America is filled with many cultures and people of different backgrounds. Its education has been renowned for many years. People from around the world come here to further their education. In fact, I am one of those people. As an Asian, I prefer the school system here and the many opportunities in America.
I was born and educated in Hong Kong for the first fifteen years of my life. Teachers in Hong Kong (and in other areas in Asia) are highly respected. They play a very important role in every student's life. At the beginning and the end of each class, all the students stand, bow and greet the teacher politely. Whenever a student wants to answer a question or be called upon, he or she has to stand and answer loudly and correctly. If he does not get it right, he will have to remain standing until the end of the period. Most teachers punish their students this way because they think that they are not paying attention in the class. The teachers tend to develop a serious atmosphere in the classroom. They think that through this method, the students will get the most out of the class period.
In America, it is the exact opposite. I was surprised during my first day of school in Chicago. The students can express themselves freely to their teachers; they do not have a formal "procedure" in order to speak, and everyone has a chance to participate in class. Moreover, the teacher is very patient and kind, allowing pupils to shout out their answers and the teacher still has a smile on his face.
The classrooms hold a different environment in my eyes. As a foreign student, I entered American schools with another attitude , a formal one. The Asian system is extreme and very hard to cope with if you are not brought up in the Asian culture, because the teachers are filled with the "Study hard and no playing" concept. On the other hand, the American one is not bad either. The teachers have a chance to understand fully what the students think, and it will help them to approach their problems in a way that the students can easily accept.
Memorization of text and notes is the first choice in the teaching and studying methods in Asia. The teachers expect the students to know every single word in their books and notebooks. "If you memorized it well, you will have it for the rest of your life even if you do not have your books anymore," my teacher said. I remembered this comment my teacher made a long time ago. By memorizing, it does work for me to get good grades, but as I think about it now, maybe there are other ways to learn. The American teachers are more concerned with how much you understand and how well you can apply your learning than how much you know. They care about the quality of knowledge that you have instead of quantity. This is one of the advantages I am enjoying now. I get more attention from the teachers now than before. However, Japan seems to have success in carrying out the memorization system in math and science even though logically the American system is better.
School work pressure was very heavy in Hong Kong. Everybody competes with each other. All of us had to work very hard to get to the top. When I think back, I am proud of myself because I did succeed. However, my life as a little girl lacked some fun. My leisure time was limited. On the other hand, the children and teenagers here are not under such pressure. For me, it was not my parents who put the pressure on me. It was me. I had to do it. And I did.
The school system here encourages everyone to have some fun besides just working. I really like that idea. I think that the proportion of work you have each night to the amount of time you have to do other things is fairly divided in America. Having time of your own is very important. It helps to build your personal character. I think that America has the advantage of the two systems in this area also.
The main element of the school system is the teachers. The American teachers deserve more respect than they now receive. Social education of students is needed. They should learn to speak more mannerly in front of teachers. I am not saying that they should learn all the rituals of the East, but they should acquire some of them. Secondly, the American teachers should pay more attention to their students' scores. Although helping them understand is better than memorization, teachers should make the students do more work that requires more effort. If the teachers let the students remain at a certain level without going forward in their "school path," the students will fall behind. Finally, extending the school year to the length of the school year of the East might also help raise the American school's standards because they will learn more each year and the summer will not be too long for them to forget everything that they had learned the previous year.
I feel very privileged to have a chance to come to America for my education. I shall try to perform my best although I still need more time to catch up with my English , my second language, but I will not waste this golden opportunity. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.