I is for International: Chinese student learning American culture

International student Gongbo Liang is pictured in front of a projection of Chinese characters meaning “journey,” signifying the roughly 6,562 miles “as the crow flies” from Shenyang, China, to Bowling Green. Liang came to WKU in August 2009 to pursue a major in folk studies.

Katherine Wade

When Gongbo Liang first came from Shenyang, China, to Bowling Green, the thing that surprised him the most was the people in Walmart.

“I was checking out, and everywhere I looked, people were talking to each other,” he said. “I thought everyone in Bowling Green must know each other.”

Liang soon discovered that this sociability was just one of the many cultural differences between the U.S. and China.

After graduating from a university in China with a degree in video game design, Liang got a job teaching at a two-year college. He spent a semester there before deciding to pursue more education.

Liang came to WKU during August last year. He is now majoring in folk studies, which he said is hard because it mostly deals with the U.S.

Since coming to the U.S., Liang has learned a lot about American culture.

“Before I came, I only knew about Americans based on movies,” he said. “I figured there would be not too much homework and lots of parties. I’ve found out that is only part of being at a university, not a whole.”

Classroom experience and study habits in China and in America are totally different, Liang said.

“In China, the student is taking notes mostly,” he said. “They would memorize what the teacher says, then take an exam.

“In America, the teacher is the leader of a discussion. There is more work, like research and writing papers.”

Liang said he likes the American style of learning. He said it is important because some Chinese students have a lot of knowledge, but they don’t know how to use it.

After he graduates, Liang said he wants to return to China and study the history and architecture of China.

When he started at WKU, Liang began taking English as a Second Language. He said he’s had a lot of help practicing English with friends.

One of these friends was Louisville junior Mark Reeves. Reeves met Liang through Conversational English, a program at the Baptist Campus Ministry that brings international and domestic students together to talk.

“His progress in speaking and reading has been really well,” Reeves said. “He really overcomes a lot of the obstacles that Chinese students often face.”

Bowling Green resident Carol Burt has also been a big help to Liang, he said.

Liang met Burt a little over a year ago when Burt had a Labor Day picnic at her house for international students.

Burt said she and her husband did volunteer work with the Chinese community at the University of Arkansas before they moved to Bowling Green.

“It really broadens our understanding of the world,” she said.

Burt said Liang is often over at her house for supper or to practice English. He also occasionally attends church with her, which Liang said has been one of his favorite experiences.

Burt said Liang did a Chinese culture show for the children at her church and taught them how to do paper-cuttings.

“He’s shared his culture with us just the same as we’ve shared ours with him,” Burt said. “He says we’re helping him, but really he has been a big help to us as well.”