I chose to earn my master’s in applied linguistics here in Shanghai, through a Chinese-language program at East China Normal University (华东师范大学). While I’m certainly not the only foreigner to ever do this, I get a lot of inquiries about it, as more and more non-Chinese focus on China. Although I’ve written a bit about different aspects of grad school in China in the past, I find it difficult to offer a very useful comparison simply because I’ve never attended any graduate courses in my home country of the United States; I’ve only ever done it in China. Still, I’d like to share some of my thoughts on one big question: why would an American choose to do graduate studies in China?
The question implies that there are good reasons not to pursue higher education in China. Indeed there are, so I’d like to get them out in the open right away. I obviously can’t cover the issues for every school and every program in China, but these are the big ones I personally encountered:
– You have to have the Chinese level for it. Remember, this whole post is about earning a degree all in Chinese, not through an English language program. To be fair, it’s not as hard as you might imagine; most Chinese programs welcome foreigners with the minimum Chinese language skills to handle the curriculum. The entrance test you’ll be given is not the same one the Chinese students must take, and the selection criteria tend to be far more lenient. Still, you’re going to need an HSK score of 6 or better, and you’re going to need to be able to write Chinese (yes, by hand) if you want to get into one of these programs.
– Inferior instruction. Ouch. Yes, I said it. In many cases, you’re simply not going to be getting a great education (by international standards) at a Chinese university. Many programs are not up to date on the latest theory in the field. Do your research.
– No strong emphasis on originality. When it comes time for term papers, teachers actually stress: don’t download your paper from the internet. Yes, they have to say it.
– Much less wilingness to experiment. As a master’s student at ECNU, I was repeatedly discouraged from doing an experiment, urged instead to rehash some grammatical topic from a slightly different angle (keep in mind the field is applied linguistics). I gather from anecdotal evidence that in many fields, the academics most interested in research go abroad (and often don’t come back).
– Less academic freedom. Your advisor makes a huge difference. I know of multiple cases where an advisor would not allow his student to pursue her own academic interests because the advisor didn’t know enough about that topic to be helpful (or perhaps the advisor wanted the student to research something else for his own reasons). Students often have no choice of advisors, which can sometimes mean that a student has very limited input on his own thesis topic.
– The “extended undergrad” experience. It’s a tough time to be a young Chinese graduate. The job market is not good. As a result, many undergraduates are continuing on to grad school to delay their job search and to try to improve their qualifications for the jobs they do eventually compete for. The result is an overall dilution of the academic passion and initiative you might expect in a graduate program.
– Boring teacher-centric teaching model. In my case, in four semesters of courses, only two placed any emphasis on discussion. (Those were my two favorites.) For most classes, the professor simply stood at the front of the class and lectured.
Then why China?
Aside from reduced cost, there is one main reason a westerner might choose to go to grad school in China over a western country: because one’s object of study is inherently Chinese. This includes Chinese history, Chinese art, Chinese language, etc.
A reader once wrote me for advice on graduate level studies, saying:
> I want to do field research on speech patterns of Chinese-Mongolian bilingual speakers in Inner Mongolia, specifically how their exposure to Chinese affects their command and use of Mongolian.
In this case, it appears studying at a Chinese university makes sense, although she shouldn’t rule out the possibility of completing coursework in the States, but going to China for the field research. But she’ll have to dig for programs like that.
In my case, because I intended to stay in China long-term, it made sense to study in China both for career reasons and for Chinese study reasons. This does not mean that I found the master’s degree a “perfect match” however. I was fortunate enough to have a great advisor, but I really struggled to stay motivated when encountering some of the issues above. And although I was in a good location to conduct the experiment I wanted to do, I received little to no guidance in its execution. There were definitely times when I wondered if doing the degree in China was worth it.
By going through it, I did gain a deeper understanding into Chinese academia, even if what I experienced as a foreigner was “Chinese academia lite.” We did take the same courses, have the same professors, and get forced to attend the same student meetings. One question I cannot yet answer, however, is if those insights are worth some of the other aspects of my education which I sacrificed.
As I mentioned above, I can only speak from my own limited experience, but I would love to hear from those of you that can add to the picture.
