Baochun (JoJo) Zhou, a Doctoral Associate to Dr. Marianne Di Pierro, Director of Graduate Center for Research and Retention, is a doctoral student in Counselor Education and Supervision who joined WMU in the fall 2011. She holds a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling from Governors State University, University Park, IL. During her studies at GSU, JoJo has been awarded the Student of the Year from the Counseling department. Her cross-cultural working and living experiences in both China and the U.S. have cultivated her research interests in multicultural and diversity issues, and advocacy for marginalized groups of color. Her current research project is focused on doctoral advising in counselor education. She has been awarded a research grant in October 2013 from the North Central Association for Counselor Education and Supervision on her doctoral advising research project.
Selected Conference Presentations (national and regional):
In August 2013, JoJo was interviewed by Dr. Di Pierro, Director of Graduate Center for Research and Retention at the Graduate College. Below are the narratives of this interview.
First, tell us a little about where you were born and your family background.
I was born and grew up in China. Both my parents are educators and are living in China. I am the youngest of three. Both my brothers live in China.
What prompted you to leave China and to study in the United States?
First, let me give a little bit of background about counseling and counselor education in China. Mental health counseling service has not started in China until the 21st century, and psychotherapy had been the dominant mental health treatment model before that. When I first heard about the counseling service and counselor training in 2004 when I was in Shanghai, China, I was very excited about this new profession and the idea of becoming a counselor. I was then trying to find a professional counseling training program in higher education in China. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by the traditional therapeutic training models. After some professional consultation and conversations with my family, I decided to look for counseling training programs in the U.S.
Did you encounter any fears about leaving your family and friends?
Moving away from one’s home country and living in a new country, as well as encountering a new culture and speaking a new language, are tough for everyone. I was not exceptional. However, I did not feel very challenged going through the transition. I am always optimistic and independent. I’m also always interested in learning a new culture. The experience of visiting America before I moved here was very helpful. I’ve had a chance to attend the American Counseling Association Annual conference in Atlanta, GA in 2005. It was just a two weeks’ short visit, but I already had a sense that I would be ok living in this new culture. Luckily my family was very supportive of my decision.
Did you know anyone here in the U.S. before you embarked on your journey here?
I moved to the U.S. in August 2007 for my master’s program studies in counseling. Before I moved here, I had already known a couple of professors, including Dr. Yang, a professor at my master’s program. However, I did not have any relatives and close friends living in the U.S. during that time. I’m very appreciative that Dr. Yang picked me up at the airport in Chicago. It was the date when there was a huge tornado warning in Chicago, and my flight was delayed for two hours because of that. I remember on that day the sky looked very foggy and grey. After 14 hours of non-stop flight and two hours’ delay, I had a strange feeling about this new journey of moving and living in a new country. I remember I asked Dr. Yang, “Am I in a dream?” I could not believe my dreams of graduate education and American living came true!
What was the most difficult experience that you have had here in the U.S.?
Looking back to the past, I could recall all those original difficulties of adjusting to a new culture and living in a new country. When I was in China, I lived in the city and I didn’t need to drive by myself. The first thing I had to do here is to buy a car and to learn to drive. When I went to school, I experienced the different expectations from professors and institutions. Most of the colleges or universities in China still adopt the traditional learning method where professors may talk most in the classroom and students may only have mid-term and final exams.
The most difficult experience came after the first two years of master’s program studies when I started doing my practica and internships. It was the first time when I worked outside the school and encountered people from local communities. Although I have learned racism, microaggression and multiculturalism from my counseling classes, I was still shocked by some people’s negative attitude toward me – those who judged my English language speaking and looked at me as a complete foreigner. It was the time when I didn’t know how to protect and advocate for myself. I internalized these issues and started to question my adequacy to become a helping professional. I had even thought to give up and to move back to China.
Luckily, I had two wonderful supervisors and mentors in my program. I’ve received great support from Drs. Sori and Dunham. I remember during one supervision meeting, I was very emotional, and Dr. Sori allowed me to stay in her office and to let all my emotions out. I also remember during my portfolio oral defense - the last step to finish my master’s program, I was also very emotional. I was emotional because of the tough time I’ve experienced; I was emotional also because I’m so proud of myself – I am able to overcome all these difficulties, to meet with all requirements, and to successfully complete my over 90 credit hours in less than four years. I am also very proud of my academic success of winning the Student of the Year award in my master’s program.
