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[环球时报]Rural students struggle to fit in and break through social boundaries at urban universities
2018-09-27 10:51:42
251 次浏览
来源:环球日报
编辑:赵禾

○ Gaps in family wealth hinder students from economically poorer areas from integrating into urban society

○ Poorer students hope to climb the social ladder with diligence, but flounder and face intermittent frustration

○ Elite universities help students from low-income families downplay identity labels and promote integration and equality

Cui Qingtao, 17, from Qujing, Yunnan Province,  receives an admission letter from Peking University when he helps his father mix concrete at a construction site on July 22, 2018. Photo: IC

Wang Ying (pseudonym) has spent her past 12 years ensuring her entry into a prestigious university. She aims to step out of her rural community and move up the economic ladder. During the past decade, she packed her schedule tightly every day, from 6 am to 11 pm, to make more time for her studies. In her mind, this was the only way to secure a promising future.

She survived China’s fierce national college entrance exams, and thought she would start a fresh chapter of her life story. But once she arrived at the university in the Chinese capital, she discovered that the way into a higher social strata is full of barriers.

Wang, a recent graduate of Peking University, one of China’s top universities, came from a remote village of Wenshui county, North China’s Shanxi Province.

Even four years later, she can still recall the awkwardness and embarrassment she felt when she first joined the university’s debate club in her freshman year. “I was timid, shy, and even did not dare to talk to anyone once the debate grew sharp,” she told the Global Times. She felt herself at odds with the school’s spirit of “confidence.”

She had little common language with her roommates who are all from urban middle class families. She felt it was hard to imagine how the girls could spend her budget for a month’s expenses on luxury cosmetics. She consoled herself by telling herself that putting on too much makeup would harm her skin.

Behind her roommates’ backs, she secretly learned to wear makeup. Occasionally, she practiced how to wear a pair of high heels, to make herself “look like a white-collar lady.”

She made efforts to improve herself from the inside out, such as learning photography, going to art shows, or participating in speech contests. She wanted to catch up with “a new fancy world.”

“But I finally realized that it was impossible to completely erase the stigma of your native family,” Wang said.

According to a January survey by the Office of Student Financial Aid of Peking University, over 50 percent of the 135 respondents who were recipients of financial aid felt they lacked confidence and were “weak” in social life.

Xiao Bai (pseudonym), a PhD graduate of the Renmin University of China, comes from a village in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province. She experienced similar awkwardness when she first came to the university.

Despite excellent grades, she completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in her hometown partly due to the pressure of tuition and living expenses. Admission into a PhD program was her first chance to come to Beijing.

When she first ran for class cadre, she was frustrated when she felt herself dwarfed by some of her classmates from urban families who were more confident and with better presentation skills. She was more inclined to make friends with peers from a similar family background to bring herself warmth and self-esteem.

Fortunately her superior learning ability made her more and more cheerful and confident. Good academic performance also brought her many study partners, which made her realize her true value. “After that, I started taking the initiative to learn about the lives of people from different backgrounds and was willing to learn about their good qualities,” Bai said.

“The division of social classes always exists. Receiving higher education is still the most powerful way to increase social mobility. We can only rely on ourselves to break down barriers rather than complaining about the disparity with the rich.”

Now with a decent and high-paying job, she has a passion to create better living conditions for her child. But she also worries that her child’s efforts may be compromised by a lack of experience of hardship.

Cui and his family are delighted and excited to receive the admission letter from Peking University at the construction site on July 22, 2018. Photo: IC

Education consciousness

As the only girl in a rural family of six, Wang Ying had to get up at 5:30 every morning from a young age to prepare breakfast for the family. Her father took her to school for about one hour. Compared with the tedious housework, she always felt that studying made her the most relaxed and happiest.

During her four years in Beijing, she only had her parents visit twice, mainly due to a tight budget.

Despite her family’s economic pressures, she felt grateful to her parents for respecting her right to receive education. Not everyone in her village was as lucky as her. Many parents would rather spend any spare money on building a big house.

A low admission rate makes many rural parents worried about wasting their life savings on an uncertain educational path. Rural parents are very skeptical about the future of their children if they only go to a substandard school.

“Only around 10 percent of village teens can be admitted into a university every year in my village. More role models are needed to demonstrate the value of education in rural areas,” Wang said.

“Education was thought to be an equalizer by offering an equal starting line for everyone. But it’s not always the case. It can be an agent of inequality when we consider those lagging behind on the starting line – those who suffered disadvantages in their early learning and development,” she said.


Weakening labels

In order to empower economically disadvantaged students, almost every university in China has set up a student aid center to provide financial help and other support to promote rural students’ integration and improve their adaptation.

Some school work-study schemes, including campus posts like tutor, library assistant, and campus tour guide, can also prepare young people more effectively for the workforce and an urban social life.

Tang Jie, director of the student financial assistance management center of the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times that 100 percent of students from economically disadvantaged families in the school can successfully apply for financial aid programs in the school.

Xie Ailei, an associate professor at the Education College of Guangzhou University, surveyed 2,000 rural students from four prestigious universities, and found that rural children can achieve self confidence in elite institutions – often by putting their energy into their studies, at the expense of their social lives.

The aid center of Peking University organizes students to go across the country every summer break to visit leading enterprises or volunteer at service institutions to enrich their social experience. Since 2011, the program has organized more than 80 student teams visiting 25 provinces across the country, benefiting more than 500 students.

Peking University also initiated a special talent program that invites famous scholars or successful people to be a mentor offering one-on-one instruction to students from economically poor families.

Using a different approach, the funding system of the Renmin University of China is now making efforts to weaken the label of “students with family financial difficulties.” They are promoting their idea of “implicit funding.”

“We don’t specifically organize students from disadvantaged families to participate in international exchange programs, because we want to avoid the pressure that labeling puts on students,” Tang said.

“Instead, some mechanisms are used to guarantee the participation rate of students from disadvantaged families, so that they can be integrated into campus life together with other excellent students,” Tang said.

Research by Yue Changjun, a professor of Graduate School of Education at Peking University, shows that the weakness of rural students is mainly reflected in their international vision, information processing ability, foreign language ability and critical thinking.

The Renmin University of China encourages students to attend relevant training, and get certified in computer skills, English, psychology, driving and other capabilities. The university reimburses the students for the relevant expenses.

Tang told the Global Times that the Self-Improvement Society – an unofficial student society serving students from economically disadvantaged families – has been shut down.

“We actually oppose the grouping of students from similar backgrounds. We do not want to reinforce this kind of identity. We would rather hope that they could fully integrate into life and learning with different types of people here in the university,” said Tang.

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[环球时报]Rural students struggle to fit in and break through social boundaries at urban universities

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