Wednesday, January 15, 2014

American Dreams in China - review

TOEFL ITP BANNER 2011
TOEFL ITP BANNER 2011 (Photo credit: CTJ Online)
On a recent flight with Lufthansa from China I was fortunately enough to watch the movie "American Dreams in China". Mostly on-board movies tend to be rather boring, but this one was very appealing, not only to me, but also to many of the mostly Chinese passengers on board.
I had missed this 2013 movie altogether, but it is a must-see if you are interested in China´s recent history. The story hoovers around three friends, who meet at university and decide, each on their own way, to pursue their American dream. Their working live focuses on an initiative of teaching English, and training Chinese in getting access to the American education through TOEFL tests. They start off in a derelict factory - after the main characters were kicked out of university - and ends very appropriate with an IPO.
The story offers enough twists and turns to make it interesting, mostly real success stories tend to be a bit boring, but this one is certainly not. It draws a nice parallel with the developments of China itself, and how it is able to gain prosperity and an accepted global player.
It shows how a major conflict on copyrights - the Chinese company supposedly copied TOEFL tests without permission - turns into a great opportunity to come clean with this copy right infringement, and becomes a leading force in giving Chinese access to US education. The story is a nice clash between American and Chinese culture, although some of the rough edges have been hidden in the well-written scenario.
The story is loosely based on that off "New Oriental", a Chinese company that listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2006. The still popular school has been the subject of - unproven - war stories, that go a little bit further than the mild copyright infringement from the movie.
One of the ways New Oriental cheated the US TOEFL system, according this (again: unproven) stories was by sending hundred of their teachers to do the test. Since it was a computer-based system, copying the questions was a bit harder than with paper-based tests. Those hundred teachers memorized the questions, wrote them up sometimes even sitting at the toilet during the test. That allowed the school to cover about 80% of all TOEFL question, of course a major asset in recruiting students.
If the story is true, that is.


the trailer
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