Irony has been described as the difference between our expectations and reality: what, if anything, has been "ironic" about your experiences here in the U.S. regarding culture, language, customs, and other variables that concern the transition to a new world - and/or transition into a new academic discipline?
Being as a helping professional, I have realized that to learn new cultures and to develop multicultural competence are part of my job. The fact of growing up in China and living in the U.S. for six years allows me to see “the other side” of both Eastern and Western cultures. The multicultural training from my graduate programs has lightened up my world view, and now I am able to see social phenomena on the institutional and systematic level. I used to have an ideal view of America when I was in China. The notion of democracy and freedom made me look up to American living and American dreams. Now I still see the uniqueness of the U.S. in the world. However, I also see how diversity, human rights, and social justice related issues are placed here. In the same time, living outside of China allows me to look at my home country from an outsider perspective. I see both the strength and weakness of Chinese culture and social living.
The graduate education thus far has changed me fundamentally on my original ways of thinking. I have learned to think critically and nonjudgmentally. I am hoping my cross cultural experiences could enrich my career development of becoming a counselor educator, and even bring it to another level – to bridge Eastern and Western cultures in counseling training.
Discuss your research in the CE program and what you intend to contribute to the discipline.
In my first two years’ doctoral studies at Western, I have done some research on doctoral advising in counselor education, as well as multicultural and diversity issues. Currently I am in the process to decide my dissertation topic. I think no matter what I am going to study, multiculturalism and diversity will always have a strong voice in my research. Marriage, family and couple counseling is my major in my master’s program. I am always interested in doing some research in this area too.
You speak English fluently. Talk about how you acquired such proficiency with the English
Thank you. I am still learning, but I think I am gaining more and more confidence on my English language speaking, most from encountering and interacting with native speakers. Although I have learned English language in my middle and high schools in China, the major improvement of English speaking and writing I made is after I moved to the U.S. Throughout the process of my counseling and counselor education training, I have learned to actively participate at the classroom and using paper assignment opportunity to improve my academic writings. I have also learned to initiate conversations and to communicate with people. What domestic students don’t know is that some international students like myself may spend double or even more time in studying after class. I started from the point where I had read my text for three times. First time was just reading to try to understand the basic ideas; second time was to look at the dictionary to deal with words I didn’t understand. And finally I read one more time thoroughly to make sure I understand all.
In my social life, I’ve always been open to make friends from various cultural contexts. In my master’s program, I have lived with an American family for almost three years just to learn their culture and to improve my English proficiency.
What do you think represents the most difficult aspects of transition into the U.S. and into
American academic programs that international students face? What role can the University play in easing these adjustments?
I think the most difficult aspects for an international student studying in the U.S. are cultural and language barriers. The concept of a “good” student here may be different from in other countries. American higher education focuses more on the students’ multiple abilities development. International students may experience transition issues facing different expectations than they get used to. The willingness to be opened to a new culture is a key. I think it is also very important for international students to have a clear self-identification of who they were, who they are, and who they want to be after they graduate. The ideal strategy to adjust to a new culture is to integrate one’s root culture with American culture. I also think it would be better for international students to develop an appropriate attitude and realistic expectations of their academic and social livings in the U.S. I found myself saying a lot, “I’m still learning”. I not only want others but also myself to know that it is ok to make mistakes. I strongly believe that I will do better tomorrow.
From educator and administer perspective, I would like to say that to build a welcoming academic atmosphere is most important to meet with students’ diverse needs. Believe it or not, some faculty and staff members at Western have not yet developed a multicultural perspective. For example, some evaluating and grading policies are still based on ethnocentric monocultural perspective. Some faculty and staff may ignore international students’ needs just because they speak poor English language. I think some intercultural activities are great. But I think it’s more important that a university has a focus on multiculturalism through their mission and policy making, as well as university and/or department level professional training.
Who have been the most influential people in your life, thus far?
I am always touched by people who have a strong soul; who know what they are doing, and who are always patient and persistent to work toward their goals every day. In the past 6 years the people who have most influenced me are my professors and mentors, such as Drs. Dermer, Dunham, Robey, Sori, Waller and Yang in my master’s program and Drs. Adkison-Bradley, Anderson, Craig, Di Pierro, Hedstrom and Morris at Western. I really look up to them and want to be them in the journey of my career development.
Describe your "ideal" job after graduation.
I would like to become a counselor educator. Right now I am doing a co-teaching internship within the department of Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology, and I found myself very much enjoying my work with master’s students in counseling. To see them learn and grow every day satisfies me very well.