The following article is written by Christine Chapman. Christine is the author of “The International Student’s Guide to Applying to Private Schools,” an e-book published by AdmissionsQuest.com. After 18 years of experience with international student placement as an educational consultant, Christine is working as Director of International Students at the Brimmer and May School in Chestnut Hill, MA. Christine feels that this is the perfect environment in which to support and nurture international students (a lifelong passion) while growing professionally both as a teacher and admissions & college counseling professional. She is also author of 4 Tips for IECs Working With Chinese Families.
There is so much talk about how competitive the Chinese student market has become as they inundate the admissions pools of boarding, day schools, and colleges. But we often forget that students and families have a stake in the issue as well.
In working with Chinese students, we often forget what it’s like being on the other side: what happens to these students and their families as they walk into the world of independent schools and colleges abroad. Let’s take a quick look at some of the pressures and obstacles Chinese families face, and see how we can be mindful of them as we work to welcome these students and their families into our educational communities.
What are the Challenges faced by Chinese Families?
- English language abilities & Agents. Most Chinese families approach the admissions process by way of a “middle man.” This is because most parents did not have access to English-learning, even as their own children grow up acquiring the language skills that qualify them for education abroad. As the main decision-makers and responsibility-bearers for their children’s educational futures abroad, Chinese parents feel they must rely on advisors in the form of middlemen. These advisors and counselors in China are not usually as upfront about the intricacies, pressures and success rates in placing Chinese students. Many are notorious for not advising these families honestly and guaranteeing admission for high fees. The result is often the worrisome lack of transparency into the admissions process on BOTH sides.
- The Asian family model. Asian parents spend all of their resources, like their Western counterparts, doing what all parents do: providing nutrition, shelter, clothing a good education, support, and any other essentials and do it all to the best of their ability and means. But there are some differences between Asian and Western family models: As they watch their children grow and prepare them for the world there is a bit of a shift in the messages that their children hear. Western parents will encourage their children to go out into the world and reap success, even if it means letting go and allowing their children to find their own way and future success, even if it takes these children away from the family fold. Asian parents will encourage their children to go out into the world and reap success, but with the expectation that they will bring back success and opportunity to the home and to the family. For Chinese parents who send their children abroad, this can means a significant and painful cultural adjustment (of sorts) of their own, as their child grows up inculcated with more Western values.
- The One Child Policy & Distance. For mainland Chinese parents, it is such a sacrifice to send their one precious gem off to school halfway around the world. There is often a misperception that families from mainland China entrust their children to stateside guardians and do not need contact from advisors, educators or other members of the school communities their children inhabit. This is not true. Chinese parents are no different—they want to communicate with the schools their one child inhabits and be part of the communication loop. They want to be able to log onto a web portal and monitor grades, see pictures and receive regular updates and personalized communications. Oftentimes, the addresses and contact information received by the school is agency contact information. Direct contact and outreach is imperative and desired.
What Can Schools and Educators Be Mindful Of?
- Communication. Even though many of your students’ families do not speak English, communication is key, and I can assure you that they want to be included in the communication loop. Schools can find that Chinese-speaking members of their staff can be an undiscovered and untapped resource to help with communicating with overseas parents.
- Student Advising. The focus for many, if not most of these students, is competition and success through hard work. Tiger parents aside, Chinese students themselves are driven by their own understanding of the sacrifices their families have made. For some students, pressure is often self-inflicted, and they grow up with the belief that they need to succeed, and bring home with them the knowledge, skills and prestige that come with a North American education. Sometimes these students need to be reminded to seek balance in their overall school lives.
Finally, there’s a piece that often gets lost in the shuffle, and one which many of us in schools and as educational consultants never get to experience first-hand. This is the personal struggle that our Asian students face as they come of age in a host culture. The struggle with their global identity and the balance between the values of their home cultures and the culture of American independent schools and/or colleges are intricate issues that must be explored further. The extra emotional work and self-exploration these students are forced to experience alone are mind-boggling and amazing feats. It’s worth thinking about the other side as we work with these incredible students and embrace who they are fully.