Although a rewarding experience, Chinese students studying in the United States do face challenges. In addition to adjusting to a new culture, learning a new language, and being away from family and friends, they must get accustomed to high school in the United States. Although you can't totally prepare for study abroad in the United States, you can make the transition easier by familiarizing yourself with major differences between high school in the US and China.
High schools in the United States focus more on individualized education. As a result, the number of students per class in China is higher. In the United States, class sizes vary by state. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, average high school class sizes vary from 17 to 31, depending on the state. Although 31 high school students in a class seem like a lot (just ask anyone who's ever taught in Nevada), that number is low compared to the average class size in China.
As a Chinese student, you may be surprised at the amount of individual attention you receive. Although teachers in US high schools value whole class instruction, they spend much of their instructional and preparation time taking care of individual student needs. Students are expected to ask for help when necessary and to conference with teachers before or after school, during lunch, or during class when they are struggling.
In China, the teacher comes to you; that is, students, stay in the same classroom throughout the day and teachers rotate. In American high schools, the teacher stays in his or her classroom throughout the day and students go from class to class. US high school students attend class with different individuals throughout the day.
As a study abroad student in a US high school, you'll be required to change classes during the school day. Most US high schools have 6-7 classes per day, although some schools are opting for block scheduling, which has fewer classes that last longer. When attending high school in the US, you'll need a locker to store things or be willing to lug around a backpack full of books all day.
One of the complaints American students, parents, and even teachers register is the over-emphasis on testing. In most states, students are required to pass end of the year exams, complete standardized tests throughout the year, and do well on college entrance exams to get into a good college or university.
Compared to testing in China, American students have it easy. The Chinese education system puts a greater emphasis on test scores. Chinese students studying in America rarely have a problem with the quantity of testing in the United States.
In China and the United States, teachers are required to meet certain qualifications. In the US, teachers get a teaching license based on grade level and, for secondary teaching, subject area. One of the primary differences between high school in the US and China is how grade level changes are handled.
In China, teachers move up in grade with students. In the United States, once the grade changes, the teacher changes, although the cohort concept has caught on for elementary schools in some parts of the country. If you study in the US, you'll receive instruction from different teachers each year.
Although discipline varies according to school, it's fair to suggest discipline problems in American high schools are greater than discipline problems in Chinese high schools. Chinese students studying in US high schools will need to get used to shorter passing periods and teachers supervising hallways, lunchrooms, and other common areas. Of course, if you're not causing problems, you'll have nothing to worry about.
Chinese students studying in the US might be shocked at the lack of respect students sometimes show teachers. Although American students are expected to address their teachers with formal titles, other signs of respect Chinese students are accustomed to are not seen in student-teacher interactions in the US.
Differences between high school in the US and China make up a part of adapting to a new culture, but as international students and travelers learn, different isn't always better or worse, it's just different.