Many an eager young laowai has arrived in China with the goal of learning the language. This is an undertaking I whole-heartedly support. But why stop with Chinese? Human labor is high in supply and low in price here, and this principle applies to all kinds of teaching and training services as well.
What can you learn in China besides Chinese? Tons of things. Here are some examples:
Cooking (there are a million styles of Chinese cuisine, appreciated all over the world)
Musical instruments (eastern or western, from guzhen or erhu to drums or guitar, it’s all here)
Sports & martial arts (from tennis or soccer to tai chi or even taekwondo)
Art (drawing, painting, scultpure, calligraphy, etc.)
Chess, Chinese chess (象棋), go (围棋), “Connect Five” (五子棋), mahjongg (麻将) etc.
Other foreign languages or dialects (rather high Chinese level recommended)
The more international your city, the more your options. For example, I know one person studying taekwondo in Shanghai, but taekwondo, not being Chinese, is probably not an option everywhere in China, whereas cooking and musical instruments will be.
I had better head off a few excuses here:
Learning by M. Hoffmann
Language is not a huge issue. If you’re a student of Chinese, using and hearing Chinese to learn something else will only enhance and accelerate your acquisition of Chinese. The more physically demonstrable the subject matter (e.g. cooking or musical instruments), the less your Chinese ability will matter. If you’re not studying Chinese or are really just way too early in your studies to apply it to another field of study, you should still be able to find a teacher. Tutoring an English-speaking foreigner is an opportunity that many teachers will jump at; it allows them to practice their English while focusing on exactly the language that applies to their field of expertise.
There are channels to help you find tutors. The Chinese way is to start by asking your friends and acquaintances for recommendations or introductions. In addition, some universities provide cheap tutoring services by offering their students as tutors, and collecting only a small processing fee. Going through such an agency makes it easier to switch tutors if necessary and to add additional study subjects if you so wish. (My alma mater, East China Normal University in Shanghai, offers such a service. I’ve used it in the past, and can attest to both its affordability and effectiveness.) There are also small companies which offer various kinds of tutoring or training at market rates; just ask for some help in finding them.
You have time if you’re really interested. I’ve been feeling especially busy with work lately, but I’m not a machine, so I still take time to relax at night. Watching DVDs or surfing the net are two ways to unwind, but if I’m taking lessons in something I genuinely enjoy, it’s a much more satisfying way to spend my free time. So I’ve just recently signed up for a weekly piano lesson in a small school near my home. (Click here to see what the school charges for lessons.)
I’ve always regretted not studying piano (or some instrument) when I was younger. China has given me a very affordable second chance, although I didn’t recognize it immediately. If, like me, you live in China and have been wanting to take lessons of some kind but denying yourself for some reason or another, hopefully this little nudge will help you to get out there and start learning!
Thanks to everyone that wrote to me when I asked for subjects. I ended up having to get students from ECNU after all. I spent the weekend finishing up the preliminary work, and this week the experiment begins in earnest. Whoo-hoo!
I was disappointed that actual experiments seem to be discouraged by the faculty at my school. (Come on! This is supposed to be science! How can you discourage experiments??) Well, I’m starting to realize how much extra work it is. And, for someone that is already working full time and doesn’t have a lot of time to do everything on his own, that amounts to more expense. When all this is over and the “veil of secrecy” is pulled back, I’ll share some of the figures.
Today I had to officially submit my masters thesis proposal to a panel of professors at East China Normal University. In Chinese, the verb for going through this process is 开题. When you propose your thesis topic, you have to give each professor on the panel a copy of your proposal, or 开题报告. Then you summarize what you’d like to do in your thesis, and ask the professors any questions, if you’d like. The professors ask you questions about the scope of your thesis, controlling certain variables, theoretical basis, how your thesis will differ from existing research, etc. If all goes well, they will give you a few recommendations, approve the topic, then sign some paperwork and it’s all over. (I wish I could compare the process to an American version, but I’ve only ever been a graduate student in China, so I can’t.)
My thesis proposal was approved. I still have to revise the scope of my experiment somewhat, but I’m going to be studying some of the problems that North Americans have with the tones of Mandarin Chinese as upper elementary level exchange students in China.
