An open letter to Chinese students in the US: dealing with stress

To all the Chinese students feeling stressed and overwhelmed while studying abroad – these are the words that could help you get through

June 8 2018
Stress in Chinese students

Dear Friend,

I have been worried about you since you mentioned that you felt stressed about getting good grades while you’ve been at university in America. I have been researching this issue because I will also be an international student next year.

For all international students, it is essential to deal with the stress from studying, otherwise we will be exhausted and will find it difficult to adapt to our new environment. It is just as important to enjoy your time at university than it is to achieve good grades.

In America, lots of experts have explored this issue and understood the importance of it. Wei-Chen Tung, professor of community and mental health from the University of Nevada-Renosays in his research paper that stress among Chinese students is now a pressing issue and cannot be underestimated because there are more than 691,000 international students (in total) enrolling in America, and many of these experience high levels of stress.

You might wonder why international Chinese students suffer more stress than other students. The main reason is the sharp difference in culture.

Ohio State University has studied the cultural causes and has found that the differences between Chinese and American culture can be a barrier for students. If the stress cannot be dealt with, it impacts on our time and energy. Then, if we are always busy studying, it is difficult for us to socialise and blend in with our new culture. 


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Mei Fen Wei from the department of psychology of Iowa State University has stated that Chinese overseas students display “maladaptive perfectionism”, which means we always combine our self-worth with our grades. That is why Chinese overseas students always bury themselves in studying to try to get better grades.

However, in America top grades are not the only things you are expected to achieve. If you are tied to assignments, you will lose the chance to gain other skills to become more well-rounded. 

In addition, we are expected to uphold the honour of our family, because our parents will often subconsciously make us feel as though us getting bad grades will let them down. 

Wei also argues that Chinese culture “values emotional self-control,” which means Chinese students often try to solve their stress on their own instead of asking for help, which also aggravates their conditions. In conclusion, although the difficulties in language and different educational system also matter, the majority of our stress comes from the cultural differences. 

After realising this, you may find that you are able to overcome some of these differences, by understanding the cultural values of the US. You don't need to just have good grades to be an excellent student, but also good communication skills, strong extracurricular activities and work experience. 

Because of this, I recommend that you try not to take grades so seriously and spend your time doing other productive things. The first thing I want you to learn is to take some time off and not spend your free time worrying about studying. 

Then, you can accomplish your goals of studying abroad and enjoy your life at university. Yale Study Abroad says that studying abroad is about “exploring a particular culture or new region and immersing yourself in language study". Explore your town and the surrounding area, make new friends, experience the culture and take in their behaviour, customs and values.

Additionally, learning about possible career paths is another important thing to do when you study abroad. You can also practice your communication skills and make contacts in the industry you plan to pursue. 

What we need to do is be more curious about the cultural differences, communicate more and explore more of the new environment. I believe those things are the most valuable when studying abroad. 

I hope my advice is helpful to you!

Sincerely, a Friend

Read more: Required reading: increasing numbers of international students

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