Not Here Or There
Clara Zhang lives on the second floor of Scott Quad. From China's Shan Xi Province, she came to Ohio University in March with the help of a recruiting agency. She paid 25,000 Chinese RMB or $3,850, for help with the university application and visa process. She is a transfer student, and she wants to study international trading to get a job at her uncle's company. "I want to study the real university classes more, to live a more formal America college life," says Clara. "I just watch the American college students walking around, having meals, I cannot feel this life now."
I try to go to some American party, but they're just too crazy. —Andy Liu
Clara, like her international peers, does not feel American She doesn't know the name of any Disney characters in English. She was alone in her dorm room when her resident assistant, dressed as Snow White, knocked on her door to invite her to a Disney-themed party. The party was organized by the resident staff to get Chinese students to interact with Americans.
Clara set down her laptop, left her room with the empty bed that waits for an American roommate, and walked down the hallway of closed doors to the lounge. A friend helped her to write the name Fiona, Shrek's princess, on her nametag and she chatted in Chinese with two other new arrivals. She watched Hercules, she drew with crayons in a Disney coloring book and she returned to the refuge of her empty room.
It seems there are a lot of Chinese students in Scott Quad.
Although it may not be good for improving my English, but as a newcomer I have a lot of questions about life here.
So living here, Chinese students can help each other.
The school arranges for Chinese students to live with Americans.
But my roommate didn't show up, I don't know why.
Now I'm living alone so it's pretty sad.
The English classes we take here are very easy, grade school level.
I still haven't experienced American university life.
I just watch American students come and go on campus.
For Popo, Andy's girlfriend, a two-point difference on a standardized test decided her future. Acceptance into university in China depends solely on the National Higher Education Entrance Exam, an infamously rigorous standardized test, which is China's version of the SAT. Popo's score was two points below the minimum to get into university in her hometown, Guangzhou, in southern China. She decided to come to Ohio University.
Popo prefers studying in the United States. "Chinese education focuses too much on exams and they're really bad about the creative and letting the students think," she says.
Initially, Popo's parents were not supportive of her decision to study art. They wanted her to study business or a more practical major like other Chinese students that study abroad. Popo eventually convinced them that studying graphic design could be a benefit to her family's printing business. She is now taking art history, printmaking and philosophy as part of her major.
I want to study the real university classes more, to live a more formal American college life. I watch the American college students walking around, having meals, I don't know that life now. —Clara Zhang
The Chinese Student and Scholars Association held a masquerade ball in the Walter Hall Retunda, a dramatic, high-ceilinged ballroom encircled with 15-foot -tall windows. Black, white and gold balloons were taped to the walls to cover-up the sterile, institutional atmosphere. The women wore tight-fitting, strapless cocktail dresses and teetered in rhinestone encrusted silver stiletto heels on the dingy gray carpet. The men wore dress pants and suit jackets a size too big. Andy wore a gray bow tie. He and Popo were fighting. Bill popped in but didn't dance. Clara stayed home.
At the party, there was a rigid program of events scheduled precisely and painstakingly down to the minute. In a leggy, light blue mini-dress Yihan Fu, one of the entertainers, sang a sultry blues song in English. The M.C. lined men and women on separate sides of the room and the groups held a dance-off.
Red and yellow disco lights illuminated masked, shy faces. Most of the guests stayed in the shadows around the edges of the circular ballroom. They stood in small groups and checked each other out, slightly bending their knees and shifting to the music. Sugary Asian-American pop songs repeated throughout the night.
"What do you know about Abraham Lincoln?" asks Ron Luce, a middle-aged man holding a civil war musket. A group of a dozen international students on an OPIE class field trip stare back at him. "He's on the money," said one student. "He helped the black people," said another. Ron Luce, of the Athens County Historical Society and Museum in Athens, goes on to explain the history of the Civil War. Clara has her notebook out, but she takes sparse notes. She understands only bits and pieces of the history lecture.
After the field trip, Clara struggled to write ten sentences about the museum trip She writes: "The Civil War was found between 1861-1865; I saw the war's soldier's clothes is blue; I listened to the ancient church music." Clara hardly speaks in class; she sits by herself and quietly does her work. "How do you say instrument in English?" a classmate asked her in Chinese. "Instrument?" she said. Clara knows, but she is self-conscious and hindered by her own doubt.
Clara returned to her dorm room alone. She unloaded the shoulder bag that carries her six English textbooks. She was tired, and she laid down to take a nap before returning to Gordy Hall for an evaluation test that same evening. Aside from her full load of classes, she had to spend time practicing for the TOEFL exam, which determines whether or not she can take other classes in the greater university.
"Do you know where Marietta, Ohio is?" Luce asked that afternoon at the museum. Clara and her classmates shook their heads. Most of them had never even heard of Marietta, which is a picturesque town not far from where they stood. The edge of campus might as well be another border for them to cross.