In preliminary research on my topic, the most relevant and interesting paper I came across was a research paper by Dr. Qinghai Chen, who is currently a professor at the University of Michigan. Dr. Chen’s doctoral dissertation was done at Brigham Young University in 2000, entitled “Analysis of Mandarin Tonal Errors in Connected Speech by English-Speaking American Adult Learners: A Study at and Above the Word Level.”
> Findings at and above the word level jointly led to a summary of tonal error patterns, a discussion of relevant learner factors, an acquisition order of tonal contrasts, a set of criteria for better tones, and pertinent pedagogical suggestions.
So far I have been unable to get a full copy of the dissertation. I have contacted Dr. Chen and am awaiting his reply, but I’m afraid he might be on vacation or something. If anyone has an electronic copy of this paper, I would greatly appreciate the help!
Update: I got several e-mails offering help in acquiring Dr. Chen’s doctoral dissertation, including one with a PDF copy of exactly what I’m looking for (and within 12 hours of publishing this post). You readers are awesome! Thank you.
I recently took a look at my passport and discovered that my student visa was expired. Long expired. It had expired on September 15th, 2006.
As you can imagine, I kind of freaked out a little at first. My wife is here. My home is here. My job is here. What if they bust in and drag me away, kicking and screaming, for my egregious visa overstay? Seemed plausible.
I was kinda pissed at East China Normal University. They handle my visa. They never even mentioned anything about visa renewal to me. I talked to them, and they claimed they had called me and/or e-mailed me about it (they did neither), and that if I really never heard from them, then maybe I somehow slipped through the cracks when they switched from the old system to the new networked system. I suspect me being one of the few foreign grad students played a factor as well. Anyway, all this was kind of irrelevant, because at the end of the day, I alone am responsible for making sure I have a valid visa. It’s right there in my passport. I may be busy, but I must watch that expiration date.
So how was it resolved? The school wrote a letter for me saying I was a great student and to please be lenient when fining me. They gave me the form with signature and seal that I needed for the new study visa. They also told me that I was facing a maximum fine of 5000 RMB. (That’s about US$644.)
It’s the end of the semester. You might expect me to be busy with schoolwork, but I’m really not especially busy because all three of my graduate-level courses are based on essays which don’t need to be turned in until the beginning of next semester. So I have all summer to work on those. The one undergrad class I’m taking to make up credit, Modern Chinese (现代汉语), does have an exam. So that’s probably the only traditional exam I’ll have to take at ECNU.
Despite the lack of exams, I find myself very busy. I’m busy with ChinesePod as well as with a variety of other things. Most of all, my mind has been extremely busy lately, mulling over all kinds of developments. Maybe at a later date I’ll write about some of those things, but for now the time spent on personal reflection is usurping the time I might spend on quality blog writing.
I must say, though, that Joel Martinsen at Danwei.org has been writing some really great stuff lately. It’s great to have him combing the Chinese web for us. His latest gem is the translation of a story he calls Disability Certificate (scroll down to the story, at least, if you’re not interested in the analysis). Whether or not the story is true, I think it really captures some truths about China.
I am a visual learner. I want to see new words written down. I like to see concepts diagrammed. I understand more easily and remember much better that which I see.
So far, this seems like a handicap for me at ECNU. With only one exception, none of my classes this academic year have made much use of visual aids. (And when I say “visual aid,” I use such a loose definition as to include just writing anything on the board.) This semester has been especially bad in this respect, with three classes where the professor typically just sits there and talks the entire time, never going near the board. This wouldn’t be so bad if the professor were lecturing on some sort of material we had already read about beforehand, but for those classes the material all comes straight from the professor (although there are some recommended texts). So most of the time, class content is 100% aural.
The one class where the teacher consistently uses the blackboard is an undergrad class on Modern Chinese I am auditing to get extra credits. That class is so hugely different from my graduate courses it’s almost laughable, but it should be easier–it’s a core undergrad course. We have one set text, and the teacher goes straight through it. Much of what the teacher writes on the board is in the book anyway. When the teacher writes on the board, he writes in extremely neat, clear handwriting. (One of my professors has handwriting so bad it gives me nightmares.) Is this undergraduate class representative?
It’s my first time in graduate school anywhere, so in all honesty I’m not sure exactly what to expect. As a graduate student, I don’t expect content to be spoon-fed to me as if I were still an undergrad. It just seems like there should be some visual content in my graduate classes. I’ve heard rumors of PowerPoint, but have never seen it in any of my classes.
