Not to Add Fuel to the Asian Stereotype Fire…Fascinating BBC Article on Education Craze in Asia

This article about what lengths parents will go to Asia to support their students popped up on my twitter feed from the BBC, and I wanted to share it because the fact that so many Chinese students want to study in the U.S. shows two things:

1) The higher education system in the U.S. is still one of the strongest resources that America has to offer

2) There exists a perception that the Chinese education systems still lack the power to prepare individuals for success in the globalized context. I think this will change, given the university partnerships that so many U.S. schools are willing to forge with Chinese institutions, but there is still a huge benefit for international students who study in the U.S.

Some incredible stats from the article:

  • Last year an estimated 40,000 Chinese students travelled to Hong Kong to take the US college admissions exam, the Scholastic Assessment Test (SATS), which is not offered in mainland China.
  • Chinese education company, New Oriental Education, organises SAT trips to Hong Kong for $1,000 (£627) on average, and parents spend up to $8,000 (£5,020) on tutoring.
  • It does not stop there. Nearly 87% of Chinese parents said they were willing to fund study abroad.
  • 70% of Korean household expenditure, according to estimates by the Samsung Economic Research Institute in Seoul, goes toward private education, to get an educational edge over other families.

Thinking of our American high school students competing with that firepower from Asia…wow.

Any thoughts you’d like to share? Comment below or email me asian.am.education[at]gmail[dot]com

Photo Credit: Reuters

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Avoid Crushing Debt – Don’t Allow Your Parents to Shoulder Your Loans

Our parents raise us and help us with everything, but what if our student expenses drive them to take out huge loans that cripples them forever? I recently read a terrifying article in the NYT about families that are burdened by debt that their students took out in order to finance their education. From a mother who has to move in with her daughter to a family strained by a father’s suicide, many American seniors are finding that their children’s debts are getting in their way of retirement. With the economic recession already hurting families, loan repayments that are in the hundreds of dollars a month makes it even harder for families.

What saddens me most is the lack of understanding that parents and students have when they take out these loans. The student wants the best education possible from their dream school, and parents want to do everything in their power to make it work for their kids. In the worst case scenario; however, this can prove to be a disaster for kids and parents alike. With the difficult job market, almost a quarter of recent graduates are under/unemployed. While there is a short deferment period, once the monthly payments start, it can be very hard to keep up without a steady income.

During this election cycle both candidates focused on educational loans in one way or another. President Obama wanted to increase Pell Grants and open access to more students, while on the other hand Governor Romney said that students can “borrow from their parents” in order to pay tuition. Romney’s policy showed a huge gap between the reality of financing a college education and his out of touch views.

So, what can families do to avoid these traps?

1. Please make sure you understand the financial aid offers from your schools. You can compare packages and get a financial aid officer to explain to you what the difference is between grants, loans, and scholarships. Great news from the Dept of Education – more than 500 schools have signed on to using a “shopping sheet” to be able to compare college costs. Check out the sample sheet below! Follow Dept of Education and Sec. Arne Duncan (@arneduncan) on twitter to learn more and follow the updates.

2. Figure out what your monthly payments will be after graduation with the amount of debt that you are signing onto. Are you going to be able to pay back that amount with the type of work that you want to do? Figure out median salaries for fresh graduates in your field as well as from your school!

3. Have honest and frank conversations with your parents about what you can afford as a family. Your parents should not have to take out another mortgage or dip in to their retirement funds to pay for college. There are colleges out there with generous financial aid programs and plenty of scholarship organizations that can help. Trust me…you don’t want $100K in debt for your BA…especially if you want to go to graduate school. Prestige and rankings for a good school (I know Asian American families are all about that) is NOT worth it.

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My Mom is a Panda Mom

I’m a little late in commenting on Amy Chua, the Yale law professor who got famous by writing a memoir about raising her two daughters in the Asian way.

The book raised a lot of questions about how to raise successful children (success in this book is defined by getting into Ivy league schools and having straight As) and whether or not there is a superior way to accomplish such goals – Western or Eastern?

I was recently talking to one of my close friends from college who met Amy Chua in person. She told me that the encounter was a bit odd, because Chua was mildly narcissistic and just kept saying that her daughter is a second year at Harvard. This coming from the mother who said that she was trying to poke fun at her parenting…

I’m not going to write about whether or not I think her way of parenting is right or wrong, but it did spur more media attention and lead to more stereotyping of Asian Americans. I find that problematic. I wanted to share what kind of mom I had growing up, and the kinds of parents I saw during the admissions process (good ones and bad ones).

