Grandparents Week: A Review

An inside look at culture clash

 Mara Xiong , Co-Editor in Chief

In the summer of August, my grandparents flew over to stay in my household for two weeks. Was it a week of warm hugs, tearful reunions and yummy dumplings? 


No, no and yes. 


As a child, part of me had always dreaded my grandparents’ visits, and this year was no different. That wasn’t to say that I didn’t care for them or that I didn’t love them. But with each visit, came new issues, and with each new issue, came an obvious fundamental divide in our respective viewpoints and upbringings. 


My grandparents grew up in Jiujiang, a small suburban town in China near the mountains of the Jiangxi province. In Jiujiang (and China in general), massive studying, especially in STEM subjects, is heavily emphasized. Seniors in China take the gaokao, a nine-hour college-entrance exam lasting over a period of two days, to get into the college of their dreams – or not get into college at all. In the U.S., the college application process is highly subjective and multi-layered, with many schools requiring not only transcripts and SAT scores, but also awards, honors, extracurriculars and many, MANY essays. 


Nowhere was this cultural clash of China and America more evident than when my grandparents found out that I had started my college applications. Having worked as gaokao tutors themselves, they naturally assumed that the SAT was the end-all, be-all of all college applications, and grew dismayed when I informed them that it was only a small part of the Common App. They then eagerly asked what else American college applications entailed. 


“I have to write a lot of things,” I told them patiently. 


“Oh!” my grandma said. “My students in China write a lot too! After they take their gaokao, they fill out a chart with their top school choices. If their scores on the gaokao meet the minimum requirements for the school, then they are instantly admitted!” 


Not that kind of writing,” I thought wryly. But, not wanting to crush the excited look on her face and not wanting to explain the multi-layered, highly subjective admissions process that is American college applications, I politely replied, “It’s sort of like that. A little more complicated.” 


And thus began a week of constant hovering and “What can I do to help? What can I do to help?” 


“Are you done yet?” my grandfather asked one day. “Why don’t you send in your application materials early? In China, the earlier you send your scores, the more likely you’re admitted.” 


“It doesn’t work like that,” I mumbled, only half-listening while I furiously typed in the “Awards and Honors” section of the Common App. 


“You’re still not done?” my grandma exclaimed. “Don’t overthink it! Just type in something random; it’s not like the essays are important!” 

It was only after my mother intervened and quietly pulled them aside one day that I was finally able to get some space. But one thing was for sure – whether China or America, whether gaokao or Common App – college applications were a huge part of life for everyone.

FAMILY FOREVER: Despite the cultural clash, I know that my grandparents do, and always will, just have my best interests at heart. (Photo by Mara Xiong)