So all this leads me to wonder… are visual aids just for babies undergrads (in China)? Does China’s system of higher education possibly favor those who are not visual learners?
Never having been a graduate student anywhere else or an undergraduate student in China, these are questions I cannot answer on my own.
The group of ECNU international students that went to Wuyuan last weekend was composed of undergrads and above (no language students). So that meant everyone could communicate in Chinese pretty well already. There was a whole busload of Korean students and half a bus of Japanese students, however, so you still heard a lot of Korean and Japanese on the trip.
It was nice hearing Japanese again (it’s been a while), and even nicer knowing I still understand it pretty easily. What was not so nice was discovering that when I speak it now, it requires much more effort than it used to.
I was talking about that with a new friend from Sri Lanka. He noticed I wasn’t talking to the Japanese students a whole lot and asked me why I didn’t make friends with them and practice more Japanese. I explained to him that after living in China for over 5 years, I have become extremely sensitive to the practice of using people for language practice. I refuse to use Japanese people for Japanese practice.
It’s sad, because thinking about it, I realize that I’m less friendly to those Japanese students because I don’t want to use them. I unintentionally pass up chances for friendship because of my strong aversion to the idea of “using” them.
[The antagonistic may now ask, “well why do you think it’s fine to use the Chinese but not the Japanese?” I’m going to pretty much ignore this question because I can see nothing wrong with sincerely engaging people in their native tongue in their own country, and never will.]
Obviously, the solution is to “lighten up” and just “be natural.” Why is that so hard? I honestly feel slightly socially scarred on this issue. I am trying to do something about it, though. I warmed up to some of the Japanese students by the end of the trip.
Back in my first year or two of teaching at ZUCC, there were several instances where I showed up to the classroom all prepared to teach “Spoken English” (invariably they were early morning classes), only to be stood up by the entire class. No one came. Why? It was their 春游–their yearly “Spring Outing.” The “class monitor” (班长) had neglected to inform me.
What are these “Spring Outings?” They’re a very Chinese way of enjoying life’s splendid reemergence in nature. They’re an opportunity for students to bond and further develop comraderie. They’re a means for Chinese citizens to rediscover the natural beauty of their motherland. But most importantly, they are a “get out of class free” card.
You see, when a Spring Outing comes up, all you have to do is tell the teacher “we have a Spring Outing,” and class is automatically canceled, no questions asked. Matters of curriculum are petty in comparison to this wondrous rite of Spring.
Well, this year, I finally get my turn. The international center of East China Normal University has arranged a Spring Outing for its foreign students: a three-day trip to Wuyuan (婺源), Jiangxi Province. It only costs 50 rmb per student–bus fare, hotel, and basic food included! I leave today at 7am and get back late Sunday. It might be an overly touristy experience, but at least I’ll get some time to meet some more people. Plus I haven’t gone on a trip in a while, and I’m overdue. I’ll probably pick up some tea for my girlfriend’s parents (I hear they like that). Anyway, all that is only secondary, because this time I’m getting out of class and going on a Spring Outing as payback. This time I’m… field tripping for vengeance!
People keep telling me they want to hear more about what it’s like to be a grad student in China. I promise I’ll say more in the future, but for now here’s my class schedule for this semester. At this point I haven’t even been to the first class yet for most of these classes, though, so I can’t comment on the content yet.
Modern Chinese 现代汉语
Studies in Pragmatics 语用学研究
Modern Chinese 现代汉语
Chinese Syntax 汉语语法学
Oh wait… I can comment on one thing. You’ll notice that one of my classes is “Modern Chinese,” which you might remember is what I was tested on to get into grad school in the first place. I got a B on that test. So why am I taking it again?
Well, because I don’t have to take the English or Chinese political theory classes, I have to make up the credits somehow. My advisor suggested I take the second semester of Modern Chinese in order to strengthen my understanding and get 4 credits pretty easily. I’m taking the “Studies in Pragmatics” course for the same reason. Both are in the college of Chinese as a Second Language (对外汉语), and since my advisor is a head honcho in that department, it’s easiest to arrange classes there. That’s OK, since my interests in applied linguistics lean heavily toward Chinese as a Second Language anyway.
