A Taste of the Big Apple--and of College
Published in Inside - Volume XVI, No. 2
TC is helping top Chinese high school students prepare to navigate American higher education in the U.S.
Watching citizens try to get excused from jury duty isn’t most people’s idea of fun—even to visiting students from China.
“Boring,” said Irina Lou, 19, smiling and shrugging her shoulders after a recent field trip to Manhattan Criminal Court.
“The judge spoke very fast,” was another student’s more diplomatic response.
Still, as a slice of authentic American culture, the experience proved instructive, especially given that later this year, the students—who are reading the novel To Kill A Mockingbird as part of their effort to compare the Chinese and American legal systems—will return to the same court to see a trial in action.
It’s all part of the new year-long Pre-College Program, a joint effort between TC, the China Center for International Educational Exchange and the University of International Relations in Beijing, through which the College readies top Chinese students to apply to the best U.S. schools. Students, who participate during their “gap year” between high school and college (which is a standard in China), attend five months of training classes at the University of International Relations prior to their arrival at TC in June.
“The students are being prepped to succeed,” says Portia Williams, TC’s Executive Director of International Relations. “This also provides a very important opportunity for TC students to work with some of the best students in China, a nation with which we have had and will continue to have a long-term relationship. It’s especially gratifying that we can help prepare China’s future leaders.”
The pace of the program is intense. In addition to taking “American Language and Culture”—a course that covers not only the courts but religion, feminism, business and rigorous English language instruction—students audit one undergraduate class at Columbia; take an SAT prep course; work one-on-one with counselors to identify the undergraduate colleges that best match their interests; and tour colleges in the Northeast region.
“The idea is that the students become so familiar with the comprehension and writing exercises that they can walk into a test, look at a writing prompt and think ‘I’ve done this a million times,’ ” says Maria Fisher, Lead Instructor for the Pre-College Program. With every unit of “American Language and Culture,” Fisher asks students to perform writing exercises in an “idea journal,” read related literature and perform reading comprehension exercises that will mimic questions on standardized tests, such as the SAT and TOEFL, and hone critical thinking skills, an essential component of succeeding in American colleges.
But it’s not all about the work.
In addition to auditing a psychology class this semester, Alex Hayang, 20, is taking advantage of the city’s offerings in cinema, which is his passion. Unlike some of the other students, Hayang already knows where he wants to go to college: the University of California at Los Angeles, to study film.
“New York is a great place to study,” says Lou, who is auditing an Economics class at Columbia—in part, she adds, because “it’s easy to buy Chinese food.” Lou, who like all the visiting students, is living in the TC dormitories, reports missing her parents, “only when I have a cold.”