The Backdoor to a Master’s Degree

I’m not a very conventional person. Part of the reason why is because it’s fun, but most of it is because I don’t know the proper way to do things. Unconventional is my life in Tsinghua.

As an exchange student from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I had no restrictions on the type of courses I could take. I only had two major regulations: I must take 12 to 18 credits. I can take no more than 8 credits outside my major. In other words, I had lots of room to be unconventional.

The first week of classes here was a nightmare.

The course registration site crashed because the servers couldn’t handle the number of students logging in at the same time. The finalized course list was only available on the course registration site. There was no English translation of the course list. Panicking, I translated the courses and the course syllabuses with my broken Chinese, picked as many journalism courses as I could and hoped for the best.

Tsinghua has a two week time period to sample classes. In those two weeks I flew through about 10 different classes and bought textbooks and completed the first week’s homework for a good half of each of those classes. After realizing it took me thirty minutes to fully comprehend one page of text in Chinese, I decided I couldn’t take courses taught in Chinese.

My finalized course list for the semester is as such: Business and Finance Reporting, Economics and Finance for Journalists, and Mass Communications and Contemporary Chinese Society, and Oral Chinese. All the courses are under Tsinghua’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications except for the Chinese class.

A lot of people ask me why I decided to study journalism in China. China is a black hole for Journalism as we understand it in the U.S: As a journalist, you’re always fighting against censorship. You face difficulties in finding information online. You never know when you’re too political. You can get kicked out of the country at any time. Your stories don’t seem relevant to 95 percent of the American population.

Despite all that, I still decided to study journalism Tsinghua University. In 2002, Tsinghua established a journalism and mass communications academy. In 2007, it started a two year master’s program in Global Journalism. The program is sponsored by big names like Bloomberg, Bank of America, the Knight Foundation and Deloitte. These names, make the institution seem open.

But, interestingly, Liu Binjie, the former minister of China’s General Administration of Press and Publication—the censorship department of the Chinese government—was Dean of School of Journalism and Communications in 2012, the same year Xi Jinping, the president of China, stepped into office. I note this because veteran China journalists, say that the control of media in China has been tightening since Xi has stepped into office. Liu is the one that is leading the ideology of Tsinghua’s school of journalism and mass communications. Is it a big deal? How are his experiences reflected in the leadership of the department here? How much does it matter? Are these the right questions I should be asking?

What happens in the high level decision I probably won’t ever know. It’s been difficult to find Professor Liu to spare a chat. But, experiencing the training that is accepted by this institution will help me better understand the media system in China. I never really put much thought into the administration and history of an institution until I came here.

Media regulation in modern China is a key part of the government. Since the foundation of the Communist Party of China (CCP), utilizing media was a big part of uniting the nation. In the 1930s, during the civil war with the Nationalist Party of China (the one with Chiang Kai-shek) the CCP was on the brink of disintegration. The Nationalists bullied the CCP into the desolate northwestern China. By then, the CCP had little weapons, little infrastructure, little money.

Media and mass communications was the only weapon they had. They were phenomenal with it. From the very beginning, high standing individuals in the CCP made decisions on how media should be made, who should make it, and what can be said to create the idealized image of China. That mindset towards the media as a weapon is still very apparent China today as we can see with heavy-handed censorship and overly positive news reports. My logic follows that tracing the media system in China still reflects the political mindset, internal conflicts and wishes of the party. And today, added onto the media system is a visible platform for the public to communicate back to the official image of China, the internet.

My classmates here too, I’m very interested in them. There are from good mix of nations: Russia, France, Slovakia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Pakistan, Italy, U.S., Korea, and China. I’d say of the 40 classmates that I’ve been able to share a conversation with, most are studying here for practical reasons, a switch in career, a boost in English language reporting, or a prestigious name to put onto their resume. I do get a vibe that they’re not satisfied with the reporting at home. They want to make a difference in the reporting back at their home.

So it is to this school, with an odd mix of Bloomberg terminals in our classrooms, and lecturers from American universities – that I as journalism student would like to learn from like, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and the University of Pennsylvania – Annenberg School for Communications – that I found a backdoor into though my exchange as a student from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Orgially posted on Study Abroad Correspondents @ International Academic Programs, University of Wisconsin Madison

Chinatown, New York: the engine that has completed its 100 year service

It was late in the morning. I was waiting for my mother’s friend in the bustling cosmopolitan center of New York, Manhattan. But tucked in Chinatown, the people moved slowly. The buildings were old and worn. The place seemed old and exhausted. Manhattan’s Chinatown is fading.

My mother’s friend was running late, so I entered the nearest cafe to kill some time. I ordered a coffee and sat down.

On the right, were four long aged tables. Elderly Chinese cooped together in their puffy, desaturated winter coats that engulfed the tiny stools they sat on. To the left are glass displays overstuffed with of baked goods. In the back, was an open kitchen framed by no less than ten pages of menu options. The window in front of me framed a spread of vintage red green and yellow neon signs stacked upon each other.

There was an odd familiarity of all this. It was the China from my parent’s favorite 1960s and 70s Hong Kong gangster films captured on VHS that we frequently watched on our dim living room television set.

Chinatown reflected how Chinese immigrants remembered and created the home they wish they had for more than 100 years. It was built and maintained by generations of young outcasts from a long period of social crises in China—the fall of the last emperor, a failed revolution, a World War sandwiched between two civil wars, and hyper-socialist policies—who creatively squeezed through American immigration restrictions.

