Ye Du and Cecilia Miao arrived at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, in 2009 feeling alone and anxious. They spoke only broken English and knew nothing about their new community.
Four years later, reported the Wisconsin State Journal, the two journalism majors are channeling their feelings of isolation into a series of YouTube videos to educate their American peers about themselves. These videos explain many of the social and cultural misunderstandings that prevent foreign students, especially those from China, from integrating with the slang-speaking, party-going Americans.
According to the Institute of International Education in the US, foreign students are flocking to the US’ higher education system in greater numbers than ever before, particularly from Asia. Since 2007, the number of Chinese students in the US has grown by around one-fifth or more each year. In the 2011/2012 academic year, 194,029 students from China were enrolled in higher education in the US — an increase of 23 percent from the year before.
But cultural barriers still remain. A recent study published in The Journal of International and Intercultural Communication found that nearly 40 percent of overseas students have no close American friends and would like more meaningful interactions with their American peers.
According to the study, the biggest group to express dissatisfaction came from China and other East Asian countries (nearly 30 percent). Language and shyness were cited by 46 percent of all students as causes.
Many also blamed Americans or US culture, the most common reasons being “superficiality” (cited by 32 percent) and not being open-minded or interested in other cultures (25 percent).
However, a Voice of America survey suggests the problem can run both ways, according to international education news website The Pie News. About 40 percent of American students polled said they found it difficult to relate to overseas students, also citing language and cultural barriers.
而据国际教育新闻网The Pie News报道称， “美国之音”的一项调查显示，这个问题双方都难逃其责。受访的美国学生中有40%的人表示和外国留学生难以沟通，他们也同样提到了语言以及文化壁垒。
Du and Miao’s videos aim to break down some of the barriers. One video explains why Chinese students prefer to speak Mandarin among themselves rather than English. Aside from the obvious reason that it’s their native language, Chinese students are taught English to pass tests, not to chat conversationally, so they don’t feel confident about their oral English.
Another video explains why Chinese students don’t like going to parties. It’s not only because they place a higher value on studying, they also don’t like being “treated like this alien person who doesn’t know how to have fun” in drink-fueled social situations.
Failure to adapt can be harmful to the academic and career development of international students. According to Southern Metropolis Daily, a recent data from Ivy League universities shows that one in four Chinese students attending these universities drop out before they graduate.