American Classroom

Recently while chatting with friends and families from China, I’m often asked about my student life in America. I respond that it’s beyond belief how casual American students and professors are. You can sit Indian style with your legs tucked close to your body or with one foot propped on the chair. Some professors don’t even mind if students call them by their first names. In China, we always call our teachers by their family names followed by their academic titles. At first, I felt awkward calling my professors Sheryl or Marc as if we were long-time buddies. But lately, I’ve become more comfortable talking to them casually.

I remember on the first day of my writing class our professor asked us to move the chairs in a circle on my first day in class in America. Our class had about twelve to fourteen students. It wasn’t a big class at all compared to the Chinese classes in universities which usually have two or three times as many students. Since there weren’t any desks for students in the classroom—each chair had an extended writing pad — we could sit the way the professor wanted, which I thought facilitated the classroom interactions. For the first time in my life, I could make eye contact with other students in class. We became the center of the class instead of our professor, who in China would normally lecture from the podium.

What amazes me most is that students are permitted to eat in class. I was at first shocked when I saw my classmates munching chocolate bars or potato chips during class. How can they feel so at home while in school? And the instructors didn’t feel bothered by their students’ eating. In fact, usually in the last class of the semester we are encouraged to celebrate the end of the semester with our snacks. We bring food to the classroom and share with one another. In the meantime, we read aloud our signature writings. What fun!

Having spent almost three semesters in America, I’m surprised to find that I enjoy classroom discussion. Most American professors welcome students to speak up and participate in class. Another difference is that I take few notes. If I do, it’s rarely from the whiteboard. American professors don’t write everything on the whiteboard for students to copy. Instead, in their lecture, they combine theory with their personal experiences or understanding. I have to jot down the useful information while they speak in class. Of course, reading my notes later helps me understand my professors’ ideas.

The entire classroom experience in America is like a casual conversation with people who share the same interest—relaxing yet rewarding. And the three hour class passes quickly!

Filed under: Prose, Songyi Zhang's America