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Yuanyuan Liu and Kyoko Kitada

Yantai, China and Kyoto, Japan

Yuanyuan Liu and Kyoko Kitada

Combining her passion for American studies and her love of traveling, Kyoko Kitada set out from her hometown of Kyoto, Japan, last August to spend a year at Smith in the graduate American Studies Diploma Program.

Meanwhile, many miles from Kitada's home, Yuanyuan Liu, a student in the vibrant city of Yantai, China, busily pursued her dream of eventually becoming an English teacher. After learning about Smith's one-year American studies program for international students, she also decided to journey to the United States to continue her research in linguistics.

Well into their year at Smith, the two women are still adjusting to aspects of American life and culture. When asked about differences between the education systems in their respective countries and that in the United States, both women agreed that America's undergraduate programs are more rigorous and challenging than the educations they received at home.

"In my undergraduate studies in China, we did not receive a lot of homework," says Liu. "Most courses met only once a week for 90 minutes, and I took about six to seven courses per semester."

The description of the typical school day in China is similar to what Kitada experienced at her Japanese university. However, Kitada states, "In Japan, students have to decide what they want to major in before they enter college. There are separate entrance exams for each college that applicants need to prepare for. Though possible, it is very difficult to transfer once enrolled in a school."

Liu explains that teaching methods here are unlike those she is used to in China. "The way professors at Smith teach language courses is different from the Chinese way," she describes. "In China, teachers mainly focus on grammar and vocabulary. But in my German class here, we practice listening, pronunciation, speaking and complete communicative activities. There are also a lot of open discussions."

As for student life on campus, both women agree that there are more political organizations here. "I don't see many political groups in my university," says Kitada. "I heard that in my father's generation the political movement among students was active but maybe nowadays not so much, in my observation."

Liu was particularly interested in Smith because of the Sophia Smith Archives. For her graduate thesis, she hopes to delve into the papers documenting Smith's role in supporting Ginling College in Nanjing, China, around 1916.

Kitada and Liu both enjoy learning about American culture and meeting people here from around the world. "I'm very excited to be here, not only because it is a very prestigious school, but also because of the friendly student body and the ethnic population," says Kitada.

"I think the best advantage is meeting people from different backgrounds," says Liu. "Because of the diversity, I feel like I belong here. I can really practice my language skills and learn about the American way of life. When I begin teaching, I will be able to explain language and culture better than my classmates who did not have the chance to come here."

Though Liu and Kitada handle their daily immersion in English well, they agree that some American references can be confusing. "It's not the language," explains Liu, "it's just the American humor. People laugh about famous events that happened in the United States, and I have no idea what they are."

"I don't have many problems with English, but I don't understand small jokes sometimes," says Kitada. For her, the most challenging transition has been adapting to Smith's tough academics. "Sometimes, I spend hours reading for class and still cannot finish. Also, I feel that it's hard to participate in discussions sometimes, but I'm getting used to it."

Liu agrees. "In class, it feels like students talk about topics that every American knows about. But I'm from another country, and I don't always know what they're talking about. They use words that I don't know the meaning of, and they speak too quickly about subjects I'm not too familiar with."

Though difficulties arise and the workload is demanding, the two international students know that their experiences here will greatly benefit them for years to come.

For Smith students planning to study abroad, Liu and Kitada simply advise them to go and delve into everything the new country has to offer.

"When you travel on vacation, you only get a shallow understanding of another culture," says Liu. "But if you stay for a year, or even half a year, you will really come to know the country, its people and their customs. Some stereotypes and misunderstandings can change, and in time, you will feel like you belong."

By Jenny Wang '15, Global STRIDE Fellow

As part of the Global STRIDE fellowship, the fellows interviewed and profiled international students in the college's graduate program in American Studies, to help familiarize them with people who have made cultural transitions.