Chinese student offers culture comparison

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Jingyuan Wang compares the culture of Houghton and China to an audience Monday at the Portage Lake District Library.

HOUGHTON — After 15 years of English classes and a top-quality education, Jingyuan Wang was coming to America. She was prepared for anything.

Except for the question, “How are you?”

Wang told her story Monday at the Portage Lake District Library. After four years of studying electrical engineering as a Michigan Tech Ph.D. student, she explained some simple differences between living in China and life in Houghton.

“The first time I came to U.S., it was such a big challenge for me… the first month everyone on the street was asking me, ‘How are you?’ ‘How is it going?’ What does that mean? How should I answer?”

Confused, Wang would stare at those asking her the question and then flee the scene.

“That’s something about the Chinese educational system. We do problems,” Wang said.

As a result, Chinese students are far ahead in math, studying college-level material in high school but end up struggling with conversational English.

However, meaning-wise, the languages are not so different.

“In China, we also have a similar one. When people meet, we ask each other, ‘Have you already eaten?’… Sometime(s) even if people didn’t eat they still answer that, ‘Oh, I’ve already eaten.'”

Similarly, in English, “When people ask you ‘How are you?’ you answer, ‘I am fine,’ but sometimes you are not fine,” Wang said.

Despite the language struggles, Chinese students go through a far more rigorous curriculum than their American counterparts, Wang said. Good Chinese schools can run from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and that usually doesn’t include classes like music, art or physical education.

“That’s why all the Chinese students after they came to U.S. to study, we always had a really good performance. … All the graduate students are really, really smart. (Actually) not smart — (they) study really hard,” Wang said.

Wang noted many differences between the United States and China come from the population differences. One challenge of living in Houghton has been the lack of convenient transportation. In a small town where driving is often necessary, Wang misses the convenient and fast trains of China.

However, the abundance of nature was a welcome change.

“I really like the summer and the fall season in Houghton… the population in China is like really crowded everywhere, and we couldn’t find any natural scenery very easily,” Wang said.

Now she enjoys hiking, climbing and golfing.

“Here in Houghton, we can do it very regularly.”

As for the snow, Wang can only say she used to like it.

Moving across cultures can be a difficult process, with barriers in language and cultural norms. Now, with her hard-earned English fluency, she will graduate in April and hopes to find a job in her field here in the U.S.