Charlie Li, Electrical engineer 电气工程师
I can not speak for Chinese students in Italy but I can speak for those that live in the US.
As strange as it may seem to you, the problem might not be the Chinese students. The problem might be the locals.
People seem quick to cite “the language barrier” or the “cultural barrier.” I am one with neither. I have lived in the US for 10 years and for 9 years I have tried to mingle with the local population. It only once worked when I joined a church group, where all are equal under God’s roof.
The white people of America just do not like me, a Chinese male. Chinese females may have it easier than me with white males but most white females do not seem to like them much. And let us not pretend that “yellow fever” isn’t a thing for white guys, so the willingness to accept a Chinese females might not be based on the premise of friendship. However, I must also give white American guys “credit” where it is due; they have been somewhat more accepting of me than white American females.
Sometime, it is possible to have a nice conversation with the locals. But all things considered, it is just small talk and ultimately meaningless. In addition, I would sometimes dread the question “where are you from.” More often than not it would lead to an otherwise friendly conversation ending abruptly. Recently, the anti China rhetoric has gotten worse and I’m fearing this question more than ever.
Strangely, my best friend in the US is another international student from a different country, Brazil. Other friends are from Korea, Mexico, France, and India. My one close(not too close actually) white American female friend is one that is very interested in Chinese language and culture, though she is by no means the mainstream American.
Now let’s get into more detail. I used to hang out with a group of Americans boys. They were nice and friendly, yet I always felt I was not part of their circle. I kept wondering why and one day I found the reason. That group of friends had their own inner group on social media. They would share interesting stories, experiences from life or just generally socialize on there. I was not part of that and naturally my friendship with them was not very deep. I was never invited either, even though I’ve known them for a year. It felt like I was an outsider, an accessory almost. Kind of like they are their own crime family and I’m an associate. But at least they were friendly and I could enjoy some “beer and meat” time with them, or in Chinese 酒肉同伙。
American females what can I say? I might as well be invisible to them. I somehow because friends with a French girl who was an exchange student. The other friend was interested in Chinese culture like mentioned earlier.
I know there is an American bar culture where people make friends, but it is not something you can get into without a friend telling you about the ins and outs. It’s like an white American suffering at a traditional Chinese dinner table, except most Chinese people are willing to give the foreigner some leeway. And to be honest, this part of culture is not friendly to Asians males.
My daughter's experience offers another view. Her mother and I are of European descent. We adopted her in China, age 9 months, and she just finished college. She grew up with Chinese features, but very few Chinese social contacts. At college, students from China shunned Americans who tried to speak with them….including her.
There were cultural differences that became an issue in dormitory life. These were differences such as respect for personal belongings, meal courtesy, etc. Those differences are not "right or wrong" but they can make people less comfortable in each other's company.
The students from China were also not representative of all Chinese people. They had amazing affluence, that made studying in America possible. Perhaps such affluence can make anyone hold themselves apart from those they see as "common".
I met my wife, Chinese lady from Taiwan, in College while doing grad school at the University of Illinois. she was studying accounting, but had to take this entry level Computer Sciennce as part of her requirements. The class had about 25–30 people, with half being all students from India, and the other half being White Americans, then me and this Chinese girl. Our professor was Chinese also. The classroom had three rows, and every time the Chinese girl sat in a particular row, the Indian group would sit in another row, and so would the white students. And I would join either group as I was well known among Computer Science students being a graduate assistant. Weeks in, I decided I would sit next to the Chinese girl and just be nice. By the end of the semester, we became good friends as she had no friends outside the Chinese community. like the saying goes, the rest is history.
So ya, I understand what Chinese students or people new to America can go trough regarding befriending locals. But if I, and also the Chinese lady, did not look past color and focus on personalities, I could be living a different life as I know t today.
Charlie, I am with you on this one. But believe me it is not just because you are Chinese. It is because you are foreigner and you have an accent.
This is true not just because you are Chinese. It is because you are not white.
