Exams And Language Barriers

Dear readership, as the Fall 2017 semester reaches its ending, I am now publishing my Asian-studies related term papers here.

With Thanksgiving Break over, stomachs packed to capacity, and spiritual rejuvenation, the final-stretch of the semester has begun!  With multiple exams, research papers, and final projects on the horizon, students generally experience some elevated stress.  Though I’ve been super busy, I’ve kept reflecting on the omnipresent language barriers (again) faced by my exchange-student friends.  In particular, I worry a bit for the Freshman: 18 year old students readying for their first college exam cycle whilst juggling a foreign language.

Some basic considerations…

Although these students passed an English proficiency test to obtain their Student Visa to attend American universities, passing these standardized tests does not necessarily equate with fluency.  Just like the SAT or ACT, these tests have patterns and nuances which a test-taker can examine and study accordingly.  Who can blame them? If a foreigner intends on receiving an American education, why would they not approach a standardized test this way? As with all standardized tests, strategy is the name of the game. Unfortunately, this methodological approach does not guarantee ‘A’s.

Due to the Model Minority Stereotype, few truly consider that Chinese exchange-students face the same challenges as any American young adult. No nationality or ethnicity escapes naturally struggles like social adjustment, feuding with roommates, and procrastinating.  Thankfully, Fairfield University recognizes the importance of mental health and offers services to aid with adjustment, a process difficult enough in one’s native language.

Hopefully, the university’s faculty and leaders will sympathize with the exchange-students in particular.a

Whether they receive a semester or four years’ worth of American education, these students are still tuition-paying members of the community.  Accordingly, they deserve equal representation in the university’s development of on-campus resources.  In writing this, I appreciate that the commendable resources offered by the university dedicated to promoting students’ mental health.  Rather, I just pose the question:  How can our preexisting on-campus services specialize in exchange-students‘ well-being?

Please note: the school benefits when hundreds of exchange students–from all corners of the globe–rave to their families about the quality of Fairfield University.

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The Model Minority Stereotype

Most people unknowingly hold a prejudice!

If you will, clear your mind and imagine an Asian-American student in high school or college.

Once you’re ready, try asking yourself these quick questions:

  1. What kind of grades does this student get?
  2. What kind of social life does this student have?
  3. What role does the student’s parents play in their lives?

Now, if you imagined something close to an introspective, straight-A student born to overly-involved parents, then you might hold a prejudice called the Model Minority Stereotype. If you do, it is the media’s fault– not yours!

The Model Minority Stereotype involves a positive set of assumptions about a race (Ex: good at math, extremely studious). Society typically directs this stereotype towards Asians, Jews, and Indians.

Q: “What is so wrong with a positive label? I would love to be labeled as talented.”

The simple answer: In the short-term, many feel that labeling an ethnicity with positive traits justifies the negative ones. For example, the more one generalizes Asians as very logical and analytical, they likely won’t feel guilty when referring to them as “geeks” or “anti-social.”

The real answer: In the long run, this stereotype places a pressure on the psyche of a young Asian individual. Imagine yourself as a middle school student struggling with a particular subject (for me, it was science). Then, imagine if everybody around you expected you to excel that, plus in a chess or an instrument or whatever. Parents, peers, and even teachers place this double-standard on young children

Furthermore, this stereotype affects all Asian-Americans, from children to the elderly. While it encompasses many areas of life, this blog intends specifically to better exchange-students’ lives, so I won’t elaborate futher.

Media Perpetuation

Nobody is perfect. It’s only your fault if you don’t question this prejudice.

A simple questioning of your own beliefs can go a long way. Thank you for taking your time to read this, and hopefully reflect. As food for thought, here’s an uplifting quote:

“We shall never know all the good that a smile can do.”

-Mother Teresa

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Ice Water, Culture Shock, and Bodily Functions

Getting Into Hot Water:

“Jesse, how come Americans drink their water cold with ice? Its chilly enough outside, I just don’t get it.” This Freshman exchange-student found something so monotonous and unquestioning by Americans frankly baffling.


To which I replied, “I don’t know. Never really thought about it. How do the Chinese drink their water?”

“Hot,” she remarked, “Always hot, just like tea. Doesn’t matter when in the year either.” We began giggling together, as if we shared a secret unbeknownst to everyone else.