I would not know what a “tiger mom” is like, because I was raised by a “Panda Mom.” What is a Panda Mom, you ask? Well, think of a Panda – cuddly, cute, eats bamboo (well scratch that last one). My mom never pushed me to do well in school. She never forced me to do any activities. She never told me I was fat. When I came back with mediocre grades from school, her response was to take a quick glance at the report card and say, “I think you can do better next time! If you’re happy with a B, that’s great! Ok, time for dinner!” There was never any screaming or fighting over grades. I did go to Japanese School on Saturdays. I also did a few years of Kumon (pure terror and misery….but it made me good at mental math for a while).

My mom worked full time my whole life – she still works – and she was not focused on small details of my academic life. If I would come home from school with a permission slip for a field trip, she would sometimes respond, “I’m busy right now, can you sign it yourself?” In a more extreme example, she started to send me off on a plane to visit my grandparents in Japan alone when I was about nine years old. I would hop on the plane from my hometown, transfer planes in LAX, land in Tokyo, and then take the bus for three hours and then a train for another 45 minutes to reach my final destination. I was nine.

Basically, my Panda mom trusted me to be able to take care of myself and make my own decisions. Nowadays, I meet so many high school and college students and EVEN GROWN ADULTS WITH TWO DEGREES FROM HARVARD who do not know how to choose between two options. (There is even a NYTimes article on this) They. drive. me. crazy. (I don’t even like people who can’t decide what to eat off a restaurant menu.) I am not a parent so I can’t comment on other people’s parenting, but all I can say is that I’m so happy that my parents treated me with respect and let me make my own choices. I still ended up going to two great schools for college and grad school and will start a career in September that is my DREAM. No one pushed me to get up in the morning, do my homework, or excel in activities. So, I was left to really consider what I liked and spend my energy doing things I really enjoyed.

So many of the kids I see nowadays are OVER SCHEDULED, EXHAUSTED, and just plain tired-looking. All the time. I feel sorry for them. I also feel sad for Asian American families – even though I know they mean well – who push their kids to do piano, violin, chess, SAT prep class, Chinese School, science competition etc…and then they all look very similar to each other in the application process for college. I don’t think the parents even realize what they are doing to their kids. Do their kids even enjoy these activities? Do they even ask their kids? Sad.

Switching over to these parents in the college process…you have no idea how many times I would get calls from moms who say things like “Um…I need your help. I’m on page 6 of the Common Application trying to fill out information for my son.” HUH!? WHAT ARE YOU DOING LADY…STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. Your son needs to do that on his own…because if he doesn’t do this on his own, he wont be able to do anything on his own in the future. Then, some unfortunate woman has to marry him and take care of him for the rest of his life. No one wants that. Stop filling out your son’s application.

Or even worse…the reaction call on April 2 that goes something like this, “HELLO? HELLO, UH, IS THIS JOHNNY’S ADMISSION OFFICER? UH, YES, I’M CALLING TO REPORT A MISTAKE IN YOUR PROCESS. JOHNNY HAS BEEN ACCEPTED TO CORNELL AND HARVEY MUDD. SO THERE MUST BE A MISTAKE THAT HE WAS REJECTED FROM STANFORD.”

Our Dean would make us personally take these calls from distraught parents who scream at us about how we made a mistake and that their precious perfect children should have been admitted. Uh. NO. The admissions office never changes it’s mind, first of all, and no, you calling and screaming at us will never make a difference. I would always respond calmly (biting my tongue) and say something like, “Congratulations, it sounds like your son has some really amazing opportunities, and I wish him the best of his luck on his educational journey.” But on the inside, this is what I wanted to spit back at these parents:

ARE YOU KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW? ARE YOU SERIOUSLY CALLING ME AND SCREAMING AT ME THAT I MADE SOME MISTAKE IN THE PROCESS? DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ADMISSIONS? ALSO, I HOPE YOUR SON ISN’T SITTING RIGHT THERE LISTENING TO HOW DISAPPOINTED YOU ARE BECAUSE THAT’S GOING TO MESS HIM UP FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, WELL ACTUALLY IT’S PROBABLY TOO LATE BECAUSE YOU ARE HIS MOTHER.

So, that was kind of a mean rant. On the other hand, I do feel sad for these kids because it’s like nothing they ever do is enough for their high achieving parents who try to live through them. Finding a good fit is more important than the brand name of the school or the rank. Also, if 92% of all applications are rejected from places like Stanford…then you’re in good company, and there is nothing wrong with your child. Lastly, this is NOT your place to be disappointed. Let your children process the disappointment, but then quickly shift gears to celebrating what they have accomplished!

To tell you the truth, I applied to eight colleges back in 2002-03 and got rejected from seven of them. My mom was there every time I opened the thin envelope..and she never said one mean thing to me. Her response every time was “the next one will be better.”

Thanks Mom. (This picture is of my Panda Mom the day before she gave birth to me. See, she’s a calm lady.)