A Guide for Chinese International Students

This week’s guest post is from my dear Changsha friend Liam who lived all his live in China up until this year in August, when he decided to fulfill his dream and move abroad for getting his Master’s degree in Canada. It’s his first time ever to be abroad and outside of China. In this post, he talks about all the cultural differences he has encountered in North America so far. 

“This year in August, I went abroad for the first time as an international student in Canada. Since I have never been outside of China, I was super excited to discover a completely new world. Contrary to my other Chinese classmates, I became interested in foreign cultures, especially the Western culture, when I was a little child. That’s why I was especially overwhelmed when I walked down the street in my new hometown in  Nova Scotia, and all that I could see were Western looking houses and mostly white people. Everything was different. Being a rather adventurous person, learning about other cultures and trying new things have always been an important part of my life. However, there were still so many things that amazed me when I first moved to Canada.

Liam discovering multiculturalism in Canada

Liam discovering multiculturalism in Canada

You Are Different

Before I came to Canada, I always imagined this country to be very diverse and multiracial. Well, this may be the case in those big cities, such as Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal but definitely not where I live.

The town I live in is called Sydney and has a population of 98% white people. At my university, there is a lot more diversity but definitely not off campus. To be honest, in the beginning, I was a bit uncomfortable. Even though I had hung out with foreigners back in China, I still could not get used to the feeling of being the only one who is different.

However, I think I have it better than foreigners in China because nobody takes pictures of me, even though I got asked for a photo once. When waiting for the bus, people start talking to me out of curiosity about where I am from. After over a month of living in North America, I got better used to being different and maybe even enjoy being unique a little bit.

Don’t be shy or feel alone in a country where you are a minority and don’t master the language! It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at first!

Good Chinese food is the only thing Liam misses about China!

Good Chinese food is the only thing Liam misses about China!

Interracial Couples

As I mentioned above, there are not so many different ethnicities here. It’s rare to see any interracial couples, except from some black/white couples. So far I haven’t seen any AMWF couples.

Sometimes I wanna figure out why. Look at the people on the street, they don’t mingle but stay within their own racial group.

It’s rare to see any mixed groups.

I understand that it’s human nature to stick with your own groups, stay close to similar people and in the comfort zone. However, another reason might be our Asian culture, which is very conservative and reserved. We’re taught to be humble and not to be the center of attention. Western people, on the other hand, tend to be louder in general and more social. I remembered only those super rich people in China would talk that loudly in public, but here everyone is loud.

Try to make friends from many different countries and ethnicities! Don’t stay in your own bubble!

Liam and fellow Chinese classmates

Liam and fellow Chinese classmates

Cultural Differences

I went to local bars and noticed that white or black guys are very loud and aggressive when approaching women. Asians, in contrary, are more reserved and shy which might be one of biggest reasons I think Asian guys in the West are not that popular.

Being very eager to learn about new things, I love talking to other people and especially seeing different points of views. I don’t mind where you’re from or what color you are because according to my previous experiences, I can say that people with different colors just look different, nothing is really different inside,or at least the similarities outweigh the differences. Sometimes you can see so many international students on the bus who  just talk to people from the same country minding their own business.

Another thing is that Westerners are so good at expressing themselves. They say ”I love you” and “thank you” all the time. Take myself for example, I never said “I love you” to my parents. Don’t you think it’s strange to Westerners? Our culture is just much more conservative in some points.

Accept and appreciate cultural differences! No culture is better than the other. Cultural values can vary but that doesn’t mean you can’t find friends!

Liam made lots of new friends from different backgrounds!

Liam made lots of new friends from different backgrounds!

The East and West Relationship

Liam loves Western culture but also embraces his own culture.

Liam loves Western culture but also embraces his own culture.

As someone from the East, I have to say that the Western culture is still dominant at this moment. Why? When I was in China, I remember many Chinese people would love to make foreign friends because they think foreigners are good looking, rich and fun to be around. Well, obviously it’s not true for everyone.

Sometimes I ask locals: “Do you know something about China?” Most of them answered no. Most of them know nothing about China. If you go out and ask a random Chinese person on the street in China ”Who is Obama? “ or ”Who is Michael Jackson?”, I bet most of them at least know something about the West. Whereas most of Westerners know very little about the East.

I think the biggest reason is the media. Western media is so good at promoting their own culture in Hollywood movies and foreign cultures are rarely reflected. 

I think white supremacy still sadly exists in the world. I remember when I was in China, the commercial posters on the streets were mostly showing Western models with blonde hair, big blue eyes and pale skin.

I think if you display something in public all the time, people will just get brainwashed and think this is the norm. Imagine if one day we hang up some slanted-eyed people’s images  or pictures of people who have black skin for everyone to see on the street, I bet people will gradually think this is the so called ”standard of beauty”. I know it’s still a long way to break down this unfair reality, but thank god, Korean people already do a great job exporting their culture through music or dramas which is very popular in the West.

Living abroad as a Chinese person in a country where you are the minority taught me a lot! I understand Western culture and see my country back home with different eyes! I recommend everyone to go and live abroad for some time in their life! It’s worth it!


2 thoughts on “A Guide for Chinese International Students

  1. I think the biggest issue is always that people who go abroad tend to stick to their own racial groups. This makes often “mingling” impossible as they will do their own stuff such as hanging out together, eating and doing activities. I remember the very same issue when I was a tutor at my university and we tried basically activate our fellow asian and Arabic students to go to some events together with the rest. When basically pushed into it they stucked with us otherwise it was the same issue, they stayed within their own groups. I don’t know how to overcome this as a failed three years as a tutor in it but perhaps someday in future it will improve (hopefully)

  2. So very true. I am actually researching a few potential migration destination, but what I find is that in most places, it seems that there are specific ethnic communities for the migrants. I get the feeling that people want to embrace the new lifestyle but not the new cultures. I’m hesitating now and trying to look for more options with less Asians. I don’t know, but in my opinion, if I want to mingle with fellow Chinese/Asians, might as well stay put rather than move overseas.

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