When they arrived in the U.S., these early Chinese immigrants defaulted to starting their own business. Working for others was difficult due to their poor English and discriminatory wages enforced upon them. The Chinatown community grew as older generations passing on their expertise maneuvering through America’s sticky anti-immigration policies.

However by 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act, significantly increased the immigration quota for Chinese. A surge of new Chinese immigrants began to flood the U.S: the professionally trained entrepreneurs and the well-off looking for a better living standards.

According to the 2013 immigration report by the Population Division of the New York City Department of City Planning, the average annual income of new Chinese immigrants is $42,766, that’s well above the middle class in China. They’re well educated, 47 percent hold a bachelor’s degree, and emigrate into the states in their late 40’s with secure occupations.

Across from to me in the cafe, the neighborhood ladies gossiping about the city pulled out latest copy of the local Chinese newspaper. The headline read “Chinese Restaurant Owner Robbed.”

I began to eavesdrop as one of the ladies spoke, “Did you hear that the old restaurant got robbed earlier? People think we have money here, but the rent just so high. How do they expect us to live here?”

According to a 2008 report by the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, an Asian American advocacy group, increasing has forced the business owners in Chinatown are forced to abandon their community. The owners of these fading establishments are aging with their business as the younger generations are unwilling to upkeep the change. As the old establishments sell out, this district of Manhattan has been increasing development and building permits. New luxury apartments and tourist hotels have replaced old staple stores.

Eventually my mother’s friend arrived and praised my choice in cafe. Normally youngsters choose cafes that charge triple the price for the polished, glossy, ambiance.

I asked her about the conditions of this Chinatown. She told me it was better this way. Her daughters have a stable job. She discouraged her kids from following her footsteps, running a restaurant. Even she lost hope in Chinatown. She now picks up jobs in hospitality services. They recently moved into house to call their own in Brooklyn. She tells me leaving behind this excluded place is a sign that things are getting better for the Chinese.

Perhaps, this Chinatown community that grew out of survival is no longer necessary. Perhaps, a few decades from now Manhattan’s Chinatown will only be a myth, a story of an engine that could once help a family jump to the highest socioeconomic class within one generation for the past 100 years.

Challenging the status quo

Today, I attended a lecture by Tibet’s Prime Minister, Lobsang Sangay. The audience was a mix of Americans, Chinese, and Tibetans. Some knew of the situation between Tibet and China, other were hearing it for the first time. But, a Chinese professor interpreted the words that came out of Prime Minister Sangay as this, “you’re asking to change the world order.”

Now, with all due respect to professor, I believe Prime Minister Sangay’s proposals are rather moderate. However, this professor did raise a tension is very valid and true, asking to change world order is crazy. People can see the value in it. Yet, no one approaches it. No one fathoms the idea of how change will be achieved, or how change could be approached.

We just all accept that change is strenuous, difficult, and makes winners and losers in an alternative world that we do not know. Once we accept that change is hard, the efforts to implement change is already stunted. People stop thinking.

But is it really that difficult? If we could have these conversations? If people worked together to contribute to a unified change?

Change isn’t going to be easy, but that’s what humans are good at, adapting to change. And now, we’re in a world where it’s easy to communicate. We can shape a different world through passing on information between generations, between cultures, and between people.

The Chronic Malpractice of Grade Inflation in Colleges

The creation on guilds were based of the kinship between craftsmen for preserving the future of their trade. Masters of the trade would evaluate each other to embody important qualities of their profession. They took in apprentices as family, providing skills to succeed, tending their illnesses, coping with life, and granting advise.

Standardization of education has lead to the inflation of this generation’s fragile egos and accepted ignorance. Grades have long been the standard of measuring a student’s capability in a course, but what exactly are the grades measuring in relations to our education?

Today, we have students entering top-level institutions entering with their new path to education with a ripe ego. The achievement of acceptance already signals the institution’s approval of the student. People arguing for the acceptance of inflated grades at these institutions grant a pass simply because these A-grade students are simply that: A-grade students. However, if that is the case, then these students already perform at an expert level. Then, realistically,  for the development of these student’s education, there is no need for this student to further pursue the offerings at the institution. Then that takes to us, the purpose of these educational institutions.

Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Duke University, Michael Allen Gillespie, describes education as a path for youth to improve themselves though understanding their strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, it is required by educators to provide students with grades that honestly reflect the student  to show students that “they are not yet who they could be.” Although it seems understood by educators, they continue to abuse grade inflation because it is the easy way out. With this, Gillespie highlights the clash of student-teacher relationships contributing to the continuation of grade inflation.

This student-teacher relationship is key to education. We should think of colleges and universities as the guilds of today, and the students as the apprentices of now. Educators are passing on their experience to people that are capable of carrying out their expertise, and possibly surpassing them, in the future. Colleges and universities are about gaining skills to succeed in the future, not about fitting guidelines for grades.

Although Professor Gillespie points out the importance of this relationship, his solution shoots of in a different direction. Legislation, the source of funds, is the cause of the wrongs; he calls for the legislative system to provide greater regulation through a new standardized measurement. However, this would just further perpetuate the issue. As he had stated before, both the student and teacher are happy, there would be no reason to change; this inflation would remain because it works.

I would like to present a different method to receiving funds: have the students draft the grant proposals for their institution. Only students that feel that their institution has provided them with the skills and experiences to succeed will feel inclined to write on behalf of their institution. This means students that feel their encounters with their professors were meaningful and well worth their time and money. I believe this would in turn develop greater student-teacher relationships and in turn,  a more encompassing educational experience. Treat the students as members under apprenticeship rather than consumers of the institution. Bring back the humility, respect, and dignity of our education.