East vs West
Western Sydney University Library

Cultural Differences: Education In Chinese And Western Societies

In the years I have worked as an English teacher in China, I have come to appreciate the religious studiousness of Chinese students.

In China, it is common for students to wake up early, finish school in the afternoon, study into the evening, and wake up the next day for school.  Chinese society calls them Xué bà (学霸).

The Chinese education system is fiercely competitive.  Chinese students are taught to memorize information by rote that will be presented in their final exams.  Once the final exam is over, this information becomes meaningless in real life.

The Western education system on the other hand teaches its students to think critically.  An Australian assignment provides an outline, which relies heavily on the critical thinking of students to write a multi-paper.

Western education also encourages students to be engaged in recreational activities such as sport, and social activities, with homework considered less essential in Australia.

The cultural differences between Eastern and Western education systems and education practices are substantial.

Cultural Differences In Chinese And Western Study Practices

These cultural differences emerged when I came to Western Sydney University with a Chinese friend.  We came into a study area, which had lounges, a snooker table, a kitchen, and designated study areas.

Three students played snooker, a handful of students were seated in the designated quiet area doing their studies, and one Asian female in steel-capped boots and work pants was seated with a laptop on a high stool.

Behind us, we heard an Australian boy and girl laughing as they watched a video, and had fun.

My friend said, “In China, if people in the university were really loud like that couple, I would be angry.  Chinese students come to the library to study.”

I smirked knowingly, “Yeah, but Australian people do not really come to university to study so hard.”

She exclaimed, “I can see that.  But when Chinese people come to study in Australia, the course costs so much money.  Many Chinese students borrow money from their parents.  Because it costs so much money for a Chinese student to study abroad, the Chinese students want to study really hard.  They do not want to fail and have wasted their parents’ money.”

That made sense to me.

The Push Factors For Westerners To Study Abroad

Western people do not have the same habit to study abroad.  There is no great push factor that compels Australians to leave Australia, fly overseas, and study in America, England or China for example.

When I came to study the Chinese language in China, Guangzhou, Jinan university, I had to keep pace with the curriculum.  Each school day consisted of reading three to four new chapters, writing calligraphy, speaking in group exercises, sitting two mini tests per week, and homework.  There was no chance to pause.  You had to keep pace.

Daily revision and homework was essential for me to keep pace in my Mandarin classes in China.

The Push Factors For Chinese To Study Abroad

Chinese students on the other hand have adopted overseas study into their culture.  A bachelor degree from America, Australia or England looks much more prestigious to the international businesses in China compared to studying in Beijing University.

Chinese companies assume Chinese students who study abroad receive a better education and are more fluent in the English language, which makes them highly desirable in the local Chinese market.

Conversely, when Chinese students come to study abroad in Australia, they quickly realize it is not important to study hard, but to become a critical thinker.  This poses a huge culture shock.

Chinese students abroad also realize how expensive Australia is.  Four years of tuition fees in Sydney University plus expenses costs upwards of 2 million Chinese yuan (200万人民币).

Chinese students abroad have no access to Commonwealth-funded HECS for their tertiary education.  Therefore, Chinese students abroad study as hard as they can, and avoid socializing or expensive purchases in Australia, in an attempt to be respectful to their parents.

When my Chinese friend saw the casual nature of Australian students in the Western Sydney University library, it contrasted with the Chinese domestic education system.  The changes required in her study lifestyle abroad will take time to accustom to.

Are you looking for suitable English-Chinese language exchange partners in China and Abroad?

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