Culture Shock Series: Episode One

Melody stands with her poster during the Inaugural Student Reasearch Symposium.
Photo Credit / Dana Reese
Melody stands with her poster during the Inaugural Student Reasearch Symposium.
Photo Credit / Dana Reese

SC Staff Writer
In the past week of celebrating Dr. Marcia G. Welsh, ESU’s thirteenth President’s Inauguration, I participated in an academic way—the President’s Inaugural Student Research and Scholarly Activity Symposium.

I worked as the Graduate Assistant for the Chair of the Symposium Committee, Dr. Patricia Kennedy, who made this whole academic celebration possible.

I also did a poster presentation in one of the poster sessions.

As an international student from China, I had never presented any research work in my undergraduate university, nor had I experienced any academic conference held totally for the students.

This is how East Stroudsburg University and America amaze me. It shows the highest emphasis on promoting the academic conversations on campus and the service provided to assist the students to achieve their fullest potential.

This is why I wrote “Culture Shock Series.”

I want ESU students, both international and American, to fully understand what a great opportunity it is to study at East Stroudsburg University.

In this first episode of my “Culture Shock Series,” I focus on how ESU amazes me in three different aspects: academic environment, student finance, and student organizations on campus.

I was so excited when I had my first class at ESU last semester.

It was PSED 588 School Law class. I was hoping to meet American students my own age and to make some friends..

To my surprise, all my classmates were not students of my own age, nor were they simply students.

Rather, they were all teachers who had been teaching for many years. They were coming back to college for their principle certification. It really fascinates me that working professionals can so easily handle both their work and school at the same time.

However, in Shenyang, it is very rare to see any person with a full time job coming back to college to further their study.

The psychological reason is that people think they will be too busy if they work full time and go to school at the same time; plus, they all have family to raise.

Also, the higher education system in China creates obstacles for working people.

This is because in China, the admission to college programs is completely based on the applicants’ scores on the National Full-Time Graduate College Entrance Exam.

This exam is composed of four subjects. The English and Mathematics are the same across the nation. The other two subjects are usually decided by the specific programs offered by all the graduate colleges in China.

Therefore, every program gives different exam questions and they usually will put up the reference books which the test takers need to read on their websites a year before the exam takes place.

So if a person has a full time job, and a family to raise, even if they overcome the stereotypical thinking pattern that they can’t work and study at the same time, they still can’t have enough time to go over the reference books thoroughly.

Therefore, they cannot perform well on the exam, and their low scores compared to the full time undergraduate students lead to them not be admitted into graduate programs.

However, what I observe at ESU is that for anyone, as long as they are  determined to further his study, it is not a problem except for the financial reasons. But there are still student loans.

It is common for working professionals to come back to school to sharpen their skills and to advance their professional knowledge.

Some people even possess degrees in several different academic fields. It creates a competitive picture in my mind in regard to American college students in the job market.

Everyone has a master’s degree, and some of them even have more than one.

I always ask myself what my chances are of being hired when compared to those people and that really puts on huge pressure.

Another aspect of the academic environment at ESU is that students all participate very actively in class.

According to my observation, it is common when 90% of the students raise their hands to answer whatever questions the professors just give.

Usually the 10% will comment later. Everyone is trying to outperform their peers.

I recently learned an expression called “brownie points” in my class. I have this one class where if the professor asks us to write a paper of three pages, someone can write 9 to 10 pages.

When the professor asks us to print out the paper we wrote, someone will add the borders on the pages, print colorful cover pages and so on.

Their outstanding performance beyond the professor’s requirements are called “brownie points.”

I am not sure what the undergraduate students are like at ESU, but for graduate students here, they are all “brownie points” givers.

Recalling  my Chinese experience in Shenyang Normal University, the students were not as proactive.

In class few opened their mouths. The norm is when the professor asks a question, no one would answer voluntarily. Then the professors look through the name list of that class and ask someone else to answer the question.

However, there are indeed active students who like to participate in class, but the number of those students is very small.

As for the professors at ESU, they are very available to me; they all have office hours pasted on their office door.

When I was in China, if I ever needed to talk to a professor, I had to catch them right after class.

The other option was to call their cellphones to make an appointment; there was never a fixed time when I knew that the professors would be in their offices.

Besides, the communication via email, American professors also provide a convenient way to communicate.

This is different in China too. Not every Chinese professor checks their email daily. Even though they sometimes use it to collect assignments, it is not their habit to use it as a communication tool.

In addition to the competitive academic environment and the professor’s availability, the third difference between ESU and SNU academically is that ESU shows a very good integration of technology and education. Online courses, for example, are the best way to illustrate my point here.

I had never taken an online course before I came to America.

I am not saying that China does not have online courses. I have heard that in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, schools do provide students with online learning opportunities, but it is not very common.

The major way of instruction is through classroom lecture. At ESU, every classroom on campus has a computer connected to the internet, and a projector.

At SNU, this is not the case unless it is a computer science class. According to Academic Computing, ESU possesses 13 computer labs with various hours for students; SNU only has three student computer labs.

Considering the student population of SNU is almost three  times more than ESU’s, I appreciate the opportunity of having easy access to computers and internet as an ESU student.

Seeing all these wonderful academic resources, I can understand why the tuitions and fees are high, but the developed student financial aid system in America also amazes me.

As a member of PASSHE, the tuition and fees paid by Pennsylvanian students cover only part of the costs of their education.

The difference between this and the actual cost is the amount of money the Pennsylvania legislature makes available to public universities.

Also, the ESU Foundation annually announces scholarships available to undergraduate and graduate students.

There are also other grants, loans, and student employment opportunities for the ESU students to assist them financially.

Fortunately enough, I was able to receive a graduate assistant internship which helps cover my tuition and also helps build my resume.

I even found a scholarship that was founded especially for international students—C. Y. Cheng Endowed Scholarship for International Understanding.

This is the glamour of American education; it shuts no door to any student despite financial challenges.

I am not saying in China we don’t provide financial assistance to students in education. The amount of funding is just very limited and the eligibility criteria is strict.

For example, in Shenyang Normal University, the only funding opportunity for the students is the annual scholarships.

But the list is a lot shorter than what the ESU Foundation offers. This is because SNU doesn’t have a well-developed alumni network which endows scholarships annually to the university. The funding for the scholarships comes from the university revenue itself.

This explains why we have a lot less scholarships in amount and number. SNU doesn’t have the student employment opportunities for tuition help.

Chinese students do work for their professors, but they only do it for free, and the only benefit is to build their resumes.

Student organizations at ESU also amaze me in the way that they are self-funded.

At SNU all the student activities are funded by the university itself.

All the student organizations are affiliated to the departments where the student organizers come from.

I used to work as the chair of English Ability Competition Office of the Students’ Union in the English department at SNU.

I reported our budget in the beginning of every semester to the English department, and they funded us in according to the budget list.

Sometimes if there was not enough funding, the students who worked in the Students’ Union would chip in to make the activities keep running.

So fundraising was a completely new term to me when I got here.

I think this is a great opportunity for the students who are the fundraisers. It gives them the opportunity to practice their business minds, their entrepreneurship, and their creativity.

It is a very self-discovering process for me to write this article. I noticed a lot of things that I did not notice while I was still in China.

Overall I think ESU provides students a lot more resources and opportunities as long as they pursue them.

However, when I was in Kemp Library over the weekend, the emptiness of it really reminds me of my Chinese peers.

The library at Shenyang Normal University is always full, on weekdays or weekends, even holidays.

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