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Chinese Students Struggle to Adapt to Life at UGA

Some 400 Chinese students are enrolled at UGA.

By Jing Hong

The University of Georgia is one of many American colleges rushed to recruit in China – a strategy for boosting diversity and expanding international appeal. According to UGA’s Office of International Education, the number of Chinese students on campus has been increasing since 2010, and this year 400 Chinese students are enrolled.

The Chinese students are a tiny minority group on a huge campus, and they sometimes struggle to adapt and cope with their new world. They need to make new friends, explore new culture and adapt themselves in the new environment. It’s common to see that new arrivals are sometimes puzzled by U.S. manners and customs. They may not know what is expected in the classroom. Being immersed in a world where everyone speaks English is different from studying the language for a few hours each day back home. As a result, the Chinese students come up with ways to cope.

If you talk with Chinese students about confusing aspects of American culture, relentless positivity comes up often. “At first, I thought they’re only trying to be polite, but then I found that they never say any negative words!” said Anzhi Lee, a graduate student in the department of agricultural and applied economics.

Cultural differences also make it harder for Chinese students to establish a social life in Athens. Language differences can make it difficult for Chinese students to find anything in common with American students, leaving them with little to discuss in the dormitory or dining common.

The classroom is not easy to navigate, either. In China, the students seldom speak in class unless they are given permission by their professor. This is not the custom at UGA. Class participation may also be limited because Chinese students aren’t confident in their command of English.

Taken together, these factors make it easy for American students to overlook classmates from China. Kasey Manning, an alumnus of UGA, said she saw many Chinese students in class, but never talked to them because they rarely spoke. “I even don’t know their name completely,” Manning said.

When Chinese students do strike up acquaintances with American-born students, those friendships don’t run deep. “Even though I have American friends, I don’t think they are those friends who can hang out frequently,” said Li Zhou, who just finished her freshman year at UGA. “They have their friends and we will never be invited to participate into their activities.”

 

As a result, many feel confined to a Chinese circle of friends and cannot branch out.

Shaun Rudolph is trying to change this by matching Chinese and American students based on hobbies, majors, and other interests. “The project is one-to-one interactions between Chinese and Americans,” said Rudolph, a cultural specialist in Watkinsville First Baptist Church. He believes this approach can benefit Chinese and help them feel more at home in their new environment.

Although many Chinese students participate in Rudolph’s program, hoping meet more Americans, most of the Chinese students would prefer to have roommates who are also from China.

Qiuhui Lee, 19, a sophomore at UGA, said that although she has many American friends and often hangs out with them, she prefers to share her living space with people who speak a common language and lead a similar lifestyle. This makes friendship easier, she said.

In Athens, newly arrived Chinese students quickly learn where other Chinese people live and try to move there. Carousel Village, a small apartment complex near the UGA campus, rents about 20 apartments to Chinese families and students.

“Most of the Chinese residents here are referred by Chinese. And as far as I know, there are no Chinese living with Americans,” said Debbie Gordy, the general manager of Carousel Village. As she was speaking, a Chinese girl approached to ask about renting an apartment at Carousel. Since the complex is full, Gordy said no, at least not now.

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