China’s Education System Made Me an Individual

David Wei Jiang.

I am an American born Chinese who has been studying in China for the past 5 years. I am currently enrolled as a sophomore in Fudan University studying Software Engineering, and prior to that I spent a few years at Shanghai’s Yan An Middle School (上海延安中学).

Let’s get something straight, anyone from the U.S. who spends this much time in China is usually crazy. I’d like to think that I didn’t really have a choice. After all, for most of us, even up to University, we are simply pawns of our parents. So here I am. I’m having trouble justifying the cost of going back to the U.S. since my experience in China has left me quite jaded to the entire concept of “higher education” in general.

Throughout my years in China I have been most affected by its education system. At Yan An Middle School, one of the top schools in Shanghai, I had a first hand glimpse at how people in China prepared for the University Entrance Exams, the notorious “Gao Kao”. I even spent my entire high school senior year preparing WITH them, even though I wouldn’t have to participate in the exams.

Yes, I’m probably a bit loony in the head. I think all through that time, I was trying to rationalize my existence. You see, back in the U.S., I was a dorky geek. I had almost no social life, few friends, but perfect grades. I took “Gifted and Talented Classes”, took the SAT’s 4 years early (1400/1600), and was well on my way to becoming an introverted scholar-guy receiving an above average salary for doing some technical job most people would find boring, like database management or whatever.

On looking around, I realized that EVERYONE seemed to have the exact same personality as me. This made be feel uncomfortable. At least in the U.S., I could justify my lack of social grace with “intelligence”.

Although I tried rather hard to adjust, even becoming above average at math and earning some respect from the teacher because of that, I eventually got tired of trying to reclaim some “former glory”, trying to be who I “was”, and turned to trying to be more of an individual, who I could be. What I saw around me was a mass of zombies, and most of them were better than me at what I was trying to do. It was a slap in the face to my self-esteem as well as my sense of self. I thought that by taking the easy route (taking classes with the other foreigners) was akin to running away, but I realize now that true courage lies in being willing to make great changes. Life here was practically the same as before: being a bookworm, minus the good grades.

As high-school came to an end, a choice of University loomed. Quite apprehensive at returning to the states by myself, I elected to enroll at Fudan University. After all, my mother had studied there and it was nearby in Shanghai as well.

I had high hopes for University. It was a place that would be radically different than high school, a temple of knowledge to better yourself, and an asylum for those who just didn’t think they were ready for the real world. Here I would grow and develop. It would be a welcome change from the single-mindedness of the system before that only gave a damn about the Gao Kao.

It was really far too much to ask. Youth is quickly deceived only because it is quick to hope.

I’m sure that anyone who has spent time studying in China knows about these problems so I won’t elaborate.

Here’s what is in my opinion a great article (Chinese): 今天你翘了吗?”——我们为何对上课失去热情.

Of course, despite half the classes that couldn’t be understood by anybody, and the other half where no one listened to anything,I had to deal with issues specific to foreigners here. For those who don’t know, for some odd reason, foreign students in China are considered second-class. Since China is a culture that idolizes “intelligence”, grades, and social orthodox, most foreigners are seen as dumb clowns who paid their way in to mess around the campus.

While in the U.S., foreign students are treated the same as local students. In China, we are privy to a higher “entrance fee”, a lower status, and an assortment of seemingly random rules. I couldn’t, for example, get a dorm with my classmates but had to live in a “special” building which was literally hundreds of times more expensive. It was also a single dorm. This was rather annoying when I needed help reading a policy booklet, doing homework, and general camaraderie in general.

It really is hard to explain this feeling of being stereotyped and considered a lesser person for something that has nothing to do with you. To walk into a group and instantly feel left out. It hurts in a way that tints your views on everything in a negative way…

Sometimes I wonder where I would be if I had stayed in the U.S. but I feel as if my time in China has become an inseparable part of who I am now. I have no idea what the future holds for me, but I feel as though I have crossed paths with a culture I can’t deny. It is here that everything I based my sense of self on was taken away. Left with nothing, I was forced to rediscover who I really am. Though I’m far from finding the answer, and it’s far from painless…it feels more “right”. It’s here that I felt what could be described as racism, which perhaps has left me more empathetic than I was before. It’s here that I realized how shallow grades were and how much more important social dynamics were. It’s here that I realized that despite my prior success in science and mathematics, I had never been interested in these subjects intrinsically, and I had succeeded only for the status success in these fields brought me.

It is here that I was forcibly taken from Plato’s Cave and thrust into the light. Here I am, eyes burning…stinging…seeing a reality that I do not want. Yet in a way, this truth is liberating.

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