The one downside is that the Modern Chinese class is an undergraduate course. I don’t mind taking class with the kiddies, but undergrad courses mean undergrad testing style: lots of memorization and written tests. All my other classes only require attendance and a final paper. Oh well. That I’ve learned that Modern Chinese stuff once before should make it easier. (And fortunately the prof said they’re not going to be covering much of the dreaded 修辞!)
This week I’m finally getting around to writing my two remaining final papers for last semester. Classes don’t start until something like the 27th though (I think). One of my assignments is to revise my paper on Chomsky according to my professor’s comments. That shouldn’t be too hard, except that she left a few questions on my paper that would seem to warrant entire essays of their own in order to answer. (Ah, she won’t remember what she wrote on my paper, right??)
The other essay is a response to one of the lectures given in a seminar course. The Chinese name of the course was 当代学术前沿讲座 which basically translates to “a bunch of boring lectures.” The only one I found remotely interesting was 汉语语法的问题和方法 (Issues and Methods in Chinese Grammar). So that sure narrows down my possible writing topics.
It is now Year of the Dog, and I find myself working during my vacation. What am I working at? Well…
– This past weekend it was getting the site online at the new server. That’s now mostly done.
– Now it’s a big freelance translation job. Ahhh, translation… the work I love to hate. It certainly pays well over Chinese New Year, though. (Supply and demand, you have been kind to me this once…)
– Map editing. I took a freelance map editing job. Weird. I don’t mind it, but the worst part is I’m having trouble finding good maps in Shanghai! Even worse is that most Chinese maps don’t even list the scale to which the map was drawn. Cartographer fools!
– Class work. In the Chinese system, your final paper is due after the winter break. After you turn it in you get your grade. What kind of stupid procrastination-encouraging, vacation-ruining system is this?!
So that’s why posting has been light. There is proof out there that my vacation has been at least partially fun, though.
And, finally, I leave you with an example of horrible, horrible Chinese Flashmanship. I mean, really… what is the point of this crap??
I’ve been getting a lot of “how are your classes going?”-type questions lately. I’ve been delaying answering the questions because I wanted to be able to give a more comprehensive answer, but I just found out today that at least one of my classes for this semester won’t begin until October 26th, so I guess I might as well talk about my impressions thus far.
I’ve only had three different classes to date. I will eventually have at least four, and likely five, but the details are still being worked out. The classes I’ve already started are:
Survey of China (中国概况). This one is just for foreign grad students, it seems. The funny thing is they also make Taiwanese grad students take it. At first I thought it was a little bit silly to force foreigners to take a class like this (after all, any foreigner whose Chinese is good enough to handle grad school in Chinese likely has a pretty decent understanding of China), but later I realized it was a kindness. First, it’s easy. Really easy. It would be stupid to want my first semester in Chinese grad school to be full of difficult classes. All you have to do for this class is attend the three hours a week and write one 1.5-page paper for the entire semester. No exams. Second, it is offered to partially compensate for the credits that foreigners lose out on by not having to take classes in English or Chinese political theory. So far this class is not too exciting, but there’s a different teacher with a different topic every week. In the first two weeks of classes we’ve covered “painting and calligraphy” and “Chinese minorities.”
Lectures for Grad Students (not sure about the Chinese name). It’s a lot like the Survey of China class, only the topics are a little more advanced and there are a lot more students (most of whom are Chinese). The grading policy and excitement level are pretty much the same as Survey of China too.
Selected Readings by Western Linguists (西方语言学家原著选读). This class is pretty cool, but difficult for me. Although I really like the teacher, she seems to have extremely low expectations of me. I think that will serve to motivate me to do especially well in class even more than if she were especially demanding of me. Anyway, I like the content, but it’s pretty rough reading it in Chinese. I’d like to be able to read English translations (or English originals) to complement the Chinese ones, but it’s proving harder than I expected to track down those papers. It’s really hard to read this abstract theoretical mumbo jumbo in Chinese — I suspect it would be hard for me in English. The linguists (or in some cases, “language theorists/philosophers”) we’re covering are Humboldt, Saussure, Bloomfield, Wittgenstein, Chomsky, and Gumperz.
