王羿杰, Yijie Wang
Chinese students at Dal mostly hang out with other Chinese. Some believe it’s inevitable to form a clique with exclusively Chinese.
People feel more comfortable with those who are similar in language and background. This creates a distinct culture, which is seemingly detached from the rest of the campus.
But this doesn’t mean Chinese students don’t like to socialize.
It’s common to see big groups of Chinese students wandering together in the city, headed to restaurants, karaoke or the clubs.
Chinese culture values interaction and socialization. Traditional festivals such as Chinese New Year or the Mid-Autumn festival bring everyone together to celebrate their country, culture, and heritage. These festivals create lasting bonds, warm their hearts and remind them of their home country, China.
Despite the strong connection Chinese students feel for their culture, they are open to trying new things and meeting new people. Chinese students are often stuck with the label of “lack of involvement.”
It’s pretty rare to see them actively joining in events and activities organized by the DSU and other societies. Chinese students face challenges that make these interactions difficult.
SUB: The Great Firewall
The Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) holds an alternate orientation week where all the leaders, introductions and speeches are given in Mandarin.
Lots of students would rather choose the CSSA orientation section over the DSU orientation as the content is easier to understand. But relying on Chinese sources for important information may prevent students from taking efforts to improve their English. And it also hinders students socially – O-Week is an important time for meeting new people.
Another challenge is the social media gap. Some students express that they don’t know about all the events happening on campus, despite being keen to get involved.
Wuwei Liu, a second-year commerce student says, “We don’t have the habit of checking our Facebook or emails, but most of the events are posted on those platforms.”
Chinese internet censorship, aka the Great Firewall, bans the social media platforms favoured in Canada. Most Chinese students are opening Instagram and Facebook accounts for the first time when they arrive.
It’s not always easy to pick up a new platform and they don’t usually have a long friends list. Instead, they’re more likely to stick with the most popular social media in China, WeChat. Using WeChat is certainly a deep-rooted habit for almost every Chinese person and this is the way for them to connect to others.
And the language barrier. It’s always been the biggest hurdle for Chinese international students. It negatively impacts their academic performance, socialization and overall experience in Canada. Many Chinese international students at Dal don’t receive proper English education and experience before heading abroad.
Some are merely trained for passing English language proficiency tests as per Dalhousie admission requirements, such as IELTS (International English Language Testing System), or TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).
Some rely on ESL programs at language schools, which aren’t enough to prepare them for full English environment. Chinese students are often unprepared to understand the slang and metaphor used by native English speakers.
Some Chinese students want to improve their English and social life by trying to participate in social activities with people outside the Chinese community. The results are often positive.
Liu said “It has been an eye-opening experience studying at Dal for me. It is truly awesome to be able to interact with people from all around the world, and I think I started to see things from different perspectives.”
SUB: Stepping out of comfort
Chinese students do make efforts to step out of their comfort zones and adjust to Canadian life. But many still struggle to fit in with non-Chinese students, especially Canadian students.
Sometimes Chinese students become frustrated with the challenges of communicating with, and befriending Canadian students.
Chinese students struggle with more subtle cultural differences. Chinese students aren’t familiar with Canadian friendship customs. After being discouraged by their first couple social confrontations, they can do nothing but shrink back to their cliques.
Some Chinese students are suffering from depression, stress and homesick because of the difficulties assimilating to the new environment.
There’s no doubt that Chinese students are facing more and harsher challenges due to cultural, social and language related barriers. And some issues faced by Chinese students aren’t noticeable and obvious.
They can only be uncovered by digging deeper and initiating conversations.
It’s fascinating to witness the unique Chinese culture that exists parallelly to Canadian culture at Dal. As one of Dalhousie core values, we are proud of our diversity, and we always encourage better cross-cultural communication.
It’s important to ensure that Chinese students can get involved. All students should enjoy equal access to the services and facilities at Dal. We must make sure their voices are heard. We must take a more proactive approach when listening what they have to say.