Friday, March 07, 2014

Do politics really divide Chinese/international students and American students?

I started with two questions Monday: How well do Chinese students adjust to university life in the US? What do they feel about their experiences?

Today I'll continue to discuss observations and ask questions based on 2012 or 2013 research dane at Indiana University with regards to Chinese students and their levels of integration into campus life. The information was done by Mollie Dollinger and was summarized in an article entitled "Survey of Chinese Students at Indiana University Reveals Challenges of Integration" on TeaLeafNation.

When asked why they believed American students did not invite them more often to participate in campus life activities Chinese students cited possible political differences between China and the United States responsible for the underlying tensions between the two student populations. For instance, one student was quoted saying, “People are always asking me how I feel about Taiwan. They tell me that Taiwan is not China. I never say anything back. I am not political, this issue doesn’t concern me, so why is everyone asking me about it?”

Question: Really?

People are always asking? Really? Did this really happen? Could it have happened once or twice, and now the student assumes it is common?

Question: Assumptions?

Perhaps I am out of touch with current university students. Are today's university students really so politically sensitive that they don't want to hang out with Chinese due to political tensions? Could this be an impression based more on the impression Chinese get while in China?

Could it merely be an excuse for not getting involved in US life?

Comment: A legitimate complaint?

Granted, I am not living on a college campus, so I don't want to bring too much of my own expereince and assume it as universal. However, my wife has now been in the US for five months and here friends are almost completely local residents. Not once has anyone asked her a question about Taiwan. Not once has anyone even mentioned Taiwan to her. I find it hard to believe that people are "always" asking the quoted student about Taiwan.

Comment: political life in the US

The student said, "I am not political, this issue doesn’t concern me, so why is everyone asking me about it?"

This view likely became ingrained in China. People generally avoid discussing politics, especially anything that criticizes the government. In addition, as a culture that values harmony, people tend to avoid contentious issues if possible. Conflict is more uncomfortable for Chinese than it is for a typical American.

I don't know if this student's comment is representative of other Chinese students. Nevertheless, I'd like to remind my Chinese and international friends of a few things to know about US culture:

  1. As we are a voting society, political questions are common topics of conversation.
  2. Again, as we are a voting society, we don't generally think of politics as "not concerning us", even if we aren't very interested.
  3. Politics and activism tends to be strong on US university and college campuses, so you are probably more likely to face these topics on campus than you would be in general society.
  4. Political debate is a what could be called an American tradition, or "traditional American culture." It's in our history and in our blood.

Final Questions

Chinese and international friends:
  • Do you find that US college student often ask you political questions? What are your thoughts or feelings when this happens?
  • Do you think political tensions are a major reason for American students to give fewer invitations to international students?
  • What do you think could be the major reasons American students may give fewer invitations to international students?
US friends:
  • What would you add to my list of things international students might need to understand about US political culture?
  • What could our campuses and programs do to teach international (and domestic) students how to engage in healthy, respectful, productive debate?

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