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Why Do We Love Universities in America?

September, 2012
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Starting Point

This summer, I had the opportunity of visiting several research universities and liberal arts colleges in the New England region.

First of all, it was such a pleasure to enter into those communities that are on their own, yet blended within the municipal settings. I understand from student tour guides and my friends who are attending universities that one of the greatest transitions from high school to university is managing themselves, both time-wise and lifestyle-wise. So, why do we use the word ‘freshman’? Literally, it is a fresh experience where freshmen can embrace new opportunities and challenges. Yale University, for instance, proudly presents a ‘shopping period’ before classes officially start. Thousands of courses are offered and students can all go to different classes, listen to the lectures, walk straight out of the lecture halls if they do not enjoy the course, or stay in the course if they are wildly passionate about it.

I was particularly impressed with several aspects that really attract us international students to study in America: collaboration, innovation and individuality. This journey excited me so much that I wish there was a time capsule to take me into the future. What will my life look like in two years’ time?

‘A time capsule possesses infinite powers.’ For one, it allows me to grow up – in this hypothetical situation, I am now two years older than I actually am as a high school Junior, assuming a new identity as a freshman and taking intense delight in university life in America. But first of all, who am I? To be precise, who am I after coming out of the time machine? Perhaps this list of musings on my true identity can shed a light on the reasons why so many high school graduates favor American universities.


Collaborator

We are a community of learners, but more importantly, a group of dynamic youths. The future of our world most certainly depends on the decisions that we make, which are driven by our education, independent research and collaborative efforts. Surely, heated debates are quite likely to happen on campus, where we discuss a wide range of topics; from Aristotle’s viewpoint on governance to current events covered by live news reports. Despite the divergent thoughts we have as individuals, we underscore collaboration between each other. By building a society of our own in university, we are more prepared to blend ourselves with the existing driving forces of a larger community at the municipal, national and international levels.

As university students, we are striving to approach truth. Instead of focusing on making the environment competitive, our university strongly encourages cooperation. After all, truth does not come out of an isolated vacuum, does it? Across campus, you can always find cozy places such as study rooms, where a group of students can sit down and go over materials together. This approach to learning enables us to assist each other, listen to diversified solutions and constructive advice, while simultaneously reviewing for ourselves.

Not only does collaboration exist between students, but it is also evident in other ways. For instance, the university community can make a real impact on local towns and cities by sending students to do volunteer work. Some of the activities we are involved in back in high school can be continued. In fact, activities such as the Model United Nations, sustainability clubs, student government and feminists’ organizations are prevalent in universities. On top of that, universities encourage students to transform their own ideas into reality: forming a new club can be extremely simple, and most universities only require a minimum of five participant signatures to start with.

Moreover, students and faculty members also tend to enjoy close-knit relationships in my university. Once a year, we get paid to invite our teachers to a meal (where the food is delicious and the discussion is even more appetizing)!

Innovator

Maybe you have also gone through the IB Middle Years Program Personal Project process. I trust that you did not struggle with brainstorming ideas on a subject that is of particular interest to you – in fact, you may have so many interests or skill sets that you want to showcase and develop that it is terribly difficult to come up with a single topic. No worries, many universities here in the United States place an emphasis on maximizing the use of our innovative minds. As young people, we may have the craziest ideas. But who knows? An overwhelming number of scientific findings, literary ideas and business strategies come out of unconventionality and ‘accidents’.

Would you like to be funded for fulfilling your own curiosity? Inherent in our nature as active learners is this wonderful quality of a desire to be intellectually satisfied. Perhaps, you might have idolized Dr. Jane Goodall, the chimpanzee mother who founded Roots & Shoots for young conservationists, and take an eager interest in studying the nature in order to protect our local and global ecosystems at large. Then, you might be interested in travelling to Africa to do some photography or scientific research on certain animal species. In many universities, you get a reasonable amount of weeks off with sufficient funding to realize your dreams and use your new discoveries to serve humankind. 

Individual

Of course, every individual is significantly varied.

The American idea of freedom is essential to its political philosophy, and is certainly relevant in higher education. One of the purposes of learning is self-actualization, which is at the very top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This category is undeniably broad, and may include promoting awareness of struggles to secure the rights of minority groups. Thus, applying elements that stress individuality to train individuals to further enhance the idea of freedom and equality is crucial to the views of American education. We, as individuals, are what matter the most.

img_5121One of the greater, more exclusive advantages about attending college or university in America is the flexibility in choosing majors and minors. Many of my peers decided to apply ‘undecided’, mainly because they are interested in too many specific fields. American liberal education provides space for both breadth and depth, so that we can ‘keep in touch’ with all different areas of knowledge and simultaneously explore our chosen ones at deeper levels. We, as individual learners, are free to spend two years of our university experience, and then decide on majors that we feel truly passionate about. This exploration thus engages us to understand our personal strengths and pursuits first before making big choices that may link to our future careers.

Not only do student-centered tutorials and seminars empower students’ individuality, but students also benefit from the wide range of social and extracurricular activities. While realizing our personal ambitions as we acquire more knowledge academically, we also want to have fun in those four years. Blend your creativity to contribute to the events around campus – be a star in the theatre production, be a culinary genius to stun your friends and professors, be a writer for your newspaper…. Simply, let your passion soar! The sky is the limit!

‘A time capsule possesses infinite powers.’ How skeptical would a Yale Professor be towards this statement? Perhaps that it is my idealism all over again. Nevertheless, it is interesting how truth is explored in higher education institutes. And now, looking at the pile of brochures gathered from different universities from my university tour during the summer vacation, I just noticed that I have been smiling – for fortunately, I have the privilege to work hard and get into my best-fit university two years from now.

 

By April Xiaoyi Xu

 

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