I am 65 years of age, and I am not Chinese, and not American born. I am from Latin America.
I went to college in the US. When I read you article I thought you were telling about my own experience when I was in college. It was exactly as yours and it was more than 30 years ago!
I thought it had changed. But if you are telling this it means it is still the same way. American women in college care less for other students from other cultures unless they are white and speak good English. If you go to a bar it is worse. There are of course exceptions. In contrast when my sister came to the US she immediately got a white American boyfriend. Your experience is the same for any male student who comes to the US and is not white. But even white foreign student have also problems with locals. In college my best friends were from China, Middle East, India, Europe or other Latin countries. Almost no American. And Chinese were my best friends.
So don't worry. It is a normal thing happening to all of us. And thanks for writing this because it makes me more aware. My conclusion is that female Americans do not like foreign cultures too much. They are too much into their own world. So American men but to a lesser degree. That's why it is less difficult to make friends with American males. But up to a point because it is like if it was not an open culture.
One last thing as someone has pointed out. The accent has a lot to do with it if you are a make foreign student. I bet if you or me had no accent in our English, things would get a lot easier. People in America hice a lot of importance to accents. If you have an accent, they do no want to associate too much with you. Even if you are Chinese, African or Latin American, and you have no accent in English, you will have a much easier time and be able to socialize better. And it is not just accent but the use of words such as slang, idioms, etc.
If you sound like an American and talk like an American, you would be accepted as an American even if you are a foreigner. That's the way it is in the U. S.
Garwin Kim Sing, lived in The United States of America 曾在美国糊口
At one stage of my career, I was running a lab with four women. The most senior of them was Lesley, a white Australian who had been working there for about eight years. The other three were more recent recruitments - Xiou Hua, a postdoc from Beijing, Yin, a Masters student from Nanjing and Rita, my research assistant who had just joined the lab and was a Singaporean Chinese. All four women got on reasonably well, but the three Chinese women interacted mostly amongst themselves. I shared an office with Xiao Hua, and although I couldn’t speak Mandarin, I had a good working and social relationship with her because of our common Chinese heritage. After six months, Lesley came to my office virtually in tears. She told me “Garwin, either you get these women to talk english or I’m leaving. Every day, they’re in the lab amongst themselves talking in chinese. I feel so isolated because I have no one to talk to and they could even be talking about me without my knowing”. So the next day I called all three Chinese women into my office. I could see the concerned look on their faces because they’d witnessed Lesley’s breakdown but didn’t know the reason behind it. I told them what Lesley had said to me, and said “Look, I have no right to ask you this, but Lesley is extremely upset because she feels marginalised in the lab she worked in for so long. Could I ask that from now on, you only speak english in the lab? When amongst yourselves in the tearoom or canteen, you can speak whatever language you want”. The next day, Xiao-Hua came to see me and said she’d seen her lawyer after my talk who told her that she was entitled to converse in whatever language she liked. I told her that I could have saved her the expense of going to a lawyer. Of course she and all of them were entitled to talk in chinese, but for the sake of inclusivity, I was asking them to use english out of politeness. So for the next few days, I could hear the three of them awkwardly trying to hold conversations in english. After a week, there was just silence in the lab.
It probably just because Chinese students are not good at speaking English, or lack of the confidence to speak out.
Last year when I just came to Texas, I was excited and talkative. I like to communicate with my Indian supervisor and Boston co-advisor. But after one Canadian in our group told me that my pronunciation sounds weird and I made a lot of grammar mistakes and misused many words, I lost the confidence to talk in front people. Even when my supervisors told me that my English is good for a first-year Ph.D. student, I still can not rebuild my confidence. So here I am, I started to use Quora and try to write down something every day in order to improve my English.
I think my oral English is above the average of Chinese students, and I am not a shy person. However, many Chinese students who are not so good at speaking English, and probably a little be shy will just choose not to speak English. They are not getting out of their comfort zone.