profiles of AMS students:
The Global Stride program
allows to apply their stipends
toward study-abroad costs or intensive language programs.
As part of the Global Stride scholarship, 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.
The Gate is publishing
their profiles in an occasional series.
Jenny Wang '15, Global Stride Fellow
Yuanyuan Liu GR (on left),
and Kyoko Kitada GR, American Studies Diploma program
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
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.
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
“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.”