Tue, Nov 09, 2010 - Page 9 News List

Increasing number of Chinese embracing Western education

By Dan Levin  /  NY Times News Service

“I love it here,” she concludes. She expresses amazement, though, at her program peers’ English: “They can’t talk. They can’t communicate with American people.”

Zhou Kehui had an unusual adjustment to Brigham Young University (BYU). Growing up in officially atheist China, she knew little about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with which the university is affiliated. Mormonism is not a state-sanctioned religion and proselytizing by its members is illegal.

Zhou chose Brigham Young on the recommendation of a friend of her father’s, who had gone there. Its business school also ranks highly. Her parents thought the university’s honor code, with its rules of conduct, would keep her safe and focused. Initially, however, the curfew and code, which includes a ban on short skirts and drinking tea, left her shell-shocked.

“It was really hard for me to accept the rules in the beginning,” says Zhou, a junior majoring in accounting. “I mean, where I’m from, in Fujian Province, drinking tea every day is what we do.”

However, few US universities offer the comfort zone she found here. Though there are only 77 Chinese undergraduates at Brigham Young, with so many Mormons doing their two years of missionary work in Taiwan and Hong Kong, finding someone fluent in her language was easy.

“A lot of times I’d be walking on campus when some white dude would just come up to me and start speaking Chinese,” Zhou says. That warmth and common experience — not to mention several meetings with church missionaries — went a long way toward convincing her BYU was the right match.

A few months after arriving, Zhou was baptized, which, she says, provided a support network. That Mormonism is considered subversive at home, or that her parents were unhappy with her conversion, gave her little pause. After all, she says, saving her soul was as logical as deciding to go to college in the US.

“It wasn’t a hard choice to make,” she says. “It’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

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