Journeys to Miami Regionals: Education on her terms

Shugin Zou an international student from ChinaOnce she decided that she wanted to study abroad, it did not take Shugin Zou long to discover that Miami University Regionals was the right place for her, and that Miami Middletown's English Learning Center was the best place to start her American education.

Shugin Zou—who has chosen the English name, Azura—said she had a good friend, whom she refers to as her "sister", who studied in Australia and was the first to suggest studying abroad, before Azura started college.,

"The Chinese system is really hard," she said. "We have to take a test like the SAT in America, but there are millions of students who take the test and the competition is very intense."

There is enormous pressure on Chinese youth, from the expectations parents, the competition in school and external pressures from society, Azura said she was overwhelmed at an early age and didn't her exams as seriously as she should have to get into the Chinese school of her choice. The system relies so much on test scores that students are not simply assigned to colleges, but also assigned their majors and have little, if any, choice in the matter.

"Chinese students have no weekends," she said. "They have to go to extra classes. It sounded just terrible for me because already every day we have to do four hours of homework. Classes begin at 7 a.m. and last until 5 or 6 p.m."

Schools in China are also very formal, rigid and hierarchical. There are student leaders in each class who wield their power and most students are so afraid of their teachers that they do not speak up in class.

"We may have questions but we are afraid to ask them, so that makes our scores lower," she said. "Then we have to go to other classes and pay more money.

"My scores were not very high, because I didn't realize until too late how important the test scores were for me, so I didn't prepare for a lengthy time."

So after her "sister" told her about studying abroad, "it only took me one month to make my decision," she said. "Here is better for me."

She learned about Miami University and the Middletown campus through an organization in China that helps match students wanting to study abroad with American colleges that fit their interests.

Azura said that she had three majors she was interested in. She began studying piano at a very young age, but did not feel she was good enough to become a music major. She was interested in interior design, but her education in China did not allow much time for studying arts or preparing a design portfolio. So she settled on her third choice, education, with the goal of going back to Suzhou and working with students who are also interested in studying abroad.

Although in China, students begin studying English in the third grade, she didn't feel like she had learned enough to be successful in an American college, so rather than go to the weekend schools, she worked on her English by watching television shows, "Friends" and "Once Upon a Time" being her favorites.

The English Learning Center at Miami Middletown allowed her the opportunity to get caught up with her English and other college skills to give her the tools to succeed when she transfers to the Oxford campus in the fall to finish her degree.

Azura hails from the city of Suzhou on the Yangtze River, famous for its classical gardens, and she loves it there but is not homesick, although she misses the food.

Because her parents were busy with their business, purchasing clothing at factories all over China and selling them to stores in Suzhou, she went to boarding schools even in the primary grades and has lived in dorm rooms most of her life.

"So I'm very independent," she said. "When I tell people I went to a boarding school at a young age, they feel sorry for me, but I think it was good because now I am independent enough to take care of myself."

She's learning to a make a life for herself, on her own terms.