An international student’s choice to study in the United States

I laid beside my grandpa after eating one afternoon. The sun shined warmly through the window.

I grabbed my grandpa’s hand and put my head on his shoulder.

“Grandpa, why did my mom become a teacher? I want to listen to stories about my mom’s childhood.”

“Your mom?” he said. “OK, let me think. She likes singing, and her voice is sweet and special. You know in high school, she always skipped class and found a private space to practice singing. After graduating high school, she passed the music school test and told me this is her personal choice for life. She wanted to become a music teacher.”

My grandpa stroked my head.

 “Guai guai [baby], why do you choose to go to an American university?”

I sat up and gripped my grandpa’s hand. I didn’t answer at that moment.


This choice changed my family and my future.

My parents had saved money to help me start a business someday. But I spent that money on studying abroad and gave up a relatively comfortable and relaxed life. 

Why did I choose this? Was it worth it?

Since my grandpa asked this question, I found some answers. 

In China, except for my grades, my parents helped me when I was in trouble. Studying in America has pushed me to develop life skills on my own.

But it didn’t happen all at once. When I came to America, I always forgot to watch the weather forecast, because at home my mom would watch it and help me pick out clothes. So, in the first semester, forgetting to take an umbrella and not wearing warm-enough clothes happened to me many times.

I still remember the first day of classes. The American Culture and English (ACE) Program is a set of three classes that international students must take. Once students successfully complete the program, they are fully admitted into Miami University. On the first day of ACE classes, I woke up late and ran to Bachelor Hall. When I ran outside the dorm, I found it was raining heavily. But I didn’t have time to go back to the dorm to take an umbrella. 

I held a bag on my head and ran fast and did not notice the road. I fell down the stairs, and blood ran down my knee and stained my pants red. 

I sat on the ground and put my head on my leg. My knee hurt. I was afraid in this new country. I missed my mother. It all weighed on my heart. The rain fell, tears dropped from my eyes, and I wished for a warm hug.

But I knew I needed to get up by myself.

Before I came to the United States, I tried to find hints of American culture in research. I was surprised when the American books and movies I had watched to prepare for studying abroad did not match my experience in the United States. 

Critical thinking is the first thing that surprised me. Some books said American education pays more attention to cultivating children’s critical thinking. But I was still confused. What teacher’s reaction can cultivate children’s critical thinking? How did people show they were critical thinkers? 

I didn’t understand until one day in my Introduction to Education course. The professor said that a financial support program is beneficial for the American education system and a girl put up her hand.

“I disagree with you,” the student said. “I think it is incorrect.” 

I gasped. What? Disagreeing with the professor directly in front of the class?

I felt embarrassed, thinking the professor would be mad at this girl. In my country, the girl’s question would be considered rude and disrespectful to the professor. I had never seen this happen in China.

I looked up hesitantly at the professor, who was not as surprised as me. 

“Why do you think this?” the professor said. “Give me some reasons.”

Seriously? I was surprised by my professor’s reaction. But that moment was when I actually understood what critical thinking was and how American education cultivated it. During the last two years, I experienced culture’s collision and fusion. I experienced different education methods. I learned broad knowledge and broke my inherent thinking.

In China, some traditional parents tell their children how to live their lives.

Take classes. Get good grades. Find stable work. Get married, have children and focus on family. What a boring life!

In America, I saw a mother go to college. I saw a student drop out of their university to become a fireman. I didn’t read or hear about these people. I met them and watched them pursue their own dreams in different ways.

In America, I met people from France, Nepal, Vietnam and Korea. They had different backgrounds, experienced different education levels, pursued different lifestyles. They encouraged me to challenge and break away from what my parents expected for my life.

If anyone, even my parents, doubt my lifestyle, I will be brave. I will say, “Why can't I? This is my life!”

Studying abroad has helped me master another language to become competitive in my country’s job market. After graduating, I can get more opportunities to find a good job.

But was it worth coming to America? I can’t answer this right now because I’m not finished with my time here. I have returned home to take classes online because of coronavirus. During this process, I have faced new challenges. The worries about whether I can graduate on time, the huge different patterns for class, the big challenge for balancing the different time zones. 

In the past, I wanted to apply to a post-graduate school in America, but now I have to change my future plan. I might instead apply for a master's degree in another country or go back to China to find a job. Who knows? I don’t mind if my future is uncertain. Maybe when I graduate from the university and look back on my four years, the answer will occur to me.

But I can answer my grandpa’s question. 

I want to grow up and find out how good I am.


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