So far I’m really enjoying learning about Humboldt. The guy’s ideas were way ahead of his time. The basic ideas behind the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and Chomsky’s universal grammar were discussed by Humboldt, and he didn’t take either to such an extreme. Too bad he was so obsessed with blabbing on and on about geist and other funny German words that are a bit of a translation pain.
Humboldt was German, but Wittgenstein was Austrian (and Saussure was Swiss). Still, my teacher has promised us some interesting insights into the thinking processes of Germans versus Americans down the road. Knowing my teacher, I suspect America is going to take a bit of a beating, but I’m still looking forward to the discussion…
This class also has no exams, but I’m required to make a class presentation on one of the linguists. I chose Chomsky. Syntactic Structures (in English!!!) has already been shipped.
The fourth class, which my advisor arranged for me, is in corpus linguistics (语料库语言学). I freaked out a little at first when he told me the Chinese name, because I had no idea what it was. Then I freaked out more because when I looked it up, I wasn’t familiar with it in English either! After a little research on corpus linguistics, however, I’m pretty sure that it will be quite interesting and well worth studying. That’s the class that starts October 26th.
I may take a fifth class with the Chinese as a Foreign/Second Language (对外汉语) department. I have no idea when that would be starting.
My Friday class has been canceled due to the upcoming holiday, which means today is my last day of class before vacation…
I think I’m officially a student of ECNU/华师大 now. On Wednesday I did two important things: I paid one year’s tuition out of my hard-earned Shanghai savings (21,777 rmb — ouch!) and I put through my student visa paperwork.
Unfortunately, they say they still can’t tell me how many classes/credits I’ll have my first semester, or which ones. I have to wait until registration on September 5th to learn that. I can’t even talk to my new adviser about it because he’s still on vacation. Classes start Sepember 12th.
My passport with new student visa will be delivered to my doorstep on August 17th. That’s gonna cost me 850 rmb, I believe (400 rmb for each semester, plus a ripoff 50 rmb for delivery). I’ll need that two days later to fly to Changchun, where I’ll be attending John B‘s wedding on the 20th. (Congrats to him!) I’ll be doing the overnight train thing back, leaving on the 21st and arriving in Shanghai on the 22nd.
I finally found out today what my scores were on my entrance exams to grad school at 华师大. They were what I predicted: two B’s. I got an 81 on the 汉语基础 exam and an 85 on the writing exam. (In China the scale is typically A: 90-100, B: 80-89, C: 70-79, D: 60-69, F: below 60.)
I’ll be paying my tuition soon, and the process for obtaining my student visa is already in motion. What was holding everything up was that 刘大为, the professor who was to be my advisor, has decided to leave Hua Shi Da for Fudan University. So they weren’t sure if I still wanted to do my Masters with them because he was leaving, and they weren’t able to get in touch with me because I was in the States. Kinda strange… is it normal to have one’s degree with a university in China dependent on having one particular professor as an advisor? 刘大为 is pretty famous, I hear, but still…
My entrance exams for grad school at East China Normal University are finally over. It’s hard to believe that I’d been preparing for them for eight months. I’ve been studying quite a bit harder this past month, I’ll admit. But what a weight off my shoulders!
I probably won’t find out the results until next week some time, but I feel pretty good about how I did.
Part I: Modern Chinese (2 hours)
I think I did OK. There were 10 questions, all asking for some kind of explanation, analysis, or comparison, and always with examples. (No multiple choice, no fill in the blanks.) Of the ten, eight of the questions concerned content which I pretty much fully anticipated. They weren’t tricky. A lot of regurgitation was involved for some of them. One of the unanticipated ones called for a full analysis of synonym groups. I had studied that a little and then decided that it probably wouldn’t be tested on, so I disregarded it. I probably got some partial credit there anyway, though.
I guessed correctly that there would be exactly one 修辞 (“rhetoric,” involving fancy topics like literary devices) question on the exam. That’s 10% of the exam. And yet the 修辞 section took up 100 of the textbook’s 500 pages. So I pretty much skipped it entirely, aside from briefly looking at the main terms. So I just BSed that one question on the exam. I bet I got a few points.
Overall, I think I got a B.
