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The right time to study abroad(2)

2014-07-25 08:37 China Daily Web Editor: Wang Fan

So if you are looking at the academic field, graduate students from China tend to concentrate on a few subjects such as science and engineering, while undergraduates spread out into social science, arts and journalism. As such, undergraduates are exposed to a variety of disciplines.

More importantly, they are more likely to be influenced by liberal and multicultural education of American universities. The exposure to the liberal arts tradition of American undergraduate education at times also demands a good command of the English language, both oral and written. So attending to written and other culturally relevant courses could exert pressure on undergraduates and even leave them stressed. Graduate students in hard science and engineering often do not have such course requirements, so they may be exempted from such stress.

Socially, undergraduates and graduate students also inhabit different spaces. Most American universities have norms that require undergraduates to live in dormitories on their campuses, while graduate students often rent or buy apartments. In other words, graduate students live a relatively individual or family-centric life, while undergraduates share a more collective living environment.

Therefore, undergraduates from China are under a lot more pressure to assimilate American language and culture, especially because they share the dormitories and hostels with their American counterparts. Graduate students, however, may not feel any such pressure, because they can live with their friends or relatives, eat the food of their choice and speak in their mother tongue. Although Chinese undergraduate students may be on the fast track to adjust to American lifestyle, tensions and anxieties borne out of cultural shock and the accompanying identity crisis may emerge. On the other hand, graduate students could benefit from the shelters provided by "friendly" groups, but it could, in turn, make them feel socially isolated and separated from their universities and society at large.

Ultimately, the decision of when to study abroad requires the understanding of what a student wants from his/her overseas education. That self-reflection is the critical first step toward a meaningful and rewarding experience of studying abroad.

The author, Ma Yingyi, is tenured associate professor in Sociology, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York.

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