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Academics
March 28, 2008

Immigrant Youth: Growing Up in Chinatown

Why do Chinese Students Excel?

Sixty Five percent of students at New York City's Stuyvesant High School are Asian, but Asians only make up 12 percent of the citywide school population. The numbers are equally impressive at the other two gems in the city's public school crown, Bronx High School of Science (60%) and Brooklyn Technical High School (53%). So why do Chinese students excel in school? Three professors took a look and presented their research Friday, March 28 at the 10th Anniversary Conference of the Institute for International and Cross-Cultural Psychology (IICCP).

First up, NYU's Carola Suárez-Orozco took a look at five different immigrant groups including the Chinese. She found that education wise, the Chinese showed markedly higher success rates than the other groups. Dr. Suárez-Orozco pointed to several reasons for this with one major thread being that both high-status (well educated, substantial income) and low-status Chinese immigrate to the U.S., whereas in other immigrant groups, the population is usually only low-status. These high-status Chinese are well-equipped to locate educational resources and can figure out the way the city's school system works. This information is passed on to the low-status immigrants giving them a big advantage over their ethnic counterparts who tend to passively trust in a system that works best if parents and students actively seek out ways to get ahead.

The next lecture was presented by St. Francis College Professor and IICCP Executive Director Uwe Gielen and CUNY Professor Ting Lei. The two have conducted more than 150 interviews with 14 to 26 year old Chinese immigrants across New York City's various Chinatown communities.

Their research drew out several common story lines explaining Chinese educational success. The first is a sense of honor and duty to the family, "the definition of being a good child is being a good student," said Professor Gielen. He also pointed out that Chinese society is the oldest testing oriented society in the world. The education tradition trumps disadvantages that many young Chinese have like parents who don't speak English and can not help with homework.

Dr. Lei used his own experience as an example of the dedication many Chinese have to education. He took his child to take a 7th grade placement exam for Hunter College High School, arriving several hours early to make sure his son, a lefty, was able to get a good seat for the test. When he got to the school he was surprised to see about 100 other parents with their children. Dr. Lei estimated that about 85 were East Asian, 5 were Indian or Pakistani and only about 10 were white.

Dr. Gielen did point out what may be the price of all this pressure on performing well in school. Some small and at times preliminary studies show unusually high rates of depression and stress among the younger members of the Chinese community. Professor Gielen intends to follow up on this finding.

In the meantime, he and Professor Lei plan to turn their interviews into a book on growing into adulthood in New York Chinatown.

After the lectures, a dinner was held to raise money for UNICEF and the The Probini Foundation which helps educate orphans and poor children in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India.

Since its founding in 1998, the IICCP has sponsored numerous events like the annual Community Day at St. Francis College (coming up on April 13at St. Francis College), various symposiums and lectures including; Psychological Characteristics of Families across Cultures, The Significance of the End of World War II and The Adaptation of Immigrant Children and Adolescents. Members of IICCP have also supported the writing and editing of numerous publications in international psychology including 13 books that have appeared in 5 countries

This event was co-sponsored by the SFC Women's Center

St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City's five boroughs and beyond.
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