Asia’s a big continent! Japan, India, Pakistan, Taiwan, China: all of these countries and more comprise this largest continent in the world. So is it really possible to compare academic life in Asia with academic life in the U.S.?
The obvious answer to this question is that we can only really compare these two different academic lives in very general terms. But the issues we are able to compare are truly fascinating. Having been a teacher in Taiwan and Japan, with many contacts in mainland China, and having also had over a decade of experience in academic life in the United States, I can point out a few interesting issues. Let’s divide these issues into two categories: student life and faculty life.
Students in the United States often describe their initial days at college as eye-opening. What is more, college in the U.S. is seen as far more challenging than high school. The work load increases, as do pressure and responsibilities. A person could mess up some in high school, but if you mess up in college in the U.S., you endanger your potential career possibilities. What is more, many students coast through their high school experience with little effort, but they know that college is going to be more demanding.
Students in Japan, Taiwan and mainland China see college and high school in an opposite manner. High school in these countries is strict, high pressure and each day lasts for at least ten hours. In fact, many students who are trying to get into a good college arrive at classes at about 8 AM and leave school at about 10 PM.
College, on the other hand, is seen as a time for relaxing and having fun. Students in Japan, Taiwan and mainland China expect to be in a good program, but know that it will not be hard and the work load will be far less than in high school. Thus, pressure is much reduced and college tends to be a time of mostly relaxation.
Finally, the actual quality of the education in universities and colleges in the U.S.A. tends to be higher than in many Asian countries. This, certainly, does not apply to all institutions, but the money available to American colleges and universities tends to be more and thus allows the schools to have better offerings. Hence, many of these Asian students come to the U.S.A. as foreign students.
The relationship between students and faculty in these two parts of the world is often quite different as well.
First off, in American institutions, the professor is seen as a real authority figure. Their position demands respect, since they have complete a Ph.D. and are referred to as ‘Doctor.’ There is, thus, a clear line between faculty and students in American universities and colleges.
This is not to say that professors in American institutions are cold and distant. Indeed, they are often helpful and are happy to mentor and help students who ask for such assistance. However, you will not often see a professor attending student parties and events.
On the other hand, in institutions in Japan, Taiwan and mainland China, this clear student-teacher relationship is a little fuzzy. Of course there are professors who command great respect and maintain such a relationship; these professors are often prominent in their field. But it is not uncommon to see closer, more friendly relationships form between students and professors in the three Asian countries we are discussing. Karaoke, parties, even nightclubs are all places that you might see professors interacting with students.
Another interesting issue that is worth exploring is that of publishing and tenure. Most professors in American institutions must, in addition to their teaching duties, do research and publish this research in reputable academic journals. It is only through doing this that these professors can get tenure, and thus real job security.
In the Asian countries we are discussing the system is different. Traditional values about job security and employers’ responsibilities to their employees tend to rule the workplace. Thus, professors do not need to jump through myriad hoops in order to ensure job security.
So as we see, there are plenty of interesting issues that come up when we compare academic life in the U.S. and Japan, Taiwan and mainland China. The causes of these differences range from tradition to culture to practicality and money.