Part II: Composition (1 hour)
The topic was really general, like “do some comparisons of American and Chinese language and/or culture, based on your experiences.” Wow. They were obviously being nice to me. And it only had to be 700-800 characters instead of the 1000 the teacher had told me before.
Based on educated guessing, I had prepared for the topic “based on your experiences, compare and contrast the Chinese and American university systems.” So I was able to adapt that, as well as use some of the particularly well-crafted sentences and phrases that I recalled. I wrote about my experience of learning Chinese as an American, compared to the typical Chinese student’s experience learning English in China.
I’m sure there were mistakes, but my structure was solid and the conclusion is one the Chinese will like (basically 各有所长: “both have their strong points”), so I probably got a B overall.
So now I’m just waiting to be notified that I’ve been admitted to grad school and they want my tuition money.
Recently I had a chance to tour three of Shanghai’s main universities as part of a last-ditch effort to find someone for my company ASAP. The idea was to visit schools with Chinese study programs, find the foreigners, and possibly recruit a qualified one. I chose a really hot day to do it. In one day I covered Shanghai Jiao Tong University (上海交通大学), then East China Normal University (华东师范大学), and finally Shanghai International Studies University (上海外国语大学). (Notably absent from this list is Fudan University (复旦大学), but I’ve heard really bad things aboput their Chinese studies program, and it’s not in a convenient location, so I skipped it.)
Handing out my fliers to strangers was kind of a weird feeling. I felt like some suspicious salesman trying to perpetrate a scam, or like one of the Chinese promoters on the street attempting to persuade foreigners to come to her restaurant or bar. The difference, of course, was that I was just trying to find one good person for an actually decent job. But it still felt sketchy.
All of the campuses were nicer than I expected. Quite green, with lots of space. Like most Chinese college campuses, the teaching buildings were a mixture of old structures falling into disrepair and newer, more architecturally “inspired” creations with such modern wonders as elevators.
East China Normal University struck me as the most picturesque, with its emerald green streams cutting through campus and shady tree-lined streets. However, East China Normal University also flung its foreign students into an inconvenient corner of campus, a place which aesthetics seemed to overlook.
Shanghai International Studies University seemed very modern. It was also quite small, and I didn’t find any foreign students. (I think they are actually on a different campus than the one that I went to by the Hongkou Soccer Stadium.)
East China Normal University happens to be the school at which I’m considering doing a master’s in applied linguistics. During my lunch break I had time to inquire about the possibility. It turns out there are actually two applied linguistics programs; one is under the Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language Department (对外汉语系), the other is under the Chinese Department (中文系). They recommended I look into the Chinese Department program. Even though the program in the Chinese Department will be more difficult, it has a better reputation in China. I went along with that. I was sent to talk to the Dean of the Chinese Department.
That’s when things started getting scary. The Dean talked to me about the requirements for me to enter the program. I need an HSK score of 6. I have a 7. No problem. Since I’m a foreign student, the foreign language requirement is waived. Great. There are also four entrance examinations prospective grad students need to take. (gulp!) I would only need to take two. Excellent. One was Foundations of Chinese (汉语基础). I was confused for a second. Didn’t they trust my HSK score? No, that’s different. The HSK verifies that I know Chinese. The Foundations of Chinese test verifies that I know about Chinese. Structure and features of modern Chinese grammar, Chinese phonology, special features of Chinese characters, rhetoric, etc. Oh great. I haven’t really studied that. The other test is a Writing Composition test. Uh-oh.
Naturally, these tests made me a bit apprehensive about the whole deal. I talked to the dean about it, and it seems they’re willing to cut me a little slack, but I’m still going to have to bust my ass. They want me in the program, but I’m going to have to really work. Since I don’t want to start until Fall 2005, I have time to study the necessary material on my own. These are the books I was told to pick up: Modern Chinese (现代汉语), Problems in Chinese Grammar Analysis (汉语语法分析问题), Selected Readings from the West on Linguistics (西方语言学名著选读), and Essentials of Linguistics (语言学纲要). I don’t expect much trouble from the latter two other than just absorbing the Chinese for all the linguistic jargon I mostly already know. But the first might two may pose some diffilculty for me to tackle on my own. I think it’s time to start hunting for a tutor again.
Wow, this is looking like quite a challenge. But it’s a challenge I want. So, I guess it’s time to hit those books….