Cultural Confusions: What Challenges do Chinese Students Face in Foreign Countries?

I like to think of myself as multicultural. I enjoy interacting with and getting to know people from a variety of different backgrounds, with different interests as well as different religious and political ideals. They say that “variety is the spice of life” and indeed that is an idea that I can certainly get behind.

I wasn’t always this way though.

Before I started university, 95% of my friends were from the same town, of the same colour and religious affiliation and we all pretty much had the same politics.

But then university opened my eyes. For the first time in my life I was studying and socialising alongside people of different races, creeds and ideals and for the first time I found my preconceptions about certain cultures and certain countries being fundamentally challenged.

Indeed not all Japanese people are timid, not all Germans are ultra-serious and not all French are suave and charming, though I stand by the assertion that the Poles and the Irish are legendary drinkers!

It’s fair to say that my university days opened my eyes to an entirely new world of possibilities, dreams and friendships. For the first time in my life, I truly started to think as a citizen of the world rather than as a Scot.

But then again, it was relatively easy for me to make such a grandiose gesture. After all, I was still studying in Edinburgh, in the heart of Scotland, the land where I had spent most of my life up to that point. It’s all too easy to move outside your social comfort zone when you still have the familiarity of your homeland to fall back on.

I sometimes wondered, what must it be like for foreign students, who as well as this social awakening have to contend with being immersed in a completely new and alien environment, the principles and expectations of which may not necessarily follow with what they are used to in their homeland.

For Chinese students, I imagined this cultural change must be especially jarring.

I’ve visited China a few times, and I have a number of friends there. I also lived in Hong Kong for nearly 3 years, so I hope my opinions here will carry at least some validity.

China is a beautiful place, as diverse as it is fascinating. However, at the end of the day, it is a very different environment from Scotland or even Japan where I live now.

Initially I did feel a bit uneasy when I first arrived, but as a seasoned traveller I soon learned to find my way around.

So how about when the show is on the other foot? What is it like for Chinese students who come to Scotland or indeed any other western country, such as the US?

I spoke to some of my Chinese friends about this, their responses were intriguing to say the least.

Whilst all of my friends had studied English from a very early age, and had shown at least some mastery of the language prior to going overseas, there were, naturally, still some communication issues. My friend remarked that she sometimes had trouble properly making herself understood, and indeed understanding local accents.

Speaking at an appropriate volume and with an appropriate tone can also be challenging for some students from China.

Depending on the local dialect, some Chinese speakers speak with a noticeably louder volume and more guttural tone than most native English speakers are accustomed to. This can sometimes have the unintended consequence of making them seem overly aggressive or angry, which of course is not the case.

Indeed the beauty of the Chinese language in its often colourful expressions can often be misinterpreted by those not in the know.

As in all cases, communication is a two way thing, and if you can be sure to seek out a social scene that is more international, you will have an easier time. After all, everyone is in the same position as you, right?

Food is another area where some of my Chinese friends have also encountered initial difficulties with adjusting to a very different food menu. Chinese food is pretty unique and while so-called Chinese restaurants are prevalent throughout the western world, they seldom actually capture the essence of what real Chinese food is. Often what they selling is not Chinese food, but a facsimile of what Americans and Europeans believe Chinese food should taste like. Still, having sampled an allegedly American hamburger in China before, I can tell you that this is a two way street!

Luckily, there is a way around this. Most largely European and American cities these days have their own “Chinatown” district. Here, Chinese living abroad can find the foods and provisions they are more familiar with. It may cost a bit more than it does in your hometown, but believe me, as a frequent buyer of the Scottish soft drink Irn Bru when I lived in Hong Kong, sometimes a little taste of home can really brighten up your day.

Study culture is another potentially difficult are for Chinese students studying abroad.

It may be something of a racial stereotype that Asian students tend to be more studious than their western contemporaries, but actually, from what I have seen, it’s pretty accurate.

However, remember that studying abroad is as much a social and personal experience as it is an academic one. Of course you want to get the highest grades possible, but it is also crucial to take some time to “let off steam” as it were. Try to set aside one evening per week for social activities. Not only will this help you to maintain your English skills, but it will also help you considerably with the whole acclimatization process.

Choosing to study abroad is undeniably a challenge, but it is an experience that will most assuredly change your life for the better. Contact AF Education today and start your journey into a wider world of education.

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