America: The Land of Opportunity?

In my work here at AF Education, I often read about and in many cases talk with students from China who wish to go overseas to study. Whilst the UK is a very popular choice for many, there remains one undisputed king when it comes to choosing where to study as a foreign student: The “Good Old US of A!”

With the likes of the Ivy League and a host of other top tier places of study, the US consistently ranks as the world’s best when it comes to choosing a country to study in.

However, these days Chinese universities are also making big waves globally, and with each passing year, they seem to scale the global rankings higher and higher

It remains to be seen if they will someday overtake the US and the UK at the very top of the global rankings, but for the time being at least, the US remains the place to be.

So what is it that sets America apart from China and indeed the rest of the world?

The one thing about China, is that for all the advancements made in the last 30 years or so, the country has, as of yet, not really seen much immigration. About 98% of China’s population are ethnically Chinese. Whilst this may not necessarily be a bad thing, the problem is that it means without venturing outside your homeland, as a Chinese student, you international experiences will be considerably limited if you don’t travel abroad.

In the US, the opposite applies.

As a country built almost entirely out of immigration, very few countries across the world embody the concept of the “cultural melting pot” quite like the US. As a student in the US you will have the opportunity to meet, interact with and study alongside people from all over the world, of all creeds, colours and political viewpoints. This not only expands your own experience and knowledge base, but it also pushes you to think in new, exciting and dynamic ways. There’s nothing like hearing a range of perspectives on a topic to make you reassess your world view.

This internationalism goes beyond just the classroom. As you venture out into the city you will have the chance to sample foods, music, sports and arts from all corners of the world. My friend once joked that America is the only country in the world where you can have a conversation in Spanish, whilst eating Chinese food and watching a Bollywood (Indian) movie!

Another major difference you will notice between your home in China and the US is in the way day to day interactions take place.

Both Chinese and Americans have a reputation in other countries as being very direct speakers, however in the US, I would argue that this is even more prevalent an idea than it is in China.

To the uninitiated, Americans can come across as brash, sometimes even downright rude, but in the vast majority of cases, this is not their intention. I think the simplest way to put it would be to say that they are “no nonsense” characters. Americans value traits such as speaking directly, regardless of your social standing. This is in stark contrast to China, where, as I’m sure you know, one is expected to follow the Confucian principle of deferring to one’s elders in all matters of debate.

Another area where you may notice a surprising difference in America is in the food.

I recall a few years ago having a few beers at a friend’s house in Tokyo. My friend was from the US. The movie we were watching had been recorded off of US television. However, my friend’s DVR player must have malfunctioned that night as it didn’t cut out all the commercials as one would expect. So every 10 minutes or so, the flow of the movies was broken up by various adverts.

To my amazement, about 90% of them were for food. Fried foods, seemed to be especially popular.

An English friend of mine, not noted for his diplomatic prowess, remarked rather bluntly: “Oh my god, no wonder you Americans are all as fat as pigs!”

Luckily for him, my American friend saw the funny side. But as usual, in his own cuttingly abrasive way, my friend kind of had a point. Not only do Americans tend to eat a lot of very unhealthy, high fat, high salt, and low fiber foods, but they also eat these same foods in alarmingly big quantities.

An American friend of mine once joked, in his own self-effacing way: “There’s a very simple way to lose weight in America. Stop eating food that comes in a bucket!”

Again, looking beyond the joke, I could see his point. Whether its fried chicken, pork ribs, popcorn, or even ice cream, there are an alarming amount of foods in the US that do, indeed, come in buckets!

From the perspective of the Chinese student studying in the US, a great deal of self-discipline will be required, lest your waistline blow up like a helium balloon!

Be careful what you eat, and be sure to check the calorie counts on all the foods in the restaurant and in the supermarket too.

Salads may seem healthy but the in US they have a very disconcerting habit of layering all manner of greasy, fat-laden mayonnaise and other garnishes over the top. Sometimes in the fast food restaurant, believe it or not, the cheeseburger may have less calories than the Caesar salad!

If you’re prepared to loosen your belt a little though, you can enjoy some absolutely wonderful foods in the US. Your taste buds will thank you, even if your heart and liver may not be so appreciative.

America is exactly what it professes to be: a land of opportunity. If you choose to go there, and recreate your own idea of “The American Dream” you are surely certain to have an experience you will never forget.

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