Then she commented: “Oh, and 中医 (Chinese-style medicine) holds that boiling hot water to drink helps a ton with menstrual cramps.” Too much information… thanks.

Food & Cultural Shock:

In her first week in the U.S. she barely could stomach a single American meal. Each spoonful made her stomach even queasier. This is a pretty interesting phenomena, and she is not alone. Many, such as myself, have trouble acclimating to the food in a new country. For example, I once went to Israel and lost my appetite very quickly. After a few days, I began vomiting, had excessive diarrhea, and experienced acute abdominal pain. I journeyed to the ER, but astonishingly, my peers who were eating the same food felt perfectly fine.

My friend Samuel K., of UMass Amherst, holds a degree in Molecular Biology and offered an explanation in lay-men’s terms:

What is even going on, here?
What is even going on, here?

“So, basically, the bacteria from the foods you eat live in your stomach. Each geographical region has its own kind of bacteria in their food. So when you travel to a foreign country, new bacteria gets into your system that your body is not used to. As the old bacteria and new bacteria fight for the space in your digestive system, your body eventually adapts.”

How Much Does Culture Shock Affect Biology?

The psychological symptoms alone of sincere culture shock may include anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness. However, the realization that Culture Shock also affects the body opens up its own field for research. An interesting question: How does culture shock affect blood pressure? or Does culture shock affect one’s sleeping patterns? Or appetite? Personally, these questions peak my curiosity. I hypothesize that culture shock does substantially affect biochemistry, especially in terms of sleep, nutrition intake, and even heart rate.

If scientists can establish the potential biological symptoms associated with culture shock, then tourists, politicians, and exchange students all can reap a great benefit. Those with healthy bodies will better enjoy their time abroad and connect easily into other cultures.

And you’re now more culturally aware than you were!

Please share WenHua On Campus with others!


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Language Barriers & Tutoring 3 Exchange Students

In this post, I intend to highlight some recent observations of mine involving language barriers. As a college student, proficiency in written and spoken language is necessary for learning and exchanging ideas, so taking college-level courses in a second language presents challenges. While the actual implications of a language barrier are multi-dimensional, meaning that it affects several different facets of life (e.g, education, career, self-image, socializing, etc.), my recent experience offers some valuable takeaways.

A Quick Summary Of Events:

At the beginning of the Fall 2016 semester, I led the International Students Orientation. Due to my moderate skill-level in speaking Mandarin, I befriended a few of the Chinese-exchange students. Last Thursday (11/3), I met with three of them in the university library to assist with homework. Two students were trying to understand an audio recording assigned by their Micro-Economics professor, as the third student struggled with a History research paper. After finishing the homework, we hung out, drew on white boards, and they taught me some new Chinese words. It was pretty fun.

Two Immediate Observations:

  1. The faculty at my school are relatively accommodating of foreign exchange students. Yet, the university could offer more support for these students in terms of ESL (English Second Language). One of my Chinese peers expressed how an ESL course constitutes an extra burden on top of her coursework, and desired a more informal set-up.
  2. These students have few American friends, but how come I am an exception? To them, my capacity in Mandarin Chinese makes me a sociable entity. Beyond that, my interest alone in Chinese culture means something to them. The comfort of a common language may explain why many Chinese students tend to stick together. However, I have observed that the Indian-exchange students who also face a language barrier tend to integrate themselves more than Chinese-exchange students. Cultural or linguistic factors may account for these different tendencies.

Food For Thought:

“Thank You!”

How could Chinese students experience American culture if communication with English-speaking Americans is difficult? Four years of studying in America seems pretty meaningless if one is alienated from society a lot of the time. On the flip side, American students miss out on new experiences and ideas due to this same language barrier. From my experience, knowing how to speak a few simple phrases means a lot to foreigners. The little consideration to learn how to say “hello,” “thank you,” or “welcome!” goes a long way.

Although Fairfield University does a great job accommodating for the language barrier academically, how can the university help students improve their English outside of the classroom without the added pressure of commitment? For Americans, what actions the university faculty take to promote their budding Mandarin-Chinese program to more students?

What is it like to feel that language difference? I will probably only experience it next year in Beijing, where I have applied to study abroad.



(“Talk to you later!”)

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