What Xiaotong Chen describes as a case of “culture shock” at her first campus social event, became the motivation for her to immerse herself in campus activities and experience all that the University of Pennsylvania has to offer.
A native of Wuhan, China, Chen received her undergraduate degree in English language and literature in Beijing before arriving at Penn in 2011.
That fall, Chen showed up eager to meet others at a Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA) new student orientation event. But when people in the room began mingling, she says she felt uncomfortable, and didn’t speak to anyone at the happy hour gathering.
“Although I felt that my language proficiency was at the time sufficient and I was proficient enough to communicate, small talk was hard to do,” Chen says. “I just stood there by myself and felt upset that I could not be a part of Penn at the time.”
Chen quickly realized that socializing with fellow students and participating in classroom discussions would be vital to her success at Penn.
Growing up in China, Chen says her teachers lectured in the classroom while students took notes. Students didn’t ask questions or share their views. The American teaching style of engaging students in the classroom was new to her.
So, she devised a plan to learn how to be more comfortable in social situations. She became a member of the student government at the Graduate School of Education, where she was enrolled in the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Program. And, to help fellow students become acclimated to American culture and academic life, she joined the International Student Advisory Board. The organization advises and guides OIP in creating a welcoming environment for international students at Penn.
“It helped me not only improve my academic performance, but also daily communications,” says Chen. “I am more willing to listen to other people’s opinions and think critically, and now know better how to respond to people’s opinions.”
After graduation in May, Chen worked as an instructor in Penn’s English Language Program. In July, she will begin a six-week position at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton.
She hopes to find a job somewhere in the U.S. teaching Mandarin or English as a Second Language for a couple of years and then return to China to teach.
“I’ve been exposed to both cultures, and I hope I could work within the education field and help Chinese students to be more open minded and more easy-going,” says Chen. “I want to help Chinese students to explore themselves a little bit more before they go to university or to work.”