In Chinese schools, mathematics is taught differently than here in the United States. Students such as Xiaoying Chen begin mastering concepts in high school that their American counterparts may only approach once they reach college.
“What I learned in China is a more simple way to get the correct answer,” said Chen, who tutors her SUNY Broome peers in the Math Lab. “When I show my classmates, they are like, ‘oh, ah!’”
An international student, Chen will graduate this May with a degree in Mathematics from SUNY Broome and then transfer on for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. With a stellar 4.0 grade point average, she is considering multiple options – Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Purdue University, to name a few.
Mathematics, however, turned out to be her third major; she started in Computer Science and then moved over to Communications & Media Arts. She has a passion for filmmaking and photography, and hopes to finish her Communications degree someday – after a rewarding career in investment banking.
Unlike many international students from China, she comes from the southern part of the country, closer to the border with Vietnam. Southern Chinese students studying in the United States tend to head to California or the West Coast, and they speak a different dialect of Chinese than their northern counterparts, Chen explained.
There are climate differences, too. “The first time I saw snow was here, and I got my first winter coat here,” Xiaoying said of life in Upstate New York.
Like many students, Xiaoying Chen came to SUNY Broome primarily because of its affordability. She admitted with a smile that she was also drawn by the Hornet. “Broome’s logo is pretty cool,” she said.
Fun things: Dancing, drawing – organic chemistry?
When she first came to SUNY Broome, Chen struggled with English and still has to work around a language barrier sometimes. For example, she ordered a Chinese textbook in addition to her American textbook for organic chemistry, so she could study the material in her native language and translate back and forth. Writing essays for English class also takes her longer than many students – but she manages to earn top grades in spite of this.
Of course, math is a universal language – even if teaching methods vary by country.
“I skipped Calculus 1 and went into Calculus 2,” she remembered. “Even though I didn’t know any English, I knew the math.”
Joining the International Student Organization gave her the opportunity to connect with fellow international students, and learn more about the United States through trips and activities. She is also a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society.
Life isn’t limited to math; she is also taking a drawing class with Professor Patricia Evans, and her work – along with classmates – will be on display in the library. She’s taking that organic chemistry class for fun, too. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
“I like challenge!” she said.
One particular interest that links East and West: a dance style called “Waacking” that’s very popular in China. The dance originates in the African-American LGBT community, where it was popular in disco-era clubs in the Los Angeles area. While Chen doesn’t identify as LGBTQ herself, she expressed her support for the community – and her appreciation of the dance form’s origins.
She has never seen anyone strike a pose at SUNY Broome, but maybe that could change. “I would like to make friends to dance together,” she said.