From China to Delaware: The Chinese Education System, and Why Students Leave It


Elizabeth Lin

Lin, Shi, and Zheng together. The three students each came from China to study at Padua.

By Stella W. '19, Padua Academy

Schools in the United States attracts hundreds of thousands of international students every year. The bulk of these students come from China, according to a study conducted on Chinese students in the United States by Chiang-nan Chao for the Journal of International Students. These students must transition from a vastly different system of education and forge new friendships and connections in an often unfamiliar country.

Chinese Students at Padua

Tingwei Shi, a senior from China, first heard about a program that would allow her to come study in America when she was in seventh grade. Like juniors Elizabeth Lin and Crystal Zheng, Shi left left China to study at Padua, grappling with the differences in education and culture along the way. She struggled to leave behind her home and friends in China, but does not regret her decision.

Sometimes I do miss my friends in China, I have lost a connection with them,” she said. “We haven’t had contact for so long. Part of me always wanted to come to America. In high school, I convinced my mom, and she found an agency in Beijing that had contact with an agency here.”

Shi did not speak extensive English when she came, but learned quickly.

“I didn’t talk much when I first came,” she said. “I did well in English when I was in China, but it was different when I got here.”

Stella W. '19

Lin dreamed of coming to America as a child, but the transition to America has been difficult.

“I [thought] with study abroad, I [could] get away from my home and meet many girls here. After, like, half a year, I found that I was wrong. I’m here alone, not too many friends. Well, I do have Crystal and Tingwei,” she said with a smile.

Shi’s school in China was strict and difficult, but her decision to come to America was mainly motivated by her own desires.

“I always wanted to be here,” she said. “After one year of high school in China, I decided that this was not what I wanted in life. Every day was study, study, study. I did learn a lot, but I was kind of lost.”

Lin, who attended boarding school, echoed Shi’s statements. She described schools in China as “very strict and very stressful.”

“I would go to class from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” she said. “It was exhausting, but it was always like that. When I was in middle school, I’d hear people talk about it and I’d think, ‘That’s crazy, I don’t know how I’m going to do that.’ They always wanted us to be fully motivated and focused, otherwise you’d be left behind. You’re competing with so many people.”

Zheng studied in Australia for a year before coming to America. She feels that Padua is stressful as well, but not as much so as school in China.

“In China, all students focus on is studying,” she said. “Here there’s activities, sports, volunteering… I think that’s good.”

Shi described her school in China as “very different” from Padua.

“We don’t use block schedules, we sit as a whole class,” she said. “The teacher switches [for] different classes. You don’t know people outside your classroom, but here it’s common to know everybody.

“We also have a test, the gaokao, you take at the end of senior year. It basically determines where you’re going to end up in college. Here you have GPAs and extracurriculars… In our system, it’s just a test. Because the test is so important, we don’t do a lot of activities.”

Shi explained that because of the intensity of the test, many students also have tutors after school. However, she took an American college class last summer, which she felt was much harder than colleges in China.

Tingwei Shi
Shi and Zheng with their host sister, Ireland Giaquinto, at Reading Terminal Market. The two have been living with Mrs. G and her family.

“It’s very hard to get a good enough score on the gaokao to go to a good college,” she said, “but the college classes in China aren’t like that. I think that’s when people start to do activities and do what they like, maybe have a boyfriend or girlfriend.”

Zheng and Shi currently live with Mrs. G.

“Mrs. G knows everything,” said Shi. “When we see anything, she always tells us the story behind it, it’s really fun. With a different family, you end up with a very different experience, but we definitely have a lot of fun with her.”

Lin, who also lives with a host family, had to adopt different living habits as she adjusted to life in America.

“We eat different things, so I had to adapt to their foods,” she said. “We mixed two cultures together.”

Shi will be attending Northeastern University in Boston in the fall.

“I feel like a part of the reason we’re here is to attend an American college,” she said. “American colleges are kind of famous in China.”

Lin and Zheng, both juniors, have not yet solidified college plans.

“It’s hard for us to just go back to China,” Lin said. “College here is also a challenge, we need to work hard for it.”

This story continues and was originally published on Padua 360 on May 22, 2019.