The primary goal of Chinese Flagship on the national, long-range scale is "to create global professionals." To reach this goal, students must develop far beyond what is typically achieved linguistically, but also culturally.
In the U.S., individual rights and preference are considered fundamental, at the expense of group harmony. In China, group harmony takes precedence, and it is those with authority who protect it. Many new Flagship students "dig themselves a hole" by telling their teacher or our director that they don't want to do what they suggest because it's not the most convenient arrangement for them. They may even feel that following the advice given would be less optimal for their long-term academic plans. Expressing this, at least directly, can sound extremely offensive in a Chinese context. The teacher is assuming that your following a more generic pathway will be more convenient for everyone, which will indirectly be more beneficial to you in the long run. This may or may not be obvious, or even completely true in any particular case. What is important is that everyone in a group, particularly those on the lowest rungs (i.e., students), give the impression of compliance and cooperation so that the social atmosphere seems harmonious. Once a student presents him/herself as having a positive, accommodating attitude, he/she can actually negotiate in indirect ways for preferences that may be somewhat less convenient for the teacher(s) or the group as a whole; however, if a student ever demands, or insists, or tries to use pure logic or practicality as an argument for why a teacher's opinion or suggestion is not the best one (particularly if this is done in the presence of other students, or even worse, teachers, the teacher will have lost face, which will make it much more difficult going forward to expect sympathy for one's individual preferences or "needs." Our program puts a strong emphasis on teaching culture on this level, and our teachers understand where 18-year-old American college students are coming from. The expectation is not for you to act wholly Chinese, especially from day 1. Flagship students are preparing to eventually be self-sufficient in a native Chinese environment, however, so they do have to become accustomed to being evaluated in a Chinese way. When course preferences, and even grades are involved, this can be very difficult to get used to. It's a form of culture shock. You are encouraged to speak with older students to learn their strategies for coping and eventually thriving. Your tutors are a great starting point. You are also welcome to come and speak to Nate before meeting with, or writing to, your teachers or our director about consequential issues. This is part of the learning process. It is much better to talk through any confusion or frustration early on so that anything you may be noticing first on a subconscious level can become something you are able to analyze consciously and then accept in terms that make sense to you. The more you talk and think things through, the more quickly you will be able to interpret things as they are intended and not as they would be intended in an American context. Resisting or ignoring this process will lead to more frustration on your part and more chances of offending Chinese teachers and friends, which can easily become a vicious cycle. In the same way that learning Chinese characters is a long, slow process with big rewards for the few who persevere (Flagship students are all among "the few"), mastering Chinese interpersonal strategies is a long, often painful process, but mastery can yield life-long benefits. There are relatively few Westerners who can demonstrate a deep understanding of the logical and emotional systems underpinning the Chinese psyche. Those who do can very quickly endear themselves to their counterparts on every level of society. From a professional standpoint, this skill is arguably far more important than any purely linguistic one.