platform for us to find common things.”

“I don’t think it is culture infiltration, that’s not what I want when I made this show,” said she. “Sure we have different cultures, but the more we communicate, the more we will know each other and find the similarity between the two cultures.”

Most Chinese students said they feel the same way. As Gao said, “Learning English can be a good way to help people get closer with each other, especially for people from different countries, and different cultures. This show teaches us English through culture. At the same time, we learn culture through English.”

And that’s why Beinecke created this show.

“I’m very glad that I can help young Chinese with their English,” she said. “I had great experience … learning Chinese, both at home and in China, and I hope they do as well. I can see their energy and eagerness, and I’m inspired and moved by them. For those who study English abroad or in China, it’s time for me to offer that back.”

But what she really hopes is that the craze of learning English remains for long, rather than fades and disappears quickly.

“The good way of learning English is to practice it every day and make it a habit, and of course, watching OMG every day,” she said.

Mid-Autumn Festival: A New Way to Celebrate for Chinese Students in Washington

For Chinese people, the full moon resembles reunion. Jmtimages’ photo via Getty Images, searched on Flickr under Creative Commons.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important festivities in China, dating back more than 2,000 years. According to the Chinese lunar calendar, the 15th day of the eighth month is the exact midpoint of autumn, and the moon appears to be at its roundest and brightest, a symbol of family reunion. On that night, families in China usually gather together to eat moon cakes and appreciate the full moon.

But for Sheng Fei Yang, a Chinese student at American University who just came to the States in August, this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival is a little bit different. Not only because it’s the first time that she spent it without her parents, but because of an exceptional experience she had on that night.

George Washington University Chinese Culture Association and American University Chinese Students and Scholars Association this year co-organized a special dating game to help the single Chinese students in Washington get socialized and make friends.

“This kind of dating show is very popular in China. So I hope such an activity will attract a lot of Chinese students to attend,” said Chuan Ping, the president of AU’s association.

And he succeeded.

Hundreds of Chinese students from AU and GWU, as well as from Georgetown University, came to Betts Theater at GWU to enjoy this non-traditional celebration on Sept. 30.

Twelve single women from AU, GWU, and Georgetown U are waiting for the first male participant. Photo: GWU Chinese Culture Association.

Called “If You Are the One,” this dating game originates from a Chinese TV dating show with the same name. A pool of 12 single women watch each of the six male participants’ video about their lives and histories and asks questions about them. If interested, the young women can press a flashlight to determine which guy will stay on the stage and continue to be tested. In return, the six men will secretly choose their favorite woman before the game starts. Those who survive the trial in the end may have the chance to date her if she says yes to him.

As one of the 12, Yang dressed up and sat on the stage along with other female participants. With the flashlight on and off in hand, Yang examined each of the six bachelors, sometimes laughing at the jokes they made, sometimes applauding for the remarks they lobbied. Though the night only saw two “potential couples”, yet everyone was amused and enjoyed.

“I think the event is very interesting,” Yang said. “Though I didn’t find my ideal person, I made many friends. Also I think it’s a special experience in my life.”

Todd Morrill, a junior at GWU, was the only American participant of the game. He was also one of the two lucky guys who found his dream lady. Morrill said he never expected that.

Todd Morrill is introducing himself. Photo: GWU Chinese Culture Association.

 

“I guess I didn’t go there with high expectations. I wanted to go have fun… kind of connect to the Chinese community,” he said,  “But walking away with a girl was definitely a nice plus. It’s a lot of fun.”

Morrill has been learning Chinese for years and joined several Chinese culture activities. He thinks culture plays an important role in language learning.

“Chinese language is very different from American English. Every word has its history. Learning Chinese is more about the language itself, but the culture behind it. Like today’s dating game, though I didn’t completely understand what they say, I put myself into the context and tried my best to learn,” he said.

Seeing the dating show a success, Ping envisioned more events alike.

“Actually it’s our ambition to combine the three universities to provide a better service for Chinese students here in Washington,” he said.  “So this is just the first step, and we will have more activities to achieve our goal in the future.”