Chinese student population skyrockets, causes students, UI to adapt

This is a University of Iowa student lifestyle feature.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Studying-at-the-library fatigue is a common condition among college students – symptoms include: excessive caffeine intake, a nap at home, or (the classic) repeated claims of quitting school.

But for Chinese students, it makes perfect sense to just take a nap at the library when they’re tired, and domestic students often ridicule this abnormal behavior.

A misunderstood cultural difference

“I think a lot of domestic students don’t know that back in China, sleeping in the library or sleeping in public places is perfectly fine,” UI junior Yuhao Chen said. “But maybe, on the other hand, a lot of international students don’t know that sleeping in the library is not a normal thing that people would do in the states – so I think that misunderstanding of cultural differences is interesting.”

While international students are not an abnormal sight around The University of Iowa campus, some domestic students still don’t understand the Chinese culture.

Chen recalls the “Asian Twitter scandal” that occurred last fall. Some domestic students participated in this form of cyber-bullying, posting hurtful and unnecessary thoughts about Asian students at Iowa.

One tweet from the Fall 2013 scandal reads: “I feel like I should tell the Asians that being at the library for five hours doesn’t count if you’re sleeping for three of them.” Another reads: “What the f— is with the Asians and the f—— bells on their bags? This isn’t elementary school, take that s— off.”

This is an example of the cultural difference Chen mentions. However, the Shenzhen, China native now understands why the American students would post these hurtful words.

“At first, I was really angry and upset because I had no idea why people are attacking Asian students,” Chen said. “But then I realized this semester, after attending a workshop called Bridging Domestic and Global Diversity … I found out that that’s just another cultural difference.”

International resources

The International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at Iowa held the Bridging Domestic and Global Diversity workshop. Chen said that both American and Chinese students attended the workshop earlier this year, and both groups told their interpretations of the Twitter incident.

The workshop is only one of many programs that the international office offers for student immigrants. Its ultimate goal is to help international students transition into the American culture and life.

The ISSS is more relevant now than ever, as the Chinese student population continues to grow. According to a UI statistical report, the number of international student enrollment has almost doubled (from 2,153 to 4,049) in the last six years; most of these international students are from China.

Jill Ross, interim assistant director of the Judith R. Frank Business Communications Center, works closely with the Chinese students enrolled in the Henry B. Tippie College of Business.

“We need to be asking ourselves – how are we integrating these students? Do they feel integrated? What can we gain from this whole experience?” Ross said.

Ross is in charge of the English Language Discussion Circles (ELDC), a program through the Frank Business Communications Center and ISSS. ELDC is held four times a week for international students to practice their English and learn about American culture.

The ELDC sessions start with a worksheet to lead the discussion; the worksheets include background information, discussion questions, and idioms or expressions.

During the week of Feb. 17, the discussions revolved around food. The expressions on the worksheet explained phrases, such as “eat your heart out,” “easy as pie,” and “take it with a grain of salt.”

“Sometimes they’ll ask about phrases … we think are so trivial that we would totally understand,” ELDC leader Nick Muntz said. “But they would have no reason to understand that.”

A joint transition

A number of students attend the discussions every day it’s offered, showing continuous effort to learn and fit in with the American lifestyle. The end-of-semester evaluations show that students have one common suggestion – more ELDC sessions and opportunities to learn about culture, Ross said.

ELDC is also an opportunity for international students to express their feelings with confidence.

“Most of my friends here are graduating, and I probably won’t ever see them again. I feel said about that,” said Yu Liu (Jane), an ELDC regular.

While Chinese students, such as Jane, strive to learn about a new culture, the school must also provide resources to help this transition – as the Chinese population continues to grow at Iowa, both the international students and the University must adapt.

The multitude of international resources is “quite impressive,” said Tommy Tam, Chinese native and 1984 Iowa alum.

“I remember having to carry around a dictionary around campus,” Tam said. “I would’ve definitely taken advantage of the Chinese resources back then.”



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