A coffee with Obio Ntia


“Obio Ntia is Zhejiang Province Counselling Quality Manager for Dipont Education Management.”


I had the pleasure of sitting down with Obio Ntia who works as a college counsellor in China.  Obio’s article “The Other Side of the Desk” was published on i-studentglobal in February 2012 and I thought it was time for a catch up.

 Hi Obio, how do you take your coffee?

Black, please.  Thank you.  

Are you still enjoying life in China?

Yeah.  Third year and counting now.   Before long, I could be turning into a China old-timer although the jury’s still out on when the official cutoff for that is.  

In your article ‘The Other Side of the Desk’ you talked about the cultural adjustments that Chinese students need to make when studying abroad.  What would you say are the main issues?

Classroom culture is a key issue.  Chinese students who are going to university overseas need to adjust to different demands of class participation namely being active in discussion classes, developing ones own opinion and challenging the assertions of others even if they are coming from the teacher/professor.   In their traditional curricula, students succeed mostly by memorisation.  In the international divisions—where overseas-bound students generally either do the A-level, AP or IB curricula—the students gradually acclimatise to a western instructional style.   They learn a great deal, develop their English, and become a little bit more comfortable speaking up in the classroom, but in their schools, they are still in a classroom demographic that is 100% Chinese.   So when they go to the UK or the US, they will still be in for at least some shock, perhaps when they have to debate ideas with a roomful of non-Chinese students who have mostly never been to China.  

On a related note, in China, people must tiptoe around open discussion of sensitive topics.   That is not the case in the countries these kids are heading for.   But being able to engage with ideas is of both academic and social importance toward their success in the West.  

You also mentioned that numbers of visiting admission officers to Zhenhai were low.  Have the numbers gone up? 

Certainly.   Zhenhai District is one of the outer districts of Ningbo, a coastal city two hours south of Shanghai.  Zhenhai is about 40 minutes from downtown.   I also work at two other schools in Ningbo: Ningbo Foreign Language School AP Center and at Ningbo Xiaoshi IB Center.    Since there are three schools in the city for an admission officer to visit, that are part of the same network of international divisions, it makes it easier to attract these visitors.  

You’ve now been in China for around three years.  What adjustments to your lifestyle have you made to adapt to living there?

Not many, really.  I’ve found some decent people to associate with here and have developed a kind of community.  I’m in a running club and have a column in a Ningbo magazine.  I would say one big adjustment in being in southern China has been getting used to schools that are freezing cold in the winters because there’s no central heating here.  Three years, and I’m still complaining!

Can you tell me what a typical daily routine is for you?

 I’d go to work and check my e-mails.   There may be application essays that students or counsellors send to me requesting my feedback.   Some days, I teach a college application workshop class.  There could be some work travel to schools in nearby cities.   I’ll give some advice to counsellors and the Counselling Fellows (recent college grads from the US).   Communicating with admission officers.   Discussing student issues with the teachers and principals so I can be more informed with what’s going on in the classroom.   There’s not so much of a routine, though.  

What would you say are the biggest challenges in your work?

Hammering home the message to students and parents that it is worthwhile to do all of your university application work on your own rather than contracting some service to do your application for you.  It’s also very difficult to shift thinking away from a strict over-emphasis on test scores above other admission factors. 

Which is the most rewarding part of your job? 

I feel great when I open students’ minds to opportunities that they were either not aware of before or had not considered.   These can be institutions, areas of study, or careers.  Many of the students are focused on a school, major or career that just sounds good, or that is known as an accepted path.  

Inspired by my job, I launched three scholarships this past year for Chinese students pursuing US higher education.   One was an entrepreneurship award, another was an environmental award and the third is kind of for tech.  This was the pilot year for those awards.  Although they are done outside my job and not technically a “part of my job,” I think they reflect a rewarding part of my job, which is that it really makes me ruminate upon and analyse education issues in a more advanced way.  Being on the ground as a counsellor in six Chinese high school international divisions in the middle of a great wave of Chinese students going overseas for university, and during a period where China is reforming/internationalising its education system, I’ve been able to gain significant insight, which, in turn, makes me a better educator. 

How do you spend your time when you’re not working? 

I try to do a fair amount of running and writing.  And I go out in Ningbo with friends.  I play lots of foosball.   Ningbo does not have a huge number of expats, but there are enough here from various countries to give rise to a highly competitive international collective of foosball junkies that rivals the World Cup.  

 Obio Ntia is Zhejiang Province Counselling Quality Manager for Dipont Education Management.