America vs. China vs. England

An introduction to the interviews conducted in both America and China

Since I am a counseling student, my interests were quite a bit different from those of others. I have to be honest in saying I wasn’t as invested in the concept of teaching and learning as others were. I feel like my interviews in China had very little to do with higher education. I mostly touched on counseling because I wanted to know what made China different from America with respect to my field of interest.

However, when I was in America, I did (at least try) focus on the paradigms of teaching and learning. In America, I have experienced the result of a shift in the teaching paradigm in higher education. According to Barr & Tagg, the mission of American education is “not instruction but rather that of producing learning with every student by whatever means work best” (Barr & Tagg, 1995, p. 13). This statement makes sense as we are a society that has, in the past, been described as a melting pot. I wondered how other cultures may view effective ways of teaching since other societies may be less diverse than our own. I feel as though the theory that Barr and Tagg have both proposed fits in perfectly with the mission that has been expressed at the College of William and Mary’s School of Education. It seems as though the professors as this particular school, especially the counseling professors, are invested into “producing learning” among the students. It doesn’t matter HOW we retain the information, it only matters that we do get something out of our experience here at the college and “go forth to do great things.”

While in America, I settled on interviewing a good friend of mine from the Marriage and Family Counseling cohort. This friend of mine is originally from England and came to America to study counseling due to the fact that there aren’t many programs in the United Kingdom. I wanted to reach out to her since she is relatively new to the American culture and to find out what kinds of differences exist between America and England with regards to schooling and counseling. Since I knew I was going to China and was therefore going to witness how these paradigms were different in Asia, I wanted to see what everything was like when you go the other direction and into Europe.  Even though America and England are “sister countries” (and many Americans are often obsessed with British culture), it was interesting to see that England has set up their system much differently than ours. In fact, their system sounds as if it is very similar to that of China, which surprised me seeing as how the two countries are on opposite ends of the world. Maybe we, as Americans, are the oddballs who just want to be different from every other culture imaginable on the basis of teaching and learning.

 

A look at England

When I sat down with Collie, I initiated the conversation by asking about the system of testing and getting into college in England. I knew that we obviously have the SAT, but the scores on this particular test are not the only factor being weighed in for college admiitance. I wanted to see if England was different in focusing solely on testing or if they take other factors into account. I know that the French take their comprehensive exam taken at the end of a student’s high school career very seriously and I wanted to see if Britain was the same seeing as how these countries are right next to each other. I then wanted to see what brought my interviewee to America and how the British view counseling over in England. Why didn’t Collie go to a counseling program in England (even though I’m extremely thankful she came here since I had the pleasure of getting to know her)? Are the British open about their feelings? Does addiction exist in England? What kinds of counseling are available in England? These are the questions I wanted to find the answers to during my interview with Collie. Not only did I want to interview an international student, but I also wanted to talk to someone who was not in my addictions cohort, since we all view counseling differently depending on which cohort of which we are a member. Plus, family is a large system that is affected by a person’s addictions and so the topic is very relevant to my particular field.First of all, it seems as though England puts a LOT of emphasis into testing. England’s system of testing confuses me to death. I don’t understand the process and it’s extremely difficult to wrap my head around it. Just like China. If you don’t do well on the cumulative exams, you don’t get into the program of your choice (unless you interview exceptionally well). I know that this would stress me out to the max if I lived in England. I’m HORRIBLE at testing. I don’t ever do well, especially when it comes to multiple choice. I know when I was applying to Undergraduate universities AND grad school, I focused mostly on my extracurriculars, letters of recommendation, and overall class performance. My performance on both the SAT and GRE does NOT reflect my overall intelligence. Fortunately, my schools looked at my whole application as a whole (obviously, because I’m here).

Another thing I thought was interesting was the fact that students get their undergrad within 3 years in the UK. I can’t imagine only being in college for 3 years. I felt like I needed that fourth year as time to breathe a little bit. Plus, why would I have wanted to rush college? They always say it’s supposed to be the best time of your life so why not spend the maximum amount of time there? Some people even go on a victory lap (of college…not actually running) for 3 or 4 extra years. That itself seems a little excessive to me. But 4 years in college sounds good to me. Not 8. And not 3. In addition to only going to school for 3 years, students in England also get a heck of a lot more breaks than we do. Even my British friend commented on how few breaks the U.S. students seem to have. Hmmmm are we not being as productive as the UK? Tis a mystery.

One of the other stressful parts about the UK experience is that you HAVE to know what you want to study when you apply to the different colleges. And unfortunately, you can’t change your field of study once you’ve chosen it. Once again, it sounded a lot like China. I don’t know how I would handle something like that seeing as how it took me a full year in college to decide on my permanent major. I started with pre-veterinary and ended up with psychology.

One of the major things I was jealous about in England is the fact that if you are a Psychology major, you ONLY have to take Psychology classes (and other classes related to the field like Statistics). None of that Chemistry or P.E. crap, which is what I was forced to take. I feel as though this is much more productive than our system since I personally felt like I wasted a lot of time taking “CORE classes” that weren’t even relevant to my major. Maybe that’s why college is a four year journey here.

One other part of the interview that I thought was interesting was the fact that Collie stated that the universities themselves are separated into different entities (colleges). Yes, we have the same thing here but I feel as though our universities are much more united. It isn’t until graduate school when the campus seems a little more divided between separate college programs.

Now onto counseling…apparently counseling is very “wishy washy” in the UK and programs of counselor education are lacking. Evidently, there is only one real counseling program in Collie’s country, which caused her to come to the U.S. Also, you don’t have to have a license in order to independently practice in Britain, which I thought was interesting and made me kind of want to move to England. There are definitely heavy licensure requirements in our country, seeing as how the field is much more developed. In addition, England doesn’t really have school counselors, which shocked me because I feel as though school counseling is the most accepted form of counseling in China.

I thought the idea that addiction is not really seen as a problem among children was interesting. Apparently, if a child is using a lot of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, or any other kind of substance, they are viewed as being “experimental.”  Okay. Try saying that in America. However, if you are an adult who uses, there is a large stigma that is placed on you. Especially if you have children. England apparently still assumes the moral model of addiction and is far from accepting the disease model. Although the disease model is slightly more accepted in the U.S., there is also still room for improvement for us seeing as how there is slightly a negative stigma that continues to be present in our country. I feel as though once our country becomes unconditionally accepting of the disease model, other countries will begin to follow (hopefully).

 

During my interview with Collie, she presented the fact that there are minimal licensure requirements in England to practice counseling. This runs opposite to the protocol in America seeing as how you cannot even independently practice without a license in counseling issued to you by the state you reside in. In order to see and hear what Collie specifically said about counseling programs available in England and licensure requirements to be a counselor, please watch the video:

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Unfortunately, no photos were taken at the time of the interview.

Experiencing the lives of the Chinese in the classroom

When I was in China, I tried very hard to focus on teaching and learning. Apparently, they place large emphasis on testing, which again, would stress me out. If our nation focused only on testing, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be sitting in graduate school right now.

I have to admit in saying that my focus on teaching and learning was a lot stronger during the beginning of my trip than at the end. Since Beijing was the first city we came to, I was able to ask a couple of the students at Beijing Normal University about their experiences with teaching and learning. Plus, I wasn’t running into any counseling students at this particular university so I was able to focus more on higher education. When I was talking to the student at a university in Beijing, they told me how the professor was regarded as the “king of the classroom.” I thought this was very interesting. Yes, I do have the maximum level of respect for all my professors at William and Mary, but I don’t know if I would see them as a king exactly. I see them more as mentors, there to support me and my intellectual growth. Students in Beijing are also not very encouraged to ask questions in class, which I think takes a little bit away from learning. This reminded me of what Barr & Tagg described as the instruction paradigm, which states that the college’s mission is to teach and that’s it. So when the professor at Beijing Normal University stands at the front of the classroom and lectures the entire time, she is representing the instruction paradigm.  I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t able to ask the professors here to clarify some of their topics. I would be so completely lost at times. Plus, I enjoy the class discussions instead of watching the teacher lecture the whole time, which is something that actually happens in a Chinese classroom (at least in Beijing). With all that being said, you can tell that there is a very defined hierarchy in the classroom that students must obey. Yes, I suppose there is a hierarchy in the classrooms at William and Mary, but I think it is slightly less formal as students are encouraged to really speak their minds (at least in the counseling courses). I feel as though the inability to ask questions could definitely get in the way of learning, as I earlier stated. Also, if the teacher is so high up on the hierarchy, how can students be brave enough to come to a teacher if they are struggling? I also noticed how technology is not as widely used in the classrooms (I saw very few computers being used in the class I was sitting in). I’m kind of wondering if this may actually be a plus. I feel like we sometimes OVERuse technology to a point. Maybe the “old-school” ways of pens and notebooks are better than computering (or rather facebooking during class) to take notes.

A day with the students from Beijing.

A day with the students from Beijing Normal University.

The king of the classroom

The king of the classroom

Students paying attention. And not facebooking.

Students paying attention in a Beijing Normal University classroom. And not facebooking.

Taking on more of a counseling approach in China

When we traveled to the other cities in China, Xi’an and Shanghai, I was able to talk with students who were more in line with what I’m studying at William & Mary. No, I did not run into any Community/Addictions counseling students, specifically, but I was able to talk with Psychology students as well as a few School Counseling students. During these interviews in Xi’an and Shanghai, I discovered more about counseling. In Xi’an, I discovered just how similar China is to America with regards to teaching and learning counseling. Even though we look different and we eat different kinds of food, their styles of teaching counseling as well as their system of ethics is very similar to ours. Their model looks scarily identical to our model of teaching counseling. I feel like a lot of the courses that Chinese students take in the counseling programs are courses that I’m actively enrolled in right now. I most certainly did not expect to witness as many similarities as I did.

Students were very interested in what we had to say about our own education.

Students were very interested in what we had to say about our own education.

In Xi’an, I wanted to find out more about whether or not addictions counseling is an acceptable form of practice in China. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of love for addiction counseling in China (just like England). Pretty much the only accepted form of counseling is school counseling.After school counseling comes family counseling in the realm of acceptance. After family counseling comes community counseling. Then, way far down the list, is addictions counseling. According to the students in Xi’an that I talked to, addiction doesn’t exist in China. Yeah, right. Just like how addiction didn’t exist in America for the first 200 years it existed :).

Making new friends.

Making new friends.

One of the things I thought was cool in China was just how interested the Chinese students were in us foreigners. I feel like many of them have never been outside China before and so they want to cherish every moment they have with contact from the outside world. I was very surprised at how proud they were to give us information about their culture and schools as well as asking us very interesting questions about our own culture back home. One of the students has continued contacting me even to this day. It was really nice to spend the 10 days in China, learning about what life in education is like on literally the other side of the world.

 

So what’s the point? 

A major takeaway I received from conducting interviews in China and America is that different cultures have their own approach to teaching and learning. In cultures such as England and the Chinese cultures, a heavy emphasis is placed on testing for ALL subjects when it comes to getting admitted to education programs. I feel as though tests like SAT and the GRE matter somewhat for admittance, but certain programs (like the counseling program) place a heavier emphasis on work experience, recommendations, or overall GPA for admittance to college or a graduate program. I discovered that cumulative testing at the end of one’s undergraduate or high school career in places like England or China has a “make it or break it” effect on a student’s future. Another large difference in America is the fact that we have a less hierarchical stance in the classroom due to our commitment in “producing learning” amongst a wide array of students. I can see how a teacher serving as the “king of the classroom” may not be effective for some students in our classrooms in the U.S. but it does seem to work in the Chinese classrooms.

All in all, I enjoyed learning about other cultures that are different from my own and how they approach the concept of teaching and learning, as well as counseling. Although there were several differences with regards to the school system itself, the teachings of counseling seem to remain the same in both America and China. It seems as though counseling has expanded from our own country and into other societies. Hopefully, the field of counseling will continue to grow in places like China and the concept of addictions counseling will begin to develop as well. Perhaps Addictions counseling is too new in the states to have expanded to other parts of the world. I have good faith that this will eventually change. It seems as though we’ve already taken steps in the right direction, concerning other areas of counseling in different parts of the world.

 

References:

Barr, R. B., & Tagg, J. (1995, Nov/Dec). From teaching to learning – A new paradigm for undergraduate educationChange, 27(6), 12-25.

 

Photo/Video Credit